The Little Red Book
August 25, 2002
Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish, but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-20)
Reading from Swedenborg
"The Word" is divine truth that has been revealed to humanity. And since it could not have been revealed except by Jehovah as a human being, that is, except by Jehovah in human form, thus by the Lord, it says, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." It is well known in the church that "the Word" is used to mean the Lord, since it is clearly stated, "The Word became flesh and lived among us, and we saw his glory, glory as of the only Child of the Father." The fact that Divine Truth could not have been revealed to humanity except by Jehovah in human form is also clearly stated: "No one has ever seen God; the only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has made him known." (See John 1:1-3, 14, 18.)
From all this it is clear that the Lord from eternity was Jehovah, or the Father, in human form, but not yet so in earthly flesh, for an angel does not have such flesh. And since Jehovah, the Father, wished to take on everything human in order to save the human race, he also took flesh. This is why it says, "The Word was God, and the Word became flesh." (Arcana Coelestia #9315)
The idea for the title "The Little Red Book" came from newspaper reports about the Chinese scene. We are told that millions of Chinese have a little book with a red cover, The Thoughts of Mao Tse Tung, from which they quote continually about all subjects from sowing rice to healing cancer. One might say this little red book is the New Testament of the Chinese today.
About five years ago, Mrs. Tobisch and I visited a little Alpine town in Lower Austria, and as is our wont, we went into the local church to see its architecture and maybe utter a little prayer. I was browsing around and discovered they had a bookshelf just as we have. In it was this little red book: a New Testament. Like Mao's book today, this New Testament is read by millions of people.
It has had an immense effect on generation after generation. It has become the textbook of the "establishment" of the most orthodox church, and yet at the same time it is attracting the most radical of students. It contains the command to keep the status quo, yet strangely, it advocates the overthrow of the established orthodoxy of teaching--the legalistic interpretation the Law.
It is the biography of Jesus, a carpenter's son from Nazareth in Galilee, "out of which cannot come any good," as Nathanael sarcastically answered Philip (John 1:46). It contains the radical ethics of the Sermon on the Mount, by which we are supposed to live as Christians--and by no means can ever fully do so. It is the charter of the movement called Christianity, and must be read to and accepted by every generation anew.
It is a book composed of many books, all interrelated. And yet, some people sought to separate them and accept only one or the other Gospel or Epistle, and make that one the only authority. Intellectually this is unscientific, and historically it is unfair.
This little red book contains dynamite for the human soul. It can blast open vast areas in our life that lie dead and covered with dust now, like the surface of the Moon. It can, by the words of the mastermind in it, shed the Holy Spirit on its readers, or cause them to become hypocrites in the eyes of God.
It is a book that I love with all my heart. In it I have found the wisdom of life that has directed my steps, however feebly, toward life eternal in the kingdom of God. There is no other book in all the world and in all the world's religions that so humanistically, and at the same time so divinely, can affect us. Its central figure is Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate deity, the Word made flesh.
Today I will project for you the main ideas contained.
First, it assumes the existence of God, "our Father who art in heaven" (Matthew 6:9). It does not argue about the existence of God; it is not a philosophy. The New Testament projects a faith that says: "Be ye perfect, as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). God is Father--the creator of all mankind.
It recognizes no color line, and no racial or national origin. "Your father in heaven makes the sunshine and the rain fall on the just and the unjust" (Matthew 5:45). Where do you think the modern reformers--Marxists, Jeffersonians, liberators--get their ideas? Why, out of the little red book of the New Testament!
God is perfect love. Because he is Love itself, he requires his children to love him in response. God is also Logos, or Wisdom. As such, he came to earth in the person of Jesus Christ. "The Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory" (John 1:14). This was the luminescence the divine light. This is what even now shines out of the little red book: the brilliancy of God's mind tempered by the words of men.
The New Testament, through the personality of Jesus the Christ, reveals to us the nature of God. It is wonderful to behold that love shines through it, warms our hearts, and wants us to love likewise not only him who gives all this love to us, but also those around us who receive it as well.
Second, the little red book is a guidebook for our life. No longer need we say, as the tax collectors asked John the Baptist, "What must we do?" (Luke 3:12). We know what we must do--though of course, the actual doing is something else. This book contains the knowledge for our salvation, for our redemption. In modern philosophical terms, it shows how we can become a real person. How we can become conjoined with the divine Source, of which we were made an image and likeness.
The precepts of the New Testament integrate the warring parts of human heart, and the heart of stone turns into a heart of flesh. The most essential change that comes to one seeking life--the eternal meaning of life--is to start loving one another.
This divine requirement was well understood by those who started the new groups that have sprung up in the last decade in an effort to revivify Christianity. They have taken many names: "Yokefellows," "Group Therapy," "Encounter Groups." No matter. They have perceived that loving one another is the solution to our personal ills, and at the same time, to the ills of mankind.
This loving one another is not the only condition. For no one can truly love another if he does not also love God. How can he only love his brother if he does not at the same time love the Father of his brother? So the first commandment and the second are the foundations of Christianity, as well as of Judaism. For this is an heritage from the people of God, Israel, "my people."
Christianity has gone beyond the narrow confines of a small nation, however blessed. It has opened the whole world to its mission. "Go ye into all the world and teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19; Mark 16:15). Accept all: Gentile, Greek, Roman, Syrian, Persian, and Egyptian.
The little red book has gone into all the world. Its bearers have gone into the most deepest parts of Africa and brought with them the knowledge of salvation and the ability to read and to receive via the printed word the blessings of redemption from hatred, tribal feuding, racialism, and so on. Hundreds of dedicated people without money and without price have given their lives to go into the wilderness and live with the unlettered, creating for them new alphabets, translating the good news into their native tongues, bringing them literacy and life eternal. The American Bible Society every year adds new editions to its New Testaments. There are over 1,100 different languages in which people can read the words of the Lord according to his disciples.
I have no worry about Mao's little red book. Many read it. But if you lay it side by side with the New Testament and study them without prejudice, you can perceive the difference between the temporary human prudence of the Chinese politician and the divine wisdom of the one who went to Golgotha to give his life for the life of the world.
For if we wrap it all up, the New Testament shows a way of life that leads to the cross of self-denial, to giving one's flesh and blood for another. This is the great drama in the book. This is the ever-fascinating challenge to all readers. You may not like it, but this is the challenge in it: those who want to gain their life must lose it. The seed must fall into the ground and be transformed into the new plant by giving its all.
The dramatic conclusion, demonstrated by the Master himself, was experienced by his disciples. The body could be killed, but not his spirit. In glorious form he appeared and said: Behold it is I. Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all nations.
Dear Reader: Are you doing it?
O Jesus the Christ, in becoming the living Word you gave us an example, and commanded us to follow it. You do not allow us merely to sit back and soak in your love and wisdom. You require us to go out and share your love and your truth with all people. Give us the will to follow this command with all our heart! Amen.
Rev. Othmar Tobisch