In June 2018 Ipswch Quakers held a series of Quaker Quest events in which visitors were invited to come and find out about what makes people Quakers. The format was for three Quakers to each give a short talk on the topic for the evening after which there was a discussion on what was said. Some of those who spoke have kindly agreed to share their talks on our blog.

This is Richard Stewart’s talk on Jesus.


As a committed Christian I believe Jesus was the Son of God and therefore have no problems related to anything occurring in his life from the virgin birth to the Resurrection and Ascension. However I am here tonight to talk about the man of flesh and blood who lived on this earth for thirty three years, three of which encompassed his ministry, travelling almost exclusively on foot, or by boat, within a very small area. On his travels he observed not just people but also the natural world around him:

Consider the lilies how they grow, they toil not neither do they spin, yet I say unto you even Solomon, in all his glory, was not arrayed like one of these. (Luke 12-27).

He was a man whose words and deeds had a profound and lasting effect on the world and, to quote a recent letter in ‘The Friend‘ ‘his insights are much needed in the cultural turbulence of our times‘.

Although he drew large crowds out in the countryside much of his preaching actually took place in synagogues where he ‘spoke truth to power’ and was resented by those in the Sanhedrin who were trying to keep some degree of religious autonomy in an occupied country.

On one occasion he was chased and attempts were made to throw him over a cliff. It is interesting to note very few references to the Roman occupation until his trial before Pontious Pilate. Presumably Roman spies reported back that nothing he preached was related to insurrection and that most of his words related to that which his listeners knew well, i.e. fishing, agriculture and domestic life. There is the well-known ‘render unto Caesar’ comment but a second encounter was of great significance. The Roman centurion had faith to believe Jesus could cure his servant even from a distance and Jesus granted his wish, adding that he had found no one in Israel with such faith.

Although he came ‘to save the lost sheep of Israel’ he had meaningful encounters with at least eight different nationalities and that with the Syro-Phoenician woman suggests even the Son of God could still learn something he hadn’t expected. She asked him to cast a devil out of his daughter:

‘and he said unto her, let the children first be filled for it is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs. But she answered and said unto him’ Yea, Lord, even the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And he said unto her, for this saying go thy way, the devil is gone out of thy daughter’. (Mark7:26-29).

Jesus didn’t minister just to the poor, marginalised and ill. His contacts included Nicodemus and Jairus, both men of high social and religious standing. The four gospels also show an enlightened and progressive attitude to women, with at least forty mentions, mainly individual, from the woman ‘taken in adultery’ to Mary and Martha disagreeing, then the women at the foot of the cross and Mary Magdalene being the first to see him after his Resurrection.

Jesus also preached not just of peace, love and forgiveness. There was violence related to the fig tree, the herd of pigs going over the cliff and the money lenders in the temple. He also said:

‘Whosoever shall cause one of these little ones which believe on me to stumble it is profitable for him that a great millstone be hanged about his neck and that he should be sunk in the depth of the sea’. (Matthew 18-6).

Many of his sayings were hard to accept- let the dead bury the dead, sell all you have and follow me and many more. Although ‘love thy neighbour as thyself’ was quoted before the Good Samaritan parable Jesus always reminded his listeners and disciples of the most important commandment: ‘thou shalt love the lord thy God with all thy heart, soul, strength and mind’.

This brings me to what many find uncomfortable these days, which is the often repeated concepts of a last judgement and both Heaven and Hell, as epitomised in the graphic description within the parable of Dives and Lazarus and his conversation with the thief on the cross.

However, Jesus didn’t invent such money-raising devices as indulgences for purgatory and it needs to be remembered that he enjoyed life, denying the need to fast except before his ministry began and within so many incidents and parables related to hospitality and both food and wine. It is no coincidence that his first miracle was during the wedding at Cana and his last positive contact with all of his disciples was at the Last Supper.

To me Jesus is a still-living presence and whose truths are eternal and the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. I try, in my evening prayers, to analyse what Jesus might have done in the situations in which I have been involved. Sometimes I feel good, sometimes not. As regards the Quaker peace testimony, my support for this is simply based on the fact that I cannot imagine Jesus carrying or using a bayonet or kalashnikov, even though I am aware that his disciples carried knives.

As for Quakers and Jesus, and the current non-theist debate, can I end by quoting part of a recent letter in ‘The Friend‘ from Kees Nieuwerth:

‘In one of our Meetings an attender requested that we no longer speak of Jesus in them. After a while an elderly friend rose and said that this would not be possible since ‘the Spirit would require us to speak of Jesus’. He then fell silent and stood for such a long time that friends began to wonder whether there was something wrong with him. Then he added : ‘And if the Spirit does not I will’.

Richard Stewart.




In June 2018 Ipswch Quakers held a series of Quaker Quest events in which visitors were invited to come and find out about what makes people Quakers. The format was for three Quakers to each give a short talk on the topic for the evening after which there was a discussion on what was said. Some of those who spoke have kindly agreed to share their talks on our blog.

This is Andrew Sterling’s talk on Jesus.

Shortened version of a Quaker Quest talk.

Human beings grow up assuming the basics of life around them are the basics of life itself when, as I was later to find, they are largely the basics of the society in which we live. Big difference.

Similarly, reactions for and against religion(s) are based on assumptions derived from our (early) encounters (however strongly or faintly) with religion in the society in which we live. And so this applies equally to the figure of Jesus who, at the time of my young life, was still a powerfully central figure in religion and in society generally.

But my rebellious teen mind became appalled at what I regarded as emotive hanging onto any icon, from pop stars to Jesus. On the other hand, even at the age of 13, I did feel my own burning passion about the insensitivity and destruction of wildlife around me, due to “development” – it has continued to horrify me ever since: it is simply brainless, based on a whole set of assumptions and habitual and apparent economic dependencies .

This led to my wondering why we can’t also (like the rest of the living world) live simply, within what Nature provides rather than what we like to think we need. And I found, and experienced, clear evidence that indeed we can, and that it is our emotional, rather material, need that we feed through exorbitant, destructive, consumption.

This realisation touched memories of Jesus’s sayings in the gospels, so I looked again. This is some of what I re-found in Mathew:

6.19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal:
6.20: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth consume, and where thieves do not break through nor steal:
6.21: for where thy treasure is, there will thy heart be also.
6:24 No man can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
6.25 Therefore I say unto you, be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than the food, and the body than the raiment?
6.26 Behold the birds of the heaven, that they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; and your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are not ye of much more value then they?
6.27 And which of you by being anxious can add one cubit unto the measure of his life?
6.28 And why are ye anxious concerning raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:
6.29 yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.
6.30. But if God doth so clothe the grass of the field, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith?
6.31 Be not therefore anxious, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed?
6.32 For after all these things do the Gentiles seek; for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.
6.33. But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
6.34. Be not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

This talked to me about Jesus’s understanding of what our real material needs are and why we think we need to procure them and why we think we need more – an anxiety and lack of faith in life, in ourselves and in each other. If only we could let go.

Feeling instead insecure and confused, we relentlessly rationalise these promptings, by intellectualising life, creating beliefs and concepts to cling to – to explain, to tie life down and to control. We can’t let go. It spells disintegration and conflict.

This is also why we look to creating icons to cling onto and hopefully resolve our anxiety but, in a passage from the Gospel of St Thomas Jesus says

“If your leaders say to you, ‘Look, the (Father’s) kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you, ‘It is in the sea,’ then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father’s) kingdom is within you and it is outside you.

In a section from Mathew’s gospel, as distilled by Stephen Mitchell (Gospel According to Jesus) someone asked Jesus when will the kingdom of God come?

And he said, “The kingdom of God will not come if you watch for it. Nor will anyone be able to say, ‘it is here’ or ‘it is there’ for the kingdom of God is within you”

And John 3

“The wind blows were it wills. You hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from, or where it is going. So with everyone who is born from the spirit.” (My italics).

This then is a Jesus who attempted to connect us back to our inherent faith. What he had, he was saying, we have too. But it’s up to us to reconnect, not some idol.