Let me start with another provocative parable of Zhuangzi, my favorite philosopher of the 4th century BCE.
There once were three emperors who were good friends. One ruled the Southern Sea, another the Northern Sea, and another the Middle Kingdom. The emperors from the north and the south occasionally gathered in the Middle Kingdom to have fellowship and fun.
Interestingly, the emperor of the Middle Kingdom did not have the seven holes on his head like other humans—meaning he didn’t have eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. I think he must look like an egghead. As the host, he always provided excellent hospitality to his two friends from the north and south.
One day, the two emperors from the north and south said, “Let’s do something for our kind host to express our gratitude for his hospitality. Since he has no holes in his face, let’s bore some holes so he will have eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. He will appreciate our gift when he can see, smell, taste, and hear.”
So, they bored a hole in him each day. He got an eye on the first day, another eye on the secondary, a nostril on the third day, and so on. After the seventh day, they finished their project, and, to their surprise, he died. (End of the story.)
Do you understand this provocative parable, one of the most famous fables for 2,400 years? What does it mean? The story sounds funny and ridiculous, but the meaning is profound. It means what we see, hear, smell, and taste can kill us. The senses allow us to differentiate, discern, and discriminate between good and evil.
When we can see, we discriminate between beauty and ugliness. When we can smell, we discriminate between fragrance and stench. When we can hear, we discriminate between pleasant and unpleasant sounds. When we can taste, we discriminate between sweetness and bitterness.
Our five senses give us the duality of good and evil. That duality is the source of anxiety that destroys our happiness. The two emperors thought it was an excellent gift for their egghead friend, but it ended up killing him. If you are still confused, let me explain.
This parable is a dramatic depiction of the fall of humans. It’s like eating the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden—the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The emperor from the Middle Kingdom was like Adam and Eve, living an innocent, carefree, and abundant life in the beautiful garden of God’s love.
Like the serpent, the two well-meaning friends opened their friend’s senses to acquire the knowledge of good and evil, but it was a gift of death. As God said to Adam and Eve in the garden,
“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.” (Ge 2:17).
We know the story. Adam and Eve ate the fruit, but they didn’t die—not immediately. Instead, their first anxiety of shame kicked in.
“Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” (Ge 3:7).
Have you ever wondered why it says, “Then the eyes of both were opened,” as if their eyes were not open previously? Adam and Eve apparently had eyes, and that’s how they could see the fruit, but now their eyes were opened to the duality of good and evil. Seeing shame and decency was their first experience. Nakedness was their first anxiety to live with, passing down to generations to this day.
Have you ever had a dream that you were naked in public? It was a horrible nightmare, wasn’t it? What an anxiety!
It reveals that human anxiety comes from the duality of good and evil. What’s wrong with duality? Don’t we all want to know what’s good and evil so we can choose good? The truth is duality not only makes us discriminate between good and evil but also makes us compare between good, better, and best. As a result, we desire to keep up with the Joneses—consciously or unconsciously, since we know what’s better.
Since then, everyone has a different sense of good and evil. Arguments and fights erupt between friends. All the bickering in life involves “I am good, and you are evil.” Wars break out between countries, with each side thinking they are fighting against evil. Our national elections involve a lot of debates between good and evil. News media feed people’s anxiety with good and evil.
At a dinner party, I sat next to a friend who is a high school teacher in New York City. I asked him about his teaching career. He said that kids nowadays seem to have a great deal of anxiety and mental issues. They seem to be more fragile than the previous generations. The abundance of toys, technology, and social media has given them the anxiety to compare, compete, and catch up relentlessly.
Later, I discovered that the high anxiety problem is not just with children but also with adults. As Dr. Edwin Friedman said, we live in an anxious society. He said it over 30 years ago, but it’s worsening as time goes on. Why?
As our world becomes more and more complex, our burden to differentiate between good and evil, decency and shame, and success and failure become heavier than ever. We have more reasons to feel like a failure in these complicated times. No wonder our anxiety is higher than ever, covertly and overtly.
Some anxieties are covert. Some people don’t even know they have anxiety until symptoms show up physically, emotionally, or relationally. I call it “covert anxiety.” Covert Anxiety is worse than Overt Anxiety because it’s eating people from the inside without them realizing it.
You can trace any problem in the world to the duality of good and evil. The question is, how do you stop seeing duality? How do you undo the knowledge of good and evil? How do you unsee what you see? How do you un-eat that forbidden fruit? How to return to the carefree life of living in the Garden of Eden?
The good news is God knows our plight, and that’s why God sent Jesus to end human anxiety for good by redeeming us from the suffering in the duality and restoring us to the state of oneness called the kingdom of God, another metaphor for the Garden of Eden.
So, today, we will look at how Jesus showed us the path to end anxiety by paving our way to the kingdom of God based on this week’s scripture lesson.
[Hi, in case we haven’t met yet, I am Sam Stone, the Lightkeeper—you are the light of the world, and I am the keeper! (No pun intended). It’s my calling to help you shine your brightest so that God is glorified in you and you are satisfied in God.]
The Scripture lesson for today, the Third Sunday After Epiphany, is from the Gospel According to Mark 1:14-20. [Listen to the Word of the Lord!]
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”
16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. 17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” 18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him. 19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. 20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him. (Mk 1:14–20).
[Blessed are those who delight in God’s word. Thanks be to God!]
The story began in times of high anxiety when John the Baptist was arrested for proclaiming the kingdom of God and baptizing people for repentance. He offended King Herod by pointing out his sin of adultery. Shame could turn people in power into tyrants. Risking a similar fate, Jesus launched his mission.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk 1:14-15).
Here, Jesus proclaimed the same message as John the Baptist did. Why did Jesus risk his life to deliver the same message that caused his cousin to be arrested? It’s because he had compassion for humanity and wanted to end human suffering from anxiety. Mathew said,
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt 9:36).
When anxiety strikes, don’t you feel like a sheep without a shepherd? Jesus launched his mission despite these unfavorable times because his overwhelming compassion told him you are worth dying for. After all, it is the good news.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (Mk 1:15).
It’s good news because the kingdom of God is the garden of God’s love. It’s the end of human anxiety. The question is, what is the kingdom of God exactly? People have been asking this question for thousands of years. In short, it’s a metaphor for a state or a lifestyle under God’s sovereignty that extends from now to eternity.
If anxiety comes from the duality of good and evil, the kingdom of God is oneness—nonduality. In the kingdom of God, we are one with God and with one another. Oneness ends anxiety because there’s nothing to compare or contrast. There’s nothing to differentiate and discriminate because everything is one. Jesus described it in his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus prayed to the Father,
“As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us… I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.” (Jn 17:21, 23).
Oneness is the kingdom of God. Duality is the kingdom of fallen humans. Next time, when you feel anxious, think about who you are comparing in your mind or what good or evil you are trying to achieve or avoid. Then you will notice you live in duality. Enter the oneness of the kingdom of God, and you will find nothing to compare to, and the anxiety will go away. Let go of duality and let God of oneness.
How do you practice oneness? Jesus’ teaching of oneness is also in the Great Commandment.
‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mt 22:37–39).
What does it mean to love God “with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind”? It means oneness with God. The second part is not so apparent. We often misunderstood it as “love your neighbor as you love yourself.” If we interpret that way, we are in a duality mode because there is you and me. I love me, and I love you as I love myself. That’s wrong! What Jesus means is I love you as you are part of me—as you are part of myself. That’s the correct understanding. That’s oneness because in this interpretation, you are myself.
The word love here is translated from Greek, “agape.” The Greeks have many words for love; each has its specific meaning. Scholars throughout history have tried to interpret “agape,” and most of them interpret it as “sacrificial love,” as exemplified by Jesus on the cross. But, when we put it in the context of Jesus’ own teaching, it means “oneness love” or “harmonious love.” You do need to sacrifice your ego to live harmoniously with others—to live in harmony with God and everyone.
Now you know what the kingdom of God is—oneness with God and people. Then what do you need to do to enter the kingdom of God? Jesus wants you to repent. The word repent is translated from Greek, “μετανοώ,” meaning “to change one’s mind.” To repent is to change your mind. In this case, to change your mind from the duality mindset to oneness mindset.
There’s no good and evil in the kingdom of God. Everything is good. Even suffering becomes irrelevant. Just think about it. I feel such suffering to pay my mortgage, but millions of people around the suffer to bring their next meal to the table. If I am in oneness with them, how dare I complain about my life since they are part of myself? Repent from complaining, comparing, and contrasting. We all are one.
Oneness ends anxiety. There’s no loser in oneness. Everyone is a winner. It was such a freedom when I discovered the oneness of the kingdom of God. But I keep regressing to duality because we live in a fallen world of duality. So, I need to repent over and over again until I enter the eternal kingdom when I die. But my oneness mentality grows each time I repent, and my anxiety mindset becomes weaker and weaker.
I have discovered a way to stay more constantly in oneness. The rest of the passage shows Jesus recruiting the first four disciples—two pairs of brothers. Simon and Andrew fished from the shore, meaning they were poor. James and John fished on boats, indicating they were rich. Jesus called both the poor and rich to follow him.
And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” (Mk 1:17).
The correct translation of this verse is “I will make you become fishers for people.” Since Jesus was with the fishermen, so he used a fishing metaphor to bring people into the kingdom. But, we should not mistakenly think he is teaching us to bate and switch. In his three years of teaching the disciples, he never taught his disples to trick people into believing.
Jesus brings people into the kingdom by teaching. Of course, he performed some healing and miracles, but all of them were for teaching. His Great Commission reveals how he wants us to fish.
“And teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20).
That’s the key verse. The best way to learn is to teach. He promised to be with us when we do that. We experience oneness with Christ when we teach. Again, oneness eliminates anxiety. We don’t have to worry about how many fish we get or whether we get any fish at all. Our job is to teach—sow the seeds, water the plants, and nurture the crops. When the fruit is ripe, we bring in the harvest. That’s our kingdom lifestyle. As Paul said,
“In him we live and move and have our being.” (Ac 17:28a).
That’s oneness living. That’s the kingdom of God. That’s the end of anxiety. Let’s live it and teach it!
That’s it for today. I hope you find this message illuminating as much as I enjoy receiving it from the Head Office. Until we meet again, keep your light shining brighter and broader, and harvest the fruit of profound freedom, purpose, and happiness.