Opinion by Amy-Jill Levine, special to CNN
(CNN) – It was once said, “religion is designed to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable.”
Jesus’ parables – short stories with moral lessons – were likewise designed to afflict, to draw us in but leave us uncomfortable.
These teachings can be read as being about divine love and salvation, sure. But, their first listeners – first century Jews in Galilee and Judea – heard much more challenging messages.
Only when we hear the parables as Jesus’ own audience did can we fully experience their power and find ourselves surprised and challenged today.
Here are four examples of Jesus’ teachings that everybody gets wrong:
Opinion by Matthew Paul Turner, special to CNN
(CNN) – The majority of America’s churches teach that God is the same yesterday, today and forever. But considering our country’s near-400-year history, can we honestly say that our concepts and perceptions about God haven’t evolved?
Is our contemporary American God the same as in 1629, when the Puritans began organizing a mass exodus toward their “Promised Land”?
Is our modern God the same as in 1801, when Christians at a revival in Kentucky became so filled up with God’s spirit that they got down on all-fours and barked and howled like wild dogs?
More recently, is our God the same as in 2000, when born again George W. Bush won (sort of) the presidential election by rallying America’s then thriving evangelical electorate with a Jesus-tinged GOP rhetoric he called “compassionate conservatism”?
The truth is, no. God is likely not exactly the same as God was yesterday, not here in the United States, not among America’s faithful. Here, God changes.
Our making God into our own image isn’t a new trend. We’ve been changing God since Anglo Saxons first stepped foot onto these shores. Here are five examples.
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Editor
(CNN) – Yeah, but can he walk on water?
After Team USA goalie Tim Howard's divine performance in Tuesday's World Cup match against Belgium, some folks - ok, a lot of folks - were comparing the devout Christian's saving power to Jesus.
There's even a Twitter account called simply, @TimHowardJesus
Not even Jesus could save as many
— Tim Howard (@TimHowardJesus) July 1, 2014
Not even Jesus could save as many
— Tim Howard (@TimHowardJesus) July 1, 2014
Here are some top tweets about the Man in Goal and the Man from Galilee. If you see any good ones, please send them to me @BurkeCNN.
Opinion by Candida Moss, special to CNN
(CNN) - It’s that time of year again: the time when chocolate comes in pastels, cherry blossoms start to bloom and well-marketed religion exposés are released to the world.
In other words, it’s Easter.
Among the rash of sensationalist stories we can expect through the season, the annual “Easter was stolen from the pagans” refrain has sprouted again just in time for Holy Week.
Don’t believe the hype.
Perhaps most misinformed theory that rolls around the Internet this time of year is that Easter was originally a celebration of the ancient Near Eastern fertility goddess Ishtar.
This idea is grounded in the shared concept of new life and similar-sounding words Easter/Ishtar. There’s no linguistic connection, however. Ishtar is Akkadian and Easter is likely to be Anglo-Saxon.
Just because words in different languages sound the same doesn’t mean they are related. In Swedish, the word “kiss” means urine.
But the biggest issue for Christians is the claim that Jesus’ resurrection - the faith’s central tenet - might have pagan roots.
By Daniel Burke, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor
(CNN) - A team of scientists has concluded that a controversial scrap of papyrus that purportedly quotes Jesus referring to "my wife," is not a fake, according to the Harvard Theological Review.
"A wide range of scientific testing indicates that a papyrus fragment containing the words, 'Jesus said to them, my wife' is an ancient document, dating between the sixth to ninth centuries CE," Harvard Divinity School said in a statement.
Scientists tested the papyrus and the carbon ink, and analyzed the handwriting and grammar, according to Harvard.
Radiocarbon tests conducted at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology produced an origination date for the papyrus of 659-859 CE, according to Harvard. MIT also studied the chemical composition of the papyrus and patterns of oxidation.
Other scholars studied the carbon character of the ink and found that it matched samples of papyri from the first to eight century CE, according to Harvard.
Opinion by the Rev. James Martin, special to CNN
(CNN) - With Easter approaching, and the movie “Son of God” playing in wide release, you’re going to hear a lot about Jesus these days.
You may hear revelations from new books that purport to tell the “real story” about Jesus, opinions from friends who have discovered a “secret” on the Web about the son of God, and airtight arguments from co-workers who can prove he never existed.
Beware of most of these revelations; many are based on pure speculation and wishful thinking. Much of what we know about Jesus has been known for the last 2,000 years.
Still, even for devout Christian there are surprises to be found hidden within the Gospels, and thanks to advances in historical research and archaeological discoveries, more is known about his life and times.
With that in mind, here are five things you probably didn't know about Jesus.
(CNN)–A sculpture of Jesus as a homeless man installed outside a church causing some controversy, as WCNC's Tony Burbank reports.
Opinion by Carol Costello, CNN
Editor's note: Carol Costello anchors the 9 to 11 a.m. ET edition of CNN's "Newsroom" each weekday. Watch at 9:40 a.m. ET Thursday for a discussion of the new film about Jesus.
(CNN) - Clearly Jesus was sexy.
After all, He is the Son of God.
I don't mean to be disrespectful, but as I watched the trailer for the new movie, "Son of God," I found myself gawking at the actor portraying Jesus.
Diogo Morgado is one hot dude. His Jesus looks more like Brad Pitt than that nice man with the beard in all those paintings.
I'm not the only one gawking at Morgodo's Jesus. He inspired the hashtag, "#HotJesus". It went viral on Twitter. The actor told The New York Times he doesn't want his looks to distract from the movie, but, "If the message of Jesus was love, hope and compassion, and I can bring that to more people by being a more appealing Jesus, I am happy with that."
Clearly we have a new trend. A "more appealing" Jesus is not just a better prophet, he's ... sexy.
Opinion by Edward J. Blum, special to CNN
(CNN) - Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly sparked outrage this week by insisting that Jesus and Santa Claus are both white, saying it's "ridiculous" to argue that depicting Christ and St. Nick as Caucasian is "racist."
"And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white," Kelly said, "but this person is arguing that we should also have a black Santa."
Kelly was responding to an article in Slate that said St. Nick needs a makeover from fat, old white guy to something less "melanin-deficient."
The Fox News host would have none of it.
"Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change," Kelly said. "Jesus was a white man, too. It's like we have, he's a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact. As is Santa, I just want kids to know that. How do you revise it in the middle of the legacy, in the story, and change Santa from white to black?"
(CNN) – A giant statue of Jesus apparently survived Typhoon Haiyan unscathed, even as the massive storm flattened many parts of Tanauan, a coastal town in the central Philippines.
It's not the first time religious statues have survived natural disasters in the heavily Catholic Philippines, according to local reports. Two statues of the Virgin Mary withstood a devastating earthquake last month.
Meanwhile, Haiyan has wiped entire towns off the map, and thousands are searching for family members, food and water.
MORE ON CNN: Philippines aid pours in but survivors still going hungry
So, what do you think, readers: Is the unscathed Jesus statue a miraculous sign of hope amid the ruins or just a random coincidence?
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.