Bushido, Rectitude, and Jesus


I will be doing a series of blogs working through the material of Inazo Nitobe’s famous book, Bushido: The Soul of Japan. My goal is to briefly summarize different aspects of the book while sharing some of my own thoughts. Unless otherwise noted, all direct quotations are from the book. This is part 1 in a series on Bushido and Jesus.

Japanese culture starts with the virtue of rectitude, doing what is right all the time, no matter what the consequences. The samurai who strove for a life guided by obedience to the right course looked down on those who participated in underhanded dealings. Over time this virtue evolved into Giri, “literally the Right Reason, but which came to mean a vague sense of duty which public opinion expects an incumbent to fulfill.”

Jesus always did the right thing. The Japanese understand that there is always a right way, and that way should be chosen no matter what. Not all men are able to do this. Jesus understood that God ultimately defined the right way, not man. He did not follow all the rules that his society followed. Similar to Japanese society, people in his culture judged Jesus for breaking their rules. He was accused of bringing shame on himself and his followers for going against the rules, but he constantly defended himself as being true.

When he was accused of being a law-breaker for healing people on the Sabbath Jesus corrected the Pharisees by telling them that they did not understand the law. They had made a law that God intended for people’s rest into a burden that prevented people from being healed. Jesus understood that the Sabbath was meant for giving life, so he corrected the Pharisees by saying, “Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.”[1]

Jesus also spent his time eating and drinking with people that the religious society would not, because they believed it was against the rules. Jesus understood that these were the people who needed God’s love the most, so when the Pharisees asked him why he did what they thought was wrong, he said, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”[2] Unlike the religious leaders who made all the people follow rules that were not the true way, Jesus followed God’s way and corrected the leaders, even though it meant losing their acceptance.

In addition to correcting the manmade rules that the people were following, Jesus also explained the deeper meaning of God’s laws, making it even more impossible for a person to do the true right way, since he said that if our thoughts are wrong we are as guilty as if we committed the crime.[3] He also fulfilled the true law by taking care of his mother when he was near the moment of death and in agony. John 19:26-27 recounts this by stating: “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

Jesus is the perfection of rectitude because he always followed the pure right way, not just the rules that people had developed. He is God because no man could live a totally perfect life, but he did. Hebrews 4:15 says about Jesus, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

[1] John 7:24

[2] Mark 2:15-17

[3] Matthew 5-7

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