Even a cursory reading of the Gospels confirms that Jesus was not just some nice guy telling people to try to be good (if they can).
Rather, throughout the Gospels, Jesus shocks and amazes people wherever he goes. They exclaim, "What is this? A new teaching with authority" (Mk 1:27), and "We have never seen anything like this" (Mk 2:12). Demons and unclean spirits cry out in his presence. Even Jesus' extended relatives turn on him: So disturbed are they by his words and actions, they try to seize him and offer the following assessment: "He is out of his mind" (Mk 3:21).
So, which of Jesus' sayings would be most likely to elicit such an "are-you-kidding-me" reaction today? Here are several contenders; they are either evidence of Jesus' insanity or confirmation that God himself has spoken:
- "Before Abraham came to be, I AM" (Jn 8:58). God is not some convenient myth, whom we either turn to in times of trouble or mock in our moments of self-sufficiency. Moreover, Jesus is no mere moral teacher. Rather, he speaks as the very ground of existence itself who has entered into time to invite all people into a deeper, more meaningful experience of life.
- "The Father and I are one" (Jn 10:30). This is the revelation that cost Jesus his life. The one true God who IS does not just live in isolation somewhere beyond the farthest reaches of the cosmos. Rather, this one true God IS Love, a communion of divine Persons. The Kingdom of God has come in Person, and communion with the Blessed Trinity is the destiny for which all human hearts have been created.
- "It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of the needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God" (Mt 19:24). No "wealth and wellness" gospel here! Indeed, G.K. Chesterton quipped that, ever since Jesus spoke these words, people have been trying to find bigger needles and smaller camels. The point is that Jesus challenges the latent paganism within each of our hearts: There is no "quid-pro-quo" whereby we pay off the "gods" in order to ensure a more comfortable life here and now. Wealth and riches are not signs of God's blessing, but treasures on loan for the good of all his people.
- "Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you" (Jn 6:53). This fundamental "you-are-what-you-eat" insight scares away many of Jesus' followers in the sixth chapter of John's Gospel. The Eucharist is no mere symbol, but is the Real Symbol which effects what it represents: The Son enters into us, so that we might become sons and daughters of the Father in him, through the workings of the Holy Spirit.
- "Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36). Basic human instincts compel us to demand that people who have wronged us get what they deserve. Basic supernatural instincts compel us to make sure that such people get more than they deserve. Jesus demands that we offer others what God offers to us--i.e., opportunities for reparation, renewal and reintegration into right relationships. The Good News is that karma is not king: Christianity is the religion of second chances, because everybody needs a fresh start.
- "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live" (Jn 11:25). The basic proclamation which provides the foundation for all of the Church's moral teachings is that the Lord has risen as he said (Alleluia!). The reality of the Resurrection is also the basis for the Church's liturgical and sacramental life: Christ comes to meet each of us, here and now, above all in the Scriptures and the prayers of the Mass and the sacrament of Sacraments. Death has no more sting, and fear of death no longer controls our lives.
- "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me" (Jn 14:6). So much for the confused and confusing relativism of our time ("the only truth is that there is no universal truth"--are you kidding me?!). Life is defined not by the journey but by the destination, and God does not leave us orphans wandering aimlessly in some meaningless wasteland. Rather, he meets us on the way, as the way, all the way home.
Let's pray for the courage to identify Jesus' most trans-formative teachings, and let's allow these words from the Word to resonate deep within our hearts. After all, the actual Jesus who the Gospels actually reveal is clearly not kidding around!