If Jesus Was Just a Moral Teacher, He Was Wasting His Time
Homily for the Twenty-Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time
Amos 6:1a, 4-7
1 Timothy 6:11-16
I would imagine that many of you have heard, at one time or another, someone (usually someone who says this sort of thing is trying to sound very worldly and sophisticated) say or write something like “Jesus came to show us how to love…”. Or, perhaps, something like “Jesus was a great moral teacher.” Now, this sort of thing may, at first, sound very well and good. But, in fact, they are very silly things to say. Very silly things indeed. Because we didn’t need Jesus to “show us” how to love. We know very well what it means to act in a loving way. We know the difference between being loving and being selfish. And we didn’t need Jesus to tell us right from wrong. Indeed, prophets and philosophers and wise men have been telling us for millennia what right and wrong are. Some 700 years before Christ, the prophet Amos lamented the wickedness of the people of Israel, and how the rich and powerful were more interested in enjoying their wealth and power than in living Godly lives. In our first reading, we hear the prophet say “Woe to the complacent in Zion! Lying upon beds of ivory…they eat lambs taken from the flock, and calves from the stall! …They drink wine from bowls, and anoint themselves with the best oils; yet they are not made ill by the collapse of Joseph!"
And if we look at our gospel today, it would appear from the Lord’s parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus that little had changed: the rich still enjoy their riches, and the poor suffer, waiting ‘til the next life to receive their consolation. We might even take Our Lord’s conclusion to be kind of depressing: Those who are unconvinced of the need for righteousness by the prophets and the moral law won’t even be convinced by someone rising from the dead, referring to Himself.
If Jesus came as merely someone to give us an example of love, or as another moral teacher, then I’m afraid He was wasting His time.
No, the problem isn’t in knowing what it means to love, or knowing right from wrong. The problem isn’t in the knowing, it’s in the doing. We can’t seem to get out act together to actually do what we know we should. We can’t seem to live as we know we ought.
And that, my brothers and sisters, brings us to the real point of Jesus’ coming. Jesus came in order to transform us. He came to take our hearts of stone and give us hearts after His own Heart. He came to empower us to live lives no longer for ourselves, but for Him. All the moral teaching in the world is no good if it falls on the same rocky, weed-grown lives we have apart from Him. He came so that, by taking on our human nature, our nature could be restored and redeemed in Him. As we heard in the Alleluia verse before the Gospel, “Though Christ Jesus was rich, He became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” The riches that God wants us to have are the riches of Christ’s grace and power, giving us the ability to live a new kind of life – His own life.
And we access that power, we avail ourselves of that grace, by the means He gave us through the Church. We do so here, in the Sacred Liturgy, where we are lifted up into the life of heaven itself, where Christ comes to meet us and we receive Him in the most real way. Here we meet Christ in a “heavenly exchange” by which the new life He won for us is renewed and extended. We go forth from this liturgy empowered by Christ to live as apostles in the world.
We access, we avail ourselves of the grace and power of Christ through frequenting the sacramental life of the Church, especially in the sacrament of Penance. We do so also through a life of charity. Performing works of charity is both a fruit of lived faith, and a means by which that faith is strengthened and by which we receive additional grace. We also receive the grace and power of Christ through devoting ourselves to prayer. It is by prayer that we grow in intimacy with the Lord, and learn more clearly how He is calling us to serve Him in the here and now.
The liturgy, the sacraments, a life of charity, and prayer. These are the means by which Christ has made it possible for us to “tap into” His power, His grace, His life. If we “lay hold” of His life in these ways, we will “lay hold”, as St. Paul says, of the eternal life to which we are called. In this way we can fulfill St. Paul’s charge to “pursue righteousness, devotion, faith, love, patience and gentleness.” And we will come one day into the unapproachable light, wherein dwells the King of Kings and Lord of lords.