I want you to put aside all the preconceived mental and emotional images we have of Jesus. Forget too all the doctrines and titles about Him. Just think of a first-century Jew living in occupied territory, looking just like everyone else. Jesus would be hard to distinguish from any other Arab or Palestinian Jew of today. He is just an itinerant rabbi, standing surrounded by a crowd of people, some friendly, some hostile. He says some of the most outrageous words ever uttered. Some think He’s mad. Some are intrigued, though skeptical, that such a program is possible to live by. He’s kidding, isn’t He? Is a comment heard more than once.
Jesus began to preach what was basically a radical way of life, what following Him would mean and cost. This was during an age when there was great poverty and inequality, and enemies of the people and the state abounded. Perhaps it isn’t too different from today after all.
After Jesus had finished preaching this Gospel, I am sure that the response He got was silence: the silence of disbelief. Some people’s mouths were hanging open: is it really possible for anyone to live like that? Could anyone seriously live the spiritual life and live it as Jesus taught?
If in fact, we would be His disciples, the true Christians, then we have to take a good look at ourselves and start measuring our lives. Not by the articles of the creed: after all, we were told, not everyone who calls me Lord will enter the Kingdom of Heaven; but by the articles of today’s Gospel: love your enemies. Do good, even to those who hate us. Bless those who curse us. Give to all who beg from us. Lend without repayment. Be compassionate. Do not condemn. Forgive and, even more, love beyond our circle of family and friends.
This Gospel is an outrageous agenda: who can really follow all of this? We might easily dismiss it as pie-in-the-sky fantasy, except the One who taught us these things actually lived by them: Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.
I think this Gospel should be made into some kind of alternate creed. It could replace the one we’re going to recite shortly. That one is a wonderful list of things we believe, and it costs nothing. This Gospel creed, on the other hand, is another matter: it costs everything. And I for one find it uncomfortable and hard and wish it would go away. But somewhere along the line, I know that if we love God, if we really want to be saints, if we call ourselves Christians, then we have to embrace it and struggle with it.
Maybe you can’t give away all that you have to follow Christ. It certainly is a scary thought, I’ve worked so hard, sacrificed so much, how can I possibly throw it all away? But maybe you don’t have to. Start by giving your best to someone else, someone new. It could be as simple as smiling at people in the grocery store or allowing a car to merge in traffic.
When Jesus first spoke these words, many found them too much and walked away. A minority, I suspect, stayed. Why? They knew that compassion is just another word for Christian. Just remember what He told us: “Whatsoever you do to the least of My brothers and sisters, you do to Me.”