One of the beautiful characteristics of Jesus’ teachings is that his examples are easy to understand and down to earth. You don’t need to be a genius to figure out what he is saying. Even a child can grasp what Jesus means. Jesus once spoke of how some people miss the point of what it means to be a true disciple. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about people who would approach him on judgment day with what they thought were fantastic credentials, but who would be sadly disappointed by his response.
Imagine one man approaching Jesus with self-confidence saying, “Jesus, I want to tell you that, as a disciple, I had the power to cast out demons. When they saw me coming, they ran. I could utter a single word, shout a deliverance prayer, and they would flee in fear. Of course, I gave you the praise, but actually I did have quite a following myself.”
But to this man’s utter shock, Jesus looks at him and says, with a questioning face, “Who are you? I don’t know you. You’re a stranger. Get out of my sight.”
Another man comes to Jesus, also quite confident, and begins to relate details of his ministry of healing. “Lord, I was amazing. I snapped my fingers and healed people on the spot. I could heal lepers from a distance and, I must say, I didn’t mind it when they came to me and said how wonderful I am. I told them it was you who had the power, but I didn’t exactly shout it out. And can you believe it, Lord? Just like you, I raised one man from the dead. You can imagine that caused quite a stir. In fact, I have a couple of paper clippings you might be impressed by.”
Again, Jesus stands back and asks, “Who are you? I don’t recognize you. Get out of my sight.”
Our Faith Is Built on Rock
Jesus never demanded or required that his followers perform spectacular deeds to impress people. God had already done that in his creation. “The heavens proclaim the glory of God,” as the psalms tell us. The whole magnificent universe is one infinite fingerprint of God that we see every night. Actually, even in his own miracles, Jesus seems ready to keep his dramatic healings quiet. He tells people not to go around praising him. Jesus heals people, not to gain fame, but because he has pity on the suffering people he meets. It is not about showing the power of God, but rather God’s compassion.
So, he tells us a very basic truth: We can build our lives either on a solid foundation of rock or a weak and unstable foundation of sand. When we listen to Jesus’ words and try to live them out, in spite of our own weaknesses, we are building our lives on a rock. Anyone who believes he can do it on his and has everything figured out is building on sand. The two men I described coming up to Jesus were not performing true, loving ministries. It was more about themselves and the impression they made on people. It was the opposite of what Jesus called them to be: witnesses and ministers of God’s compassion and mercy.
Jesus’ Core Teaching
We know the most important words Jesus spoke: “Love God and love your brother and sister” (Mt 22:37-38). And while someone might suggest that his words are mushy and a bit vague, living them out daily will require sweat and tears. Everything else Jesus said and commanded is based on this command. Amazing how eight little words can cover a lifetime on earth. In every situation we face, every conflict we are involved in and every temptation we battle, we will find the guidance we need in Jesus’ words. And what becomes apparent very quickly is that loving is hard to do. Often it calls for truthful humility on our part when we are just itching to spread gossip or an unfounded rumor about someone we find difficult to like. It calls for self-denial and self-control. It requires us to stand up and be honest with ourelves.
The words of Jesus, “Love God and neighbor” are part of that rock foundation upon which our lives are to be lived. You’ll notice Jesus doesn’t speak in a special way to intellectuals and differently to those who consider themselves ordinary folks. No one needs to know three biblical languages to understand what Jesus is saying. Great theologians are no more informed than the ordinary Christian.
You’ll notice the Gospel always indicates that it was the simple crowds who “rejoiced” because they understood Jesus’ message more than the Pharisees and other learned teachers. The understanding of the Gospel depends much more upon a person’s humble heart than a high intelligence quotient. You may remember Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince and one of the most famous and truest statements ever made. The Prince explains to the fox, “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.”
The truths of Jesus are powerful because of what he teaches, but also so simple because of the images he uses when he teaches those truths. It is good to remind ourselves again that Jesus gave us a wonderful compass to guide us on our journey.