February 14, 2013

The danger of the Gospel

By Jon Leonetti *

Have you ever heard of Fr. Robert Barron? If not, then it’s about time that you do. He put out this great DVD series called Catholicism that they might have shown at your parish (if they haven’t yet you should talk to your pastor, it’s amazing!). Among other things he produces a podcast that I listen to multiple times a day.

Why? Because over the course of the last few years he has taught me more than I could have ever imagined about Jesus Christ. And I'm not just talking about the warm fuzzy feeling Jesus, but about the Jesus that sets my own life on fire. And now I am on a quest to know everything I can about this Jesus. Not in the way someone who studies the Civil War might want to know everything they can about Abe Lincoln, but more in the way that I want to know everything I can about my wife. The more I know about her the more my love for her grows. And so, the more I come to know not just things about God, but actually come to know God Himself, the more deeply I can love Him.

Here are some things that I know for sure. First of all, despite all of the movies and pictures and the way we usually think of things, Jesus was not just a nice guy. I've said it before and I will say it again, nice guys don’t get nailed to trees by screaming mobs. They might get mugged in the street or shot in a movie, but they don’t get executed in courts for capital crimes. I think Father Barron actually phrases it perfectly when he says, “Jesus was a dangerous man, a truly dangerous man.” Think about it. Jesus threatened whole ways of life: both Jewish and Roman. What could be more dangerous than threatening that which is most familiar to everyone? Of course He got killed. The real question is how He managed to keep up this way of preaching and living for as long as He did.

Jesus never backed down. Once He took a stand on something He never gave in; something I know that I’m not so good at, and maybe you aren’t either. While I think we are all guilty of just “going with the flow” or not wanting to make waves no one could ever accuse Jesus of doing the same. And it's not like He didn't realize just how difficult and divisive his teachings and claims really were. After all, He almost got himself thrown off a cliff for them right after His very first homily.

But what was it about His teaching that was so divisive? What made His preaching dangerous? And why is the gospel your parish priest preaches every Sunday just as dangerous today, no matter how exciting or boring his delivery? I thought you would never ask ...

You’ve probably heard people say “Religion is just man’s search for God.” While this may be how certain other religions describe themselves, it certainly is not the claim of Christianity. The whole point of the Jesus story is that God came looking for us, and He came looking for us in the flesh. He wasn’t killed because He told people to “Love one another,” but rather because He told them to “Love one another as I have loved you.” What's the claim? I AM. That's the claim. He forgives sins. He rewrites the law. He condemns the Temple. Jesus is God Himself, but He’s not like the gods of the pagans who took what they wanted, used what they could, and discarded human beings like yesterday’s garbage. No, this Jesus is the God who gives and forgives, who loves, and who destroys sin and death absolutely, finally, to the very end.

Now that might not seem especially dangerous to us, but it was dangerous enough a teaching that it got Him killed. To the Romans Jesus was a rival to Caesar who also claimed to be a god and so have dominion over their hearts. Jesus could have spelled the end of everything they knew, and so tried (keyword here) to make sure He wouldn’t succeed.

So you might be tempted to say to yourself, “Is Jesus still a threat today?” It seems so. When Jesus says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” He is not speaking poetically. He is claiming that He is not just the way, but our way, our truth, and our life: individually, communally, professionally, and every other “-ly” you can imagine. And when we live this way – you and me – then our lives get turned upside-down. Now it no longer makes sense for me to make up truth, because the truth has already been taught. It's no longer the way I want to live. The Way has already been shown. It's no longer my life, but Life Himself who lives in me (Gal 2:20).

Jon Leonetti is the author of two books entitled - Mission of the Family and Your God Is Too Boring. He currently travels the country giving keynote presentations and parish missions. Learn more by visiting jonleonetti.com

The Live Greater Foundation exists to encourage ordinary people to live in extraordinary ways. Learn more about their work at livegreaterfoundation.org.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.