Everyone then who hears these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on rock. And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not act on them will be like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell—and great was its fall! – Jesus, Gospel of Matthew 7:24 – 27 (NRSV)
I came of age in the 80’s. My early spiritual formation occurred while I was a college student. During that time period, especially on American campuses, apologetics was a big deal. We were taught to defend our faith from an onslaught of intellectual challenges.
One front of this onslaught was challenging the divinity of Jesus – that he was indeed the Son of God, and so on. I was taught to help people see that Jesus was more than just a good moral teacher or philosopher. This was seen as important to the salvation of others (i.e. they had to believe he was the third person of the trinity to be saved).
I’m not diminishing the validity of that approach, nor the importance of having a view of Jesus that is shaped by the fullness of the Biblical witness. It just occurs to me that along the way, we were also learning to dismiss the reality that Jesus was, indeed, a pretty fantastic moral teacher and/or philosopher. (which makes sense, right?)
One of the clearest stories attributed to Jesus in the gospel of Matthew, quoted above, speaks to this point. Jesus seemed to believe that the way to life was hearing his words and doing them. This puts him squarely in the realm of a moral teacher, even if he is also more than that.
Jesus dared to say that if you listened to him and did what he said you would find life to the full.
I’m not sure if you have noticed, but stoic philosophy is becoming widely popular in many corners of the USA. As I read the stoics, I find myself returning to the words of Jesus, who really did teach a way to live – not just a belief system or a religious dogma.
Jesus was highly practical. He was concerned about the way people treated others. He resonated with outcasts and the marginalized. He knew well the limits of violence and steered people towards lives of peace-making. He dared to say that if you followed him, you would be living the way God intended from the beginning. Indeed, you could become fully human and live within the Kingdom of God by the power of God’s own Spirit.
I am a Christian. I am also an anabaptist. Anabaptists are fond of saying that you cannot truly know Jesus unless you follow him in life. What you know about Jesus, what you believe to be true of Jesus, is incomplete without living out what he said and did.
So crack open the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John and dive into a way of life that leads to life. What did Jesus say? What did Jesus do? How did Jesus treat people? Who was he kind to? Who was a less-than-kind to? Why? Then act on the things you discover.