There have been endless books written, lecture series taught, and sermons preached on “The Hard Sayings of Jesus,” but did anyone ever cover “The Easy Sayings of Jesus?”
In my own study, and in writing (albeit, irregularly) this column on the sayings of Jesus (“Jesus Said”), it has become my opinion that there aren’t really any “easy sayings” of Jesus. Some seem easier on the surface, but in reality, the more you listen to his voice, the more you realize how difficult it is to achieve Jesus’ ideals. But it is not just the ideals of Jesus that challenge us.
Even the worst among us are knowledgeable of lofty ideals, and capable of enunciating them. People before Jesus knew “the golden rule” – or some variation of it. Through the years, I’ve read some who attempt to discredit Jesus because he was not the first to state some exalted truth. So here is an admission: not everything Jesus said reeks of pure originality. Additionally, not everything Jesus said was of a higher moral caliber than had ever been proposed before (to be perfectly clear: Jesus’ moral caliber is not lower than anyone else’s either).
(Now, a caveat should be added here, lest someone accuse me of utter blasphemy or ignorance, which is that Jesus DID in fact say numerous things that were either: (1) well beyond the enlightenment of those who supposedly invented his sayings, or (2) antagonistic to anything that either the Jewish or Roman mind of the first 2 centuries A.D. would have been comfortable saying, if they would have imagined saying them at all. And (3) had the gospels been mere fabrications, compiled over two centuries or so, the likelihood of their being given enough circulation and credence to become the most well-attested, prolific, and influential documents (because they contain the most influential personality) of the past 2,000 years, is about as likely as a spiral galaxy producing a star system that has a planet that produces life spontaneously. But its not our purpose to explore these things in this article).
Appealing – and true, and powerful – as the sayings of Jesus are, and as apparently unoriginal (at least, in certain instances) as some of them might have been, this is not the appeal of Jesus’ words anyway. What really mesmerizes us about the approximately 36,450 words (in English translation) of Jesus, is him. It’s not only that he said the best stuff, but also, in conjunction with that, he lived the best life. In particular, he lived the life he taught. He attained to every single ideal he put before us.
This is where Jesus and every other philosopher, moralist, sage, etc., part ways. We know the follies and foibles of our neighbor. They are ubiquitous. And even though we may not see all of our own faults so well, we know we have them.
Not with Jesus. There no faults; there are no inconsistencies. What he said and what he did aligns like the stars of a constellation – and shines even more brightly. This is where Jesus and all other sages, poets, philosophers and wise men of all time are completely different.
As to the gospel writers: To have invented such thing out of thin air, as Judson invented the zipper, to imagine such a man as this, whose ideals reach into the heavens, but at the same time, whose life makes no step backward from, and is not one rung lower than those ideals – is either the most magnificent literary feat of all time, or is the actual record of a life that was lived. There is simply no apparent alternative that meets the test of rationality.
Beyond this, the ability of a mere mortal or mortals – most of whom are supposedly illiterate, unaided by the then inconceivable knowledge that such a monumental matter, e.g, the changing of the tide of all history around a single individual, was actually happening before their own eyes, and further unaided by the modern understanding of how best to document these things accurately for posterity – to record and preserve these things without stepping all over one another’s testimony, is undoubtedly the greatest feat of historical documentation on record.
As I’ve often remarked in my own preaching and teaching, to settle this matter of Jesus, one need not be a textual scholar or trained historian. One need only do a slightly improved job in accomplishing what the gospels sought to accomplish in giving us Jesus.
One author claimed that “the gospel writers used their imaginations,” and that what they wrote was merely “propaganda for the early Jesus cult.” Or, as a TV show I remember watching some years ago used to say, “Everything is made up and the points don’t matter.” The gospels, in other words, just contain another literary invention, known to us as Jesus.
But aren’t all inventions eventually displaced, either by wiser men or obsolescence? Why should it be different with literature? With Jesus? Surely, if a bunch of illiterate first-century Jews and ignorant redactors, each with their own motives and religious proclivities, over a few centuries, invented the most influential personality that ever lived, a small group of brilliant, unbelieving scholars could best it in a weekend at a cabin overlooking a lake. Right?
But we won’t hold our breath.