Of all the teachings pronounced by Jesus in his lifetime none is more difficult than the commandment to “love your enemies” It is easy to love our neighbor; to love our spouse; to love children; to love the poor and the disadvantaged. But to love the one who has hurt us or intends to hurt is another thing completely. When Jesus pronounced this teaching, you can be sure that the people listening to him were probably shocked beyond belief. Love my enemies? How can that be? After all, imbedded in the laws of Judaism and in most ancient cultures was the expectation to fight one’s enemies. Not only that, but there was a general understanding that one could rightly seek revenge of some sort against those who hurt you in some way. This was a matter of justice.
The earliest record we have of actual laws regarding Justice in terms of revenge was found on some stone tablets discovered in ancient Mesopotamia known as the code of Hammurabi. Hammurabi was a Babylonian king who lived about 1750 years before Christ. He codified various laws which are considered to be one of the earliest examples of judicial rights of the innocent and punishment upon the guilty. Much of the code dealt with laws regarding lex talionis—literally—laws of retaliation.
In our message series, Common Sense, we’ve been exploring the reasons why following the teachings of Jesus makes sense, even on this very difficult teaching about the love of enemies. Let’s face it; we live in a world where retaliation or revenge is widely accepted. Revenge is played out on every school playground; revenge is practiced in many courtrooms; revenge is used in arguments between spouses and revenge is sought in many conflicts around the world. You hurt me. I hurt you. This is the cycle of revenge. This is the reality of an “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.”
What Jesus is concerned with, which makes common sense, is the need to break the cycle of revenge. Revenge accomplishes nothing except to foster greater hatred and injustice. Mahatma Ghandi is credited with saying, “an eye for an eye will leave the world filled with blind people.” Jesus teaches that the only way to end the cycle of violence and revenge is to pull the plug on it by forgiving the offender. The fact is, while we may not like to think about the need to forgive those who hurt us, we actually forgive many things each day. We forgive and forget things almost automatically. If someone bumps into you in a crowd, that person will usually say, “oh, I’m sorry,” and you would normally respond, “Don’t worry about it,” and that’s the end. So it takes common sense to believe what Christ teaches. If we don’t forgive, our anger will pile up and destroy us emotionally and spiritually.
—Fr. Celestine Tyowua, Parochial Vicar
The first question most people ask when offered a new job is about the salary; the second is about the fringe benefits. Before committing to a prospective employer, most candidates want to understand the full package of benefits.
In our message series, Common Sense, we’ve been exploring the reasons why following the teachings of Jesus Christ make sense. His success in shaping the course of human history, his universal embrace of all types of people, his surprising way of saving humanity by sacrificing himself, and the throng of leaders he has raised up to lead the world are four solid reasons we’ve covered so far.
But what about the advantages for those who already believe? Is there anything in it for us? What are the benefits of believing in what Jesus taught? Turns out they are myriad, but here are a few to consider:
1. Peace of Mind. Worry and anxiety are commonplace today. Most often the source is fear about the future because of uncertainty about the present. Shifting sands of truth can shake the foundations of our existence, and it’s hard to know who or what to trust. But Jesus said: “Everyone who listens to 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 buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock” (Matthew 7:24-25). Following Jesus’ teachings creates genuine peace of mind. We no longer fear tomorrow because, come what may, we have the certainty of truth.
2. Meaning and Purpose. Life has little meaning when devoid of purpose. Each of us was created for five purposes inherent in the teachings of Christ: (1) We “worship in Spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). (2) We form true fellowship in meaningful spiritual communities and become the family of God (Matthew 12:48-50). (3) We move mountains when we grow in faith (Matthew 17:20). (4) We are the greatest when we serve the least (Matthew 23:11). (5) We are sent on mission to feed God’s sheep out of love for Jesus (John 21:15-18). When we live out our purpose through his teachings, our lives take on their fullest meaning.
3. The Ability to Bravely Face Death. When his friend Lazarus died, Jesus wept (John 11:35). He wept for the tragedy, heartbreak, and outrage of death. He later bravely faced “[t]he last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Corinthians 15:26), when death itself was “swallowed up in [his] victory” on the cross. When we follow his teachings, we, too, can bravely face death and confidently ask: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
Join us this Sunday to discover one more important but surprising benefit of believing in what Jesus taught and living as he instructed.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Leadership is a flexible concept. In essence, it is the art of motivating people to move together effectively to achieve a common goal. The characteristics and personal qualities of a leader and the different types of leadership styles used also may depend on the circumstances, but no movement can get off the ground without good leadership.
The Jesus movement arguably has been the most successful in the history of the world. So, here are four of just some of the leadership qualities that Jesus exhibited during his ministry:
1. Emotional Intelligence. Jesus had charisma and people instantly gravitated to him. Peter and his brother Andrew immediately “dropped their nets and followed him,” as did James and John (Mark 1:18-20). Jesus amassed fame very quickly, and the “[n]ews about him spread everywhere” (Luke 4:37). In fact, there are over thirty passages in the four Gospels that mention crowds gathering around him. He was a people person who obviously cared about others.
2. Courage. Jesus never sugarcoated the truth, even though it sometimes meant losing lukewarm disciples (John 6:60-69). He held his followers accountable, correcting James and John for their overt ambition (Mark 16:42-45), chiding Peter for trying to tempt him away from the Cross (Matthew 16:23), pointing out the disciples’ lack of faith (Matthew 8:26) and understanding (John 14:19). He also challenged the authorities of his day (Matthew 23) and ultimately gave “his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45).
3. Empowerment Of Others. Jesus told his disciples: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matthew 28:18). Yet, he delegated and shared that authority with them. He sent the disciples to various regions as his ambassadors (Luke 10:1-23; Matthew 10:1-32), gave the apostles power to forgive sins (John 20:23), and eventually sent them as his witnesses to the “ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8).
4. Servant Leadership. Jesus cared for others, protected his disciples, set an example for them to follow, and ultimately died for them—all traits of a leader who prioritizes service. He did not come “to be served, but to serve” (Mark 10:45). He is the “Good Shepherd,” who knows and “lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11-15). Speaking of his disciples, he condemned anyone leading his “little ones” astray (Matthew 18:6), but promised to reward those who would give them even just a “cup of cold water” (Matthew 10:42). He also gave his apostles a model of humble service when he knelt down to wash their feet (John 13:1-17).
Over the centuries, Jesus has inspired armies of disciples. Join us this weekend for the fourth week of our message series, Common Sense, to learn how Christ continues to raise up leaders like you even today and why that is a very good reason to believe in what he taught.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
In our current message series called Common Sense, we’re examining why it makes sense to believe the teachings of Jesus. The impact he had on the collective human conscience and the inherent inclusivity of his message are two important reasons to believe. But, ironically, the truth of what he taught is most powerfully communicated through the suffering and death he endured on the cross.
When I was twenty-four years old, I made a retreat at a Trappist monastery on the edge of metropolitan Atlanta. Years earlier, I had visited with my sixth grade class. Now, as a new Catholic, this serene place of peace held far more spiritual meaning. As I was wandering the grounds late one afternoon, I came across an enormous crucifix on the shore of a tranquil lake. I stared at the lifeless corpse hanging on the cross and began to weep. The great love with which Christ must have had for us in order to endure the horrors of crucifixion overwhelmed my emotions.
As Tom Holland writes in his new book, Dominion, “no death was more excruciating, more contemptible, than crucifixion. . . . Everything about the practice of nailing a man to a cross—a ‘crux’—was repellent” (Basic Books 2019, 2-3). So disturbing was the idea that the Son of God could be tortured like a common slave that his method of death was not even portrayed in visual form until centuries later.
By the middle ages, however, the cross would come to humble even the mightiest monarch. “Men and women, when they looked upon an image of their Lord fixed to the cross, upon the nails smashed through the tendons and bone of his feet, upon the arms stretched as tightly as to appear torn from their sockets, upon the slump of his thorn-crowned head onto his chest, did not feel contempt, but rather compassion, and pity, and fear” (Holland 9). His teachings of universal love, turning the other cheek, and praying for one’s enemies became laden with moral weight in the convincing light of his ghastly crucifixion.
The reality of the cross, if given half a chance, will speak even in the most cynical of hearts today. Join us this Sunday for the third installment of our message series for more on this common-sense reason to believe in the teachings of Christ. As the lyrics of a popular contemporary Christian song by Matt Maher powerfully convey:
The price of love is paid in full, his blood poured out, how beautiful.
Take all the breath in my lungs, you’ll hear the rocks crying glory to God.
Take everything that I’ve got, and you'll see two empty hands lifted up.
You may silence me but the cross forever speaks.
—Father Roger Gustafson, Pastor
Father Roger Gustafson