The Teaching of Jesus
Page 1: Evening 1
TAKEN FROM THE CATHOLIC BOOK OF KNOWLEDGE, Vol. 1:
The Coming of the King, Virtue and Co. LTD, London
Nihil Obstat Joannes Barton, D.D. F.S.A.
The original English usage [spelling] of the publisher is maintained.
This is an excerpt from a series of stories running through the set of three volumes, featuring a little boy, Alan, who lives somewhere in England. His uncle, David, is a Catholic priest; he comes to visit his favorite nephew from time to time and when he does, Alan is full of questions about God; he trusts his uncle, whom he hopes to emulate one day, to tell him the truth.
The book has mostly black and white illustrations. The image at the left is a composite from images in other children's Catholic books.
THE SAVIOUR OF THE WORLD
Alan never felt lonely when his Uncle David came on a visit. There was nobody in the whole world who could answer his questions so well, and there was never surely a boy in the whole world with so many questions to ask!
"How long this time?" Alan burst out, as soon as his uncle's bags were safely inside. "How long can you stay?"
Uncle David smiled down on Alan's pale sensitive face: "Two days and three nights!" he said laughingly, "and then I'm off to Italy again to do a special writing job."
"Three nights mean three questions and three answers," Alan cried, his blue eyes suddenly lighting up, "and I've got my first question all ready."
"We'll have it after dinner, then," Uncle David suggested, "and I shall ask the Holy Spirit to help me with the answer."
Alan scarcely noticed what he ate at dinner, so busy was he thinking about his question. Never had it seemed that the grown-up conversation was so long, but at last coffee was served, and he saw his daddy wink at Uncle David, who solemnly winked back.
"Well, I expect you two have things of great importance to discuss," his father said at last. " You have my permission to sit up until ten tonight, Alan---so make the best of the extra hour."
"I will!" Alan promised fervently. "Can we go into the library please, Uncle?"
When they were settled in the comfortable red armchairs, one each side of the fire, Alan began.
"Uncle, my question is about Jesus. I want to know about Him. I want to know about His teaching. You see one day I want to write books about Him, like you do, and I do want to understand ..."
"And love," his uncle added quietly. "You will never understand Him, Alan, unless you love Him, remember that. And we are never too young to start ..." Alan nodded: "Every time you answer
my questions, Uncle David, I feel I'm loving better, but how did He teach men? Did Our Lord have sort of catechism classes like we have at school?"
"I think," his uncle began, "we shall need every moment of three evenings if we are going to answer this question of yours fully, Alan."
"John the Baptist, you remember, was Christ's Herald: he told the people, warned them, that Jesus was coming, and he begged them to do penance before it was too late. Jesus, after the time of His Temptation in the desert, began his preaching where John left off."
"John was by this time in prison; his work as a herald was finished, the Son of God had now come among men. So when Our Lord began His teaching by asking the people to repent of their sins, He knew that to many of them his words were familiar. By just being Himself, God Incarnate, He drew men to Him: all manner of men, Alan. Himself sinless, He became 'the friend of sinners'."
"Think of different types of people who were attracted to Him: the lepers, the beggar at the Temple gates, Mary Magdalen---just to mention a few. And, of course, the fishermen, the simple fishermen, who knew nothing of book learning, but who were singled out by Our Lord to be among the first to listen to His words."
"He made them understand something about the Kingdom of Heaven, anyway," Alan said. "I mean they did believe in Him, didn't they, especially Peter, and when He talked to them about God, His Heavenly Father, they understood. Oh, I'm sure they did!"
"Yes, Alan, during that first year of Our Lord's Public Life, all His design was shaped so that His Apostles might understand His mission among men. God had sent Him to save the world from sin, but if men were to be saved, they must turn to God first. Turn to Himself. 'I am the way', He said to them, and again 'Learn of me' ..."
"But, Uncle, Jesus didn't tell His disciples everything, did He? I mean it wasn't like the catechism, was it? I mean---oh dear, I don't think I do know what I mean, but I keep thinking of the catechism, which gives all the answers."
"I think I know what you are trying to say, Alan, and perhaps you are remembering without knowing that passage in St. John where Jesus said: 'I have still much to say to you, but it is beyond your reach as yet. It will be for Him, the truth-giving Spirit, when He comes, to guide you into all truth.' So you see you are quite right---Jesus did not tell His disciples all things; they were not ready to understand completely yet. You remember how even Peter protested when He talked about His coming Passion and Death. No, the Holy Spirit, the Third Person in the Blessed Trinity, would complete His message for Him after He had finally left them."
"Sometimes," Alan remarked, sitting very erect, and looking wise, "you just can't take in a whole lesson all at once. It's the same at school. Sometimes we take weeks and weeks over one geometry problem. Of course," he added conscientiously, "it takes me longer than the others because I'm so bad at geometry anyway!"
"Well then," Uncle David began, "let's see where we have got to: we know now that Jesus had two main things in mind: first to establish faith in Himself, and second, through this Faith, to lead men to God by making them see the claim God had on their souls. If that sounds difficult, Alan, we will come back to it later, I promise you. You see, Our Lord was simply showing people the right way to behave, and you remember how some of the Jews turned away because they were too proud to repent. Even the rich young man, who wanted to enter the Kingdom of Heaven, could not bring himself to do what Our Lord told him to do. He loved his possessions too well."
"Jesus was always fearless in His teaching," his uncle continued, "gentle beyond words to the sick and the poor. He was at the same time stern and unbending to those people who were already selfish and proud---too proud to listen to His words."
"When you come to ask me about the Parables," Uncle David smiled mischievously, "as I'm pretty certain you will one day, you will realise how vivid Jesus made His teaching. By using parables---stories---He caught and held the interest of His audience from start to finish, and whether He was teaching by parables or talking directly to them, remember He was teaching with absolute authority ..."
"Absolute authority?" Alan frowned. "You mean with complete certainty---like our Maths. master when he says the area of something is length multiplied by breadth."
"I do," smiled his uncle, "and I'm glad you remember something of your lessons. Just hand me that copy of the New Testament, on the shelf behind you, Alan, and let me read what it says in the eighth chapter of St. John."
Alan found the chapter before he handed the Bible to his uncle. "Read it slowly, please," he said, curling up again in the chair, "because I want to remember."
"Jesus was talking to the Jews who believed in Him," Uncle David began, slowly turning the pages. "Ah, here it is! Listen, Alan: 'My words are what I have learned in the House of My Father.' Could anything be more definite than that? And again, a little time before, He was teaching in the Temple---talking this time to the scoffing Pharisees: 'Whatever You say about Yourself is worth nothing,' they cried. Jesus answered them in this way: 'My testimony is trustworthy, even when I testify on My Own behalf: I know whence I have come, and where I am going.'"
"Just one more thing, Alan. Take the New Testament and see if you can find another example of 'Absolute Authority.' Look up Matthew, Chapter 7-1---it'11 give you a clue, it's somewhere near the end of the chapter ..."
Alan uncurled himself as he took the book, "Let's see how long I take, Uncle! Too late," he suddenly cried triumphantly, "I've got it already---it's the last verse. Listen, Uncle: 'Afterwards, when Jesus finished these sayings, the multitude found themselves amazed at his teaching. For he taught them, not like their Scribes and Pharisees, but like one who had authority.' There!" Alan sighed with satisfaction as he laid the Bible on the table beside him. "That proves it."
"Now that we have firmly got hold of that point," Uncle David said, "and now that my pipe seems to be behaving better, what about going on a stage further, Alan, or are you getting sleepy?"
Alan jumped to his feet indignantly, "Uncle!"
"All right---I can see sleep is the last thing in your mind. Let's take the next stage. For fifteen hundred years the Jews had been ruled by the Law God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. From time to time, God sent His Messengers, the Prophets, to warn them of the danger of following only the letter of the Law, and forgetting all about the Spirit. ..." Uncle David broke off abruptly.
"Am I going too fast, Alan? After all---it is nearly nine o'clock, and it may be too much to take in all at once."
"Of course not!" Alan cried, "and what's more I think I know what you are going to say next, Uncle. I think you are going to say that the Pharisees especially were very good at obeying the letter of the Law, but not the Spirit. And when Jesus came, He made it clear that of all the Commandments of the Law the most important was the Love of God---I mean loving God with your heart ..."
Flushed with pride, Alan stopped, then he added, almost reluctantly, "I was showing off a bit, there, Uncle David. You see, we had a lesson on the prophets in our doctrine class, and that part came in, how the Pharisees were just content with outward show---in spite of all the warnings from the prophets."
"That's simply splendid," his uncle replied. "Now we can see how Jesus came to fulfill the old Mosaic Law, and add to it. He gave the people a New Covenant. He showed them that if they wanted to enter God's Kingdom, they must begin by rooting out the evil in their own hearts. Jesus told the people to look at Himself to learn from Him. That would seem to be a most conceited way of going about things---the Pharisees would have said 'blasphemous '---if He were not speaking as God."
"Sometimes I feel sorry for the Pharisees and the Scribes and all the people who turned away from Jesus," Alan remarked slowly. "They were---so, so stupid. What a perfectly glorious chance they missed. ..."
"Christ never forced the Jews to follow Him," Uncle David said, after a moment's silence. "Man's free will always remained. He told them He was the 'Son of Man' (and the' Son of God') come to fulfill the Old Law. Some believed, others simply shrugged their shoulders in unbelief. The prophets had foretold the Coming of the Messias and that He would be descended from the House of David, but many people forgot their prophecies---conveniently forgot. Jesus fulfilled exactly everything the prophets said. He was the long-awaited Messias and the Saviour of the world. Do you remember what the Last Gospel of the Mass says? I can repeat it by heart, as I am sure you can: 'There is one Who enlightens every soul born into the world; He was the true Light. He, through Whom the world was made, was in the world, and the world treated Him as a stranger. He came to what was His Own and they that were His Own gave Him no welcome. But all those who did welcome Him He empowered to become the children of God, all those who believe in His name; their birth came, not from human stock, nor from nature's will or men's, but from God. And the Word was made flesh, and came to dwell among us, and we had sight of His glory, glory such as belongs to the Father's Only begotten Son, full of grace and truth'."
"Now I wonder, Alan," his uncle continued, "if you can think of something else now. Something neither of us has mentioned yet---something which describes the life of a true Christian; you'll have to put on your thinking-cap because I'm not going to help you."
Alan sat up very straight: "Something Our Lord said?" he asked.
"Yes," said his uncle, "it was a Sermon Our Lord preached to a great crowd---such a crowd! They had come from all over Galilee and Judaea and from beyond the Jordan. And Jesus met them all as He came down ..."
"From the mountain! " Alan suddenly cried. "The Sermon on the Mount, of course! Uncle, I've guessed!"
"Yes," replied Uncle David, nodding. "You've guessed. When Jesus came down from the mountain, after He had chosen His twelve Apostles, He found Himself faced with a great crowd, some of whom had travelled many long, weary miles just to listen to Him. It was then He preached what has ever since been known as The Sermon on the Mount. The first part of the Sermon, Alan, contains the eight
Alan's eyes gleamed. " ... You see, we learned them all by heart last term."
"I shall be asking you to say them for me in a moment," his uncle replied, "but listen now, Alan, even although you may know already what I am going to say next. The Beatitudes set out all the virtues and qualities that are the special marks of a Christian, and make him pleasing to God, and, therefore, blessed---the word' beatitude' means 'blessedness'. To many of His listeners His words must have brought a shock of utter surprise. There would be all kinds of people among that crowd; rough seafaring men, traders, tired housewives, rich merchants, beggars and almost certainly sick people---the incurables, too, longing desperately for miracles to restore them to health."
"Jesus with His chosen Twelve around Him, selected a level place on the mountainside, and then sat down. Above all else He wanted them to understand that religion---true religion---springs from the heart. The first part of His Sermon contained the Eight Beatitudes, Alan. I can see you are just bursting to say them; come on, then ..."
Alan took a deep breath.
"'Blessed are the poor in spirit,'" he began, his eyes shining, "'the, kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are the patient; they shall inherit the land. Blessed are those who mourn; they shall be comforted. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for holiness; they shall have their fill. Blessed are the merciful; they shall ' obtain mercy. Blessed are the clean of heart; they shall see God. Blessed are the peace-makers; they shall be counted the children of God. Blessed are those who suffer persecution in the cause of right; the kingdom of Heaven is theirs. Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and speak all manner of evil against you falsely, because of Me.' St. Matthew gives nine, really, doesn't he, not eight?" [See Note on the number of the Beatitudes on the page, By the Number.]
There was a short silence---then his uncle remarked. " You have learned your lesson well, Alan. I hope you understand the words as well as you say them."
"It was the first time Our Lord had explained just what He meant when He said 'Follow Me. ..' and you can be sure His listeners were startled, even afraid. Some of them didn't understand at all what He was saying; others didn't want to be told that the humble of heart and the meek would be blessed. You see all that He said was so different from what the Pharisees taught. Jesus told them that He hadn't come to do away with the Old Law. You understand, don't you, that by 'Old Law' He meant the Law given to Moses by God, but that He had come to fulfill it---in other words to make it perfect?"
"You know, Alan---I'm sure you do---the difference between obeying a school rule in a true spirit of obedience, and obeying just the letter ..."
"Like---like---" Alan hesitated. He was thinking desperately hard. "Like the rule about throwing papers in the playground," he said at last. "Some fellows put their rubbish on the school wall instead. They say 'Well, it's not on the playground, is it?'"
"In a way, yes," said his uncle. "These fellows you mentioned are just getting round the rule deliberately. If they obeyed in a true spirit of obedience they would, of course, put their litter in the litter-baskets provided."
"Jesus gave the Jews His Own perfect laws. If they obeyed them in spirit, they would be doing all they could do to please God. They would be perfect Christians. You must love God, and love your neighbour. The Jews knew perfectly well that this was what God had said they must do when He talked to Moses."
"Jesus started off with these two great Commandments, but then He went a step further. He said that you must love not only your neighbour and your friends, but that you must love your enemies, you must return good for evil. ..."
Alan wriggled uncomfortably in his chair. "You know, Uncle David, I can just imagine what some of these people were thinking. I'm sure lots and lots of them had enemies. And they would find that part jolly difficult, wouldn't they? There might have been a man in that crowd who had got cheated over a boatload of fish, and maybe he was just working out how he could get his own back as Our Lord was talking. After; all, it's jolly difficult sometimes to turn the other cheek. It happened to me the other day when a fellow cheated me over a marble at school. I'm afraid I---I punched him. ..." Alan flushed as he met his uncle's twinkling eyes. "Maybe I won't next time," he added, a little self-consciously.
"Our Lord looked at the crowd and perhaps had the very same thoughts as you," his uncle remarked. "He could see into men's hearts, you know, and there were men among the crowd with vengeful and jealous thoughts. He knew it; but still He said to them: 'But you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect' and again: 'Do to other men all that you would have them do to you.'"
"It was a very long sermon---The Sermon on the Mount, Alan, and a tremendously important one. Our Lord went on to tell the people not to worry too much about earthly things---I'm afraid we are always inclined to do this---but to trust God; God, Who is Our Father, knows all our wants. The anxious mothers in the crowd must have found that part of His sermon very comforting. He said that they must first seek the Kingdom of God, and if they did that faithfully then all the other things would come."
"Finally," continued his uncle, "and, Alan, I can see your young head beginning to nod---so it really is finally. ..."
Alan opened his eyes wide. "I'm not---not really very sleepy, Uncle," he said, "and I do know what Jesus said at the end: I can remember the words. He said: 'The kingdom of Heaven will not give entrance to every man who calls Me Master, Master, only to the man that does the will of My Father Who is in Heaven.'"
"And that means," he went on, propping his head up with his hands, "that we must really do all that Jesus asks us to do; not just say 'Yes, yes, how nice it all sounds,' and then turn away."
"Alan! That's excellent!" His uncle got to his feet, holding out his hands. "Grand---because although you're really half-asleep, old man, you've finished with flags flying." He consulted his watch. "It's just ten minutes past the magic hour. Come along, Alan!"
Alan blinked rapidly once or twice, and he held on tightly to his uncle's hand as they walked across to the door. "It's been a lovely talk," he said, as they stood for a moment beside the old grandfather clock in the hall. "A really lovely talk, and I won't forget any of it. Good night, Uncle David, and, thank you!"
"Bless you," Uncle David pushed him gently towards the stairs. "Sleep well, Alan, and happy dreams!"