Following what has been said about Jesus accepting his place in the pattern of life willed for him by the Father, we should not forget how forthright he was in laying down the principles which it was his mission to teach. Where truth, love, morality, the Father’s glory were concerned, he did not yield an inch to the prevailing pressures. In fact he went beyond the accepted moral standards of the Law. You have heard that it was said to them of old, ‘Thou shalt not kill,’ but I say to you whosoever is angry with his brother…. You have heard that it was said to them of old, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ but I say to you whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her…. This, “I say to you,” was repeated when bringing up the question of swearing by sacred things, of lending and retaliation, of loving enemies, and of practicing generosity. Moreover, what he told his hearers about the right way to pray and the right way to fast must have seemed a new way indeed of looking at these things. Jesus was teaching as one having power and not as the scribes and Pharisees. You cannot serve God and mammon. There was no compromise here.
Nor could his audiences have seen in Jesus’s preaching either the humanist reformer’s high moral purpose or the blazing idealism of the fanatic. Whether they believed in his divinity or not, whether they believed he had been sent by God or not, they recognized his authoritative religious voice. As they listened to him over the years of his public ministry they were witnesses of his intransigence. In fact it was his obstinate tenacity which earned him his condemnation and crucifixion. Contemporary culture, Jewish and Roman alike, observed a much more flexible code than that which Jesus proclaimed.
Influenced by the hymnal image of Jesus “meek and mild,” we adjust awkwardly to the Jesus who could be violent enough to fling the money changers out of the Temple. We almost make excuses for his anger, citing the theological term “pro-passion,” but whether he was fighting abuses or the Pharisees, he was showing a side of his nature which is shared by all of us, and without apology. One wonders if he was not nearer to the Boanerges, the sons of thunder, than is generally supposed. In charging his disciples with lack of faith he could equally have charged them with lack of spirit, and it was only after they had received his Holy Spirit at Pentecost that they took a strong line. Saint Peter’s experience in Pilate’s court shows us the need for moral courage – an aspect of moral courage which trust in God’s grace can alone guarantee.
Most of us practicing Christians are firm enough in our convictions but are we firm enough in bearing witness to our convictions? We have not only to keep the faith but to give an account of it and defend it. The faith is not something which it can be left to the catechists to put across in instructions to children and prospective converts. It is something which we promulgate by the firmness of our commitment. It requires both moral courage and perseverance to build a city seated upon a hill. If we are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world, we may not hide behind an appellative Christianity and hope for the best. Truth demands the evidence of those who hold the truth. If our Lord did not water down what he had said in the Sermon on the Mount, his followers may not either.