THE REASONABLENESS OF JESUS
"In the beginning was the logos."
- John i : i.
LET us think of the reasonableness of Jesus, of his sanity, his level headedness, his common sense, his soundness of mind. An illustrious Roman poet was convinced that manís supreme prayer ought to be for a sound mind in a healthy body. A sound mind in a sound body has been the summum bonum aimed at by all the great systems of education both ancient and modem. The ideal was realized in Jesus of Nazareth. Unsoundness of mind is far more common than is ordinarily supposed. The mind altogether sane is rare, and there are those who declare that it is never found at all. The men and women imprisoned in insane asylums are only a fraction of the host of mortals whose mental operations are deranged. Our very language bears pathetic witness to the wide range of mental disturbance. Do we not speak of the crack-brained and of the scatterbrained, and of people who are daft? There are crotchety brains and freakish brains, eccentric and erratic brains, capricious, whimsical, and hysterical brains, unhinged and unbalanced brains of many types and grades, and when a man has a mind which works normally and sanely, we pay him the compliment of declaring him to be a man of common sense. We call it "common" sense not because it is prevalent, but because it is a combination of the qualities and forces which, scattered among many individuals, may be said to belong to the common race of men. Jesus was a man of unparalleled common sense.
Would you see how rational he is, study his attitude to life. There is a widespread impression, especially among young people of a certain age, that Jesus is unreasonable, and that Christianity is a religion that constantly makes war on reason. Young men sometimes say, "I do not want to join the church because I want to use my reason." How strange such language when Jesus from first to last pleads for the use of the reason. Christianity is the one religion of the world that demands the continuous and daring exercise of the intellect. Men often think they are using their reason when in fact they are exercising their prejudices or are suffering from paralysis of the brain. I have heard men rail at Christianity as unreasonable because a certain Christian man had said a certain thing, as though Jesus of Nazareth must be held responsible for everything that every follower of his may think or say. Other men have been hopelessly estranged from Christianity because of certain statements they have read in certain books. How unreasonable? It surely is not fair to hold Jesus of Nazareth responsible for everything which men who bear his name may think and publish. If men want to know whether Christianity is reasonable or not, why do they not read the Gospels? They are short and can be read through at least once a week, and yet men go right on refusing to read the Gospels the one source of all authentic information as to what the Christian religion really is. Many think nothing of reading a novel of four hundred pages but stagger under the task of reading the four Gospels. It is just such persons who like to talk about the unreasonableness of Christianity. Why not be reasonable? Christianity has but one authoritative volume. Why not read it?
Open your New Testament, then, and see Jesusí attitude to life. The word "life" was often on his lips. He loved the thing and he therefore loved the word. He wanted men to live. The tragedy of the world to him was that human life was everywhere so thin and meager. "I came that they may leave life, and may have it more abundantly," thus did he express the object of his coming. "I am the resurrection and the life," "I am the way, and the truth, and the life." It was in such phrases that he endeavored to give men an idea of his mission and his person. Men everywhere want to live, but the tragedy of the world is that they do not succeed. There is a path that leads to life, but there are only a few who find it. Tennyson expressed what every heart feels in his lines:
"ĎTis life of which my nerves are scant,
More life and fuller that I want."
But, alas 1 we do the very things that curtail the capacity for living and dry up the springs of vitality. We are imitative creatures, all of us, and we mimic the habits and methods of those around us to our hurt. We are cowards all of us, and never allow ourselves to be hoodwinked and browbeaten and cheated out of our birthright. We are greedy, all of us, and in our eagerness to secure the things on which eve have set our heart we become feverish and wretched, losing out of life its richest satisfactions. We are shortsighted, all of us, and in order to attain immediate ends we barter away the treasures of coming years. Life is not full or rich or sweet for many of us because we are handicapped by our doubts and hampered by our fears and enslaved by the unreasonable standards and requirements of a foolish world. It is the aim of Jesus to break the fetters and let life out to its completion. To do a thing which reduces the volume and richness of a manís life is foolish. We are reasonable in our conduct only when we are doing things that give life fuller capacity and power. Jesus was always reasoning with men in regard to the right way of living. Life to him was ever the treasure of transcendent importance, and his question, "What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his life?" is one of the sentences which having once dropped into the worldís mind are sure to stay forever.
In order to expose the folly of men, Jesus had the habit of asking questions. Foolishness can never be made ashamed of itself unless it is compelled to look into its own face. Men do stupid and silly thin-s because they do not think. They would cease doing them if they would take time for reflection. Jesus was always saying, "What do you think?" His only hope for men is in getting them to think. His attitude from first to last is the attitude of God as pictured by Isaiah. He was always saying, "Come, now, let us reason together."
The Sermon on the Mount is the part of the New Testament that is nowadays universally praised, and no wonder. Every sentence is a pearl, and every paragraph is the classical expression of unadulterated common sense. How sane is his remark on the subject of profanity! Swearing was common in his day as it is also in our own. But profanity is always irrational and nonsensical, and even those who indulge in it will admit this. The Hebrew had a deep-seated reverence for the name of God, and therefore he did not use Godís name, but substituted the name of his city, or Godís throne, or the earth, or the heavens, or his own head. all of which was puerile and absurd. And Jesus holds the practice up to scorn. Say what you want to say and then stop. "All superfluous words are both needless and mischievous." Is not this common sense? If a man wants to express a feeling or a thought, why does he drag in words which have no connection either with the thought or the feeling, and if he is expressing a feeling which is low and brutal, why should he pad his sentences with the most sacred names of religion? Profanity is a sin against reason. There is no sense in it. A man swears because he is weak, his vocabulary is limited, his power of self-control is stunted, his brain acts abnormally. Profanity is utterly senseless and ridiculous. A man who swears acts like a fool. The soul of Jesus revolted against it because it was so stupid and irrational.
It is this illumination of a mind altogether sane that he brings to the discussion of prayer. Men in the first century had overdeveloped the forms of prayer. The body had outgrown the soul. Men multiplied words but were poor in ideas and emotion. They said the same thing over and over again and called it praying. They repeated pious words on the street corners and were satisfied if their neighbors looking on called it praying. To Jesus all such devotion was ridiculous. If God is an intelligent Being, what is the use of any such mummery and mockery as this ? If God is Spirit, then to pray to him is to come into communion with him, and you can do that best when you are alone and have shut all the world out. It is not necessary to multiply words, the things essential being sincerity and spiritual contact. How sensible, so reasonable that it will never become obsolete. Equally sane is he on the subject of fasting. The exercise of fasting in Palestine had been elaborated into a system. Men fasted by the clock. Precise rules were laid down and to obey these regulations punctiliously was the ambition of the pious. Men fasted not only once but several times every week, and all this was supposed to be pleasing to God. But to Jesus the whole system was mechanical and abominable. There was no reason in it. It was utterly formal and deadening and stupid. Moreover, to make a display of it and flaunt the signs of it in the eyes of the world was contemptible. Fasting if it is to have value at all must be an exercise of the soul. It is the spirit which is central and which must control. It is not the abstinence from food that is pleasing to the Almighty, but the condition of the heart of the person who is doing the fasting. Moreover, fasting cannot be done by the clock. Jesus refused to obey the rules of the Rabbis. He did not ask his disciples to obey them either. Many punctilious souls were sorely distressed. They came to Jesus for an explanation. His reply carried them to the very center of the whole problem. "Can the sons of the bridechamber mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then will they fast." How illuminating and sensible! Fasting is a spiritual exercise. The body is to be controlled by the spirit. There are seasons when the soul is jubilant and then fasting is not in order; there are seasons when the soul is depressed, and at such times the body does not crave food. Fasting according to rule is irrational. Such fasting is not a part of the religion of Jesus, but wherever it exists in Christendom today it is merely a survival of Judaism.
Often Jesus illuminates an entire region of moral action by a question. Many a bubble of earthly vanity did he prick by the sharp point of a piercing interrogation. "Is not the life more than food?" Of course it is. Everybody knows that it is, the moment he stops to think about it. And yet thousands of mortals forget that life comes first, and by putting eating first they rob life of its glory. What a deal of fussing there is among people who are reputed sensible, about the dishes and the knives and the forks and the goblets and the number of courses! The simple act of eating is elaborated and made more and more ceremonious and complex until women break down under the burden, and life loses its zest and its joy. "Is not the body more than raiment?" Yes, it is, now that we stop to think about it; but it would seem, were we to judge from the conduct of a considerable part of the world, that the raiment is more than the body. Thousands fashion their lives upon the principle that the clothes are first and the body second. What the body needs in order that every organ in it may do easily and healthfully its appointed work, is in many cases not at all considered. Rather the question is: What is the fashion? What does the world of style demand? The clothes are hung up and the body is made to conform to the clothes, even though the body may be made to suffer in the operation and the volume of physical life be dangerously diminished. Who can number the people who are dragging out an existence pallid and nerveless, all because they have made the raiment of more moment than the body?
To the clear eye of Jesus all such conduct is insensate and wicked. Life comes first. Human beings must dress in ways which shall best conserve the physical resources of the body and make it easiest for the body to live the life which God has appointed it to live. That is reasonable, even though the whole world should deny it. His questions always pierce. "Is not a man better than a sheep ?" Of course he is, even though the foolish world does not always act as though it believed it. In the first century men were far more solicitous about the well being of their cattle than about the welfare of men who were not linked to them by ties of blood. This form of barbarism has not yet entirely passed away. A horse cannot fall in the street of any American city without men rushing at once to its assistance and getting it again on its feet. A horse down in the street is a sight intolerable. But a man down in the street dead drunk in some nook or comer is a sight which makes boys laugh, and even grown men pass by him without even so much as a thought of pity. Society is not yet reasonable in its treatment of animals and men.
Jesus would not allow himself to be swayed or daunted by institutions however sacred. Among the Jews there was no institution held in higher reverence than the Sabbath. So deep was the reverence that it degenerated into slavery. The day was made so holy that there was no living with it. The rules of Sabbath observance were so numerous that one could not turn round without breaking several of them. The reported discussions of the most sensible men in Palestine on Sabbath observance in the days of Jesus amaze us by their puerility and senselessness. Jesus saw at once through all the mass of rubbish that had accumulated round the subject, and laid down a maxim that shed light brilliant as the sun at noon. "The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath." The life of man is the first thing to consider always. The day is the servant of the man. Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath Day? Is it lawful to save life on the Sabbath? It was with such questions that he punctured the inflated reasoning of the Jerusalem dunces, and set men free from a bondage which had become intolerable. His view of Sabbath observance is reasonable.
But time would fail to deal with all the evidences )f his matchless common sense. He put to flight a whole troop of simpletons by the quiet remark, "They that are whole have no need of a physician, but they that are sick." He asked men to do great things, but he always gave them a reason why they should follow his instructions. The foolish heart is always devising new objections to prayer, but he overthrows all the objections which have ever been offered or ever can be offered by his simple question: "What man is there of you, who, if his son shall ask him for a loaf, will give him a stone? or if he shall ask for a fish will give him a serpent ? If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?" To be sure! All that is best in us must be rooted in the deep heart of God. The fact that we love to give good things to our children is proof that that same disposition exists in the heart of the Eternal Father. We should never have had the disposition had he not had it first. If we give, of course He gives and will forever give. How reasonable! How unanswerable! All arguments against prayer are unreasonable. There is one sentence in the New Testament which by the vote of the world has been counted golden: "All things, therefore, whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, even so do ye also unto them." What is this but perfect sense?
But some one may ask: Does not Christianity insist upon a namby-pamby attitude to the forces of the world? Does Jesus not virtually exhort his disciples to lie down and let men walk over them? No. You have gotten that idea from books other than the New Testament. Jesus is sensible at every point. "Give not that which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast your pearls before the swine, lest haply they trample them under their feet and turn and rend you." Who are the dogs? A certain kind of men. Who are the swine? Another type of men. We are to discriminate. All men are not alike. All men are not to be treated alike. There were men on whom Jesus turned his back. There were men whom Jesus refused to answer. The High Priest was amazed because he held his tongue. Pontius Pilate was enraged because his prisoner would not answer him. Here again we have common sense perfected. Some of us are foolish enough to think we must answer every dunce who chatters, reply to every question that is asked. Such is not our duty. When Jesus sent his disciples out to preach, he told them if people were unwilling to listen to them, to shake the dust from their sandals against them and go somewhere else. He followed that plan himself. No limp and sugary weakling was he. He faced men when necessary with a flash of indignation that frightened them and poured out upon them words which raised blisters. Nowhere is he more sensible than in his attitude to bad men.
But some one says, "Is he not unreasonable in demanding that we believe a lot of doctrines which we cannot understand?" Where does he demand that? Put your finger on the place, for I cannot find it. When I open the New Testament I hear Ďhim saying,: "Follow me! Follow me!" That is his favorite exhortation. And when men wanted to know how they were to ascertain whether or not he was indeed a leader worthy of being followed, his reply was, "If any man willeth to do His will, he shall know of the teaching whether it be of God, or whether I speak from myself." Is this not reasonable? Jesus says if you want to understand the Christian life, then work at it. If you desire to know the truth, then live it. This is common sense. How else could one find the truth of a religion if he did not work at it? If you want to learn to speak Italian, you do not simply think about it, or read about it, but you go to work on it. It requires a deal of work, but no matter. You cannot learn a language without making mistakes, and the only thing to do is to keep on working. just so is it with the Christian life. Men imagine they can become Christians by thinking about it, or by reading about it, or by hearing a preacher talk about it. How absurd! You can never become a Christian until you are willing to work at it. Are you willing to begin now?