THE GOSPEL PORTRAIT OF CHRIST OUR LORD
REV. JOHN A. PHILLIPS, S.J.
This pamphlet is a living portrait of our Lord, Jesus Christ. It is
solidly scriptural, written in simple, vivid sentences.
It can serve as an effective introduction to deepen study while meeting
the need of any ordinary reader.
May we commend it to all secondary students?
The author, Father John A. Phillips, S.J., is a scripture scholar.
Presently he is the Director of the Central Catholic Library, Melbourne.
A.C.T.S. No 1685 (1976)
* * * * *
It is the purpose of these pages to study the way in which the Son of
God expressed Himself through the human nature that He took from Mary.
Such a study will help us realize how very human our Lord was. Knowing
Him better, we shall be drawn to imitate Him more closely. and to love
Him more deeply.
Knowing that He was the Son of God, we naturally look on Him as perfect
and sinless; but we may also regard Him, for that very reason, as
rather unreal or remote. This feeling could set up a barrier between
our Lord and ourselves, a barrier that should not exist. Jesus came
into this world to teach us and to give us an example of the perfect
human life, an example we are meant to follow.
But how can we imitate One so perfect? How can we find in this Man who
was free from all fault the ideal we need? Is He not too far above us?
Christ our Lord is, indeed, far above us; but, as we shall see, He is
also very near to us, and the wonderful perfection of His human
character makes him the best of all models, because in Him every human
being can find an ideal and a noble way of life. Some will do this in
one way, some in another.
In approaching our study of our Lord, we must remember that the
character described in these pages remains the character of Jesus
Christ in His risen glory. Today there is the same Heart, the same
great love, the same approachableness and the same responsiveness to
the cry of human distress. But our Lord cannot give us all that He
wants to give unless we ourselves want all that He has to give.
THE MIND OF CHRIST OUR LORD
The education of a Jewish boy in our Lord's time was something very
different by our standards. Ordinarily, he went to school only till he
was twelve, and the instruction was largely religious in character.
Higher education could be sought in special academies or at the schools
for Scribes in Jerusalem. St. Paul had received an education of this
kind (Acts 22:3).
We must assume that our Lord went to school at Nazareth. Of course the
training given there would not have entitled Him to be regarded as an
educated man, and the Jews realized this. "How does this man come by
learning," they asked, "since He has not studied?" (Jn. 7:15).
Nevertheless, it is the thought and words of this Man that fill the
four Gospels, although He did not write one word of them.
He Spoke to Them in Parables
Our Lord's speech has a special character: it is filled with pictures.
His comparisons and figures of speech have passed into our literature
and have inspired many of the noblest achievements of our arts. To
realize this, we have only to recall the parables of the Prodigal Son
or the Good Shepherd, or to think of the way Jesus spoke of Himself: "I
am the Light of the world"; "I am the true Vine."
Further, all these word-images and pictures that He created are
designed to teach us something about spiritual realities - about things
that we cannot see with our bodily eyes. To do this, our Lord took such
simple things as the corn growing in the fields, the wildflowers on the
hillside, the rain, even the sparrows. What He said of each was
something readily grasped by the people who listened to Him - yet, at
the same time, what He said went beyond the rain and the corn and the
birds to some higher truth which He wished to convey to the minds of
No one has ever equalled our Lord's delicacy of thought and expression:
the sweep of His mind, His power of understanding all the thoughts and
aspirations of mankind, the penetrating insight He had into what really
matters. He was not deceived by appearances or led astray by
prejudices. He did not accept the passing views and opinions of men on
human life and the meaning of events. He knew the truth, and He spoke
Judgement on Sinners?
The Jews had a wrong idea of the Saviour who had been promised to them.
They wanted a political saviour, a great military leader who would free
their country from the Roman yoke, and our Lord knew that they would
reject Him for not being that kind of saviour. Because they would
reject Him, they would perish by the Roman sword in A.D. 70.
For example, some men came to Him and told Him about "the Galileans
whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices" (Lk. 13:1-3). Our
Lord then asked "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners
than all the other Galileans, because they have suffered such things?"
The Jews would have answered yes. Knowing the answer they would give,
our Lord went straight on without waiting for a reply. "I tell you," He
said, "no." Then He warned the Jews that, unless they changed their
attitude to Him, they would perish in a similar fashion.
Our Lord then offered a further instance of what the Jews would have
considered a judgement of God. He reminded His hearers of the eighteen
men who were crushed to death when a tower fell down in Siloe. Were
these eighteen men the greatest sinners in Jerusalem? "No," our Lord
said, and again He went on to warn the Jews: "Unless you repent, you
will all perish in the same manner" (Lk. 13:5).
We see our Lord, then, treating the misfortunes and accidents of life
as no guide to a man's state of soul. His hearers should not continue
to judge people by such occurrences. At the same time they should
realize that they had good reason to be concerned about their own state
of soul. If they persisted in their wrong attitude to Christ, they
would bring upon themselves just the very kind of death that they
regarded as a judgement of God.
There is something so characteristic about the way our Lord spoke that
His words need no patent of copyright. One may succeed in making a
parody of some saying of His, but one cannot create the kind of thing
He said. There is, really, nothing like His way of speech in all
literature; for His words are not merely striking in a literary sense -
they embody personal claims of an absolute nature.
"I am the Light of the world. He who
follows Me does not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of
life" (Jn. 8:12).
"I am the Resurrection and the Life" (Jn. 11:25).
"I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life" (Jn. 14:6)
"If anyone wishes to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up
his cross, and follow Me" (Mt. 16:24).
"Come to Me, all you who labour and are burdened, and I will give you
rest" (Mt. 11:28).
"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Mt. 28:18).
"Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will not pass away" (Mt.
First Person Singular
The emphasis is on the first person. Generally we do not like anyone
who makes frequent use of "I," "my," "me." Is it really being humble to
stress the "I"? Well, we know that our Lord was truly humble. He came
into this world to carry out His Father's plan for the redemption of
mankind, and He always did His Father's will: "I do always the things
that are pleasing to Him" (Jn. 8:29). If, then, He put emphasis on the
"I," He was quite right in doing so. He was, in fact, the Light of the
whole world, the Truth that men need to know, the only Way to the
Father, the Life that every man must live if he is to find everlasting
happiness. Our Lord knew all this and saw with perfect clarity that He
mattered to every human being far more than anyone else could matter.
Being Truth itself, He must face this fact and proclaim it. His words
may be sweeping, His challenge may seem daring, but what He said was
wholly true. No other man in all history has been able to face the
world and say with perfect confidence: "Come to Me, all you who labour and are
burdened, and I will give you rest" (Mt. 11:28). No one else could say:
"All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Me" (Mt. 28:18).
Our Lord made great claims, but He made them because they are true, and
because they matter supremely to each one of us. In Him, therefore,
greatness, humility, and charity are blended in the most wonderful way.
The superiority of our Lord's mind is clearly manifested in the various
conflicts between Him and men who hated Him.
Among His opponents the Pharisees
came first. They were a group who aimed at a thorough knowledge of the
Law of Moses, interpreting it according to various traditions to which
they attached great importance. Quite early in Christ's public ministry
the Pharisees became critical of His teaching - first in their own
minds, then openly. He denounced them for imposing unnecessary burdens
on others by insisting on their "traditions," and also for perverting
the true idea of religion, turning it into a merely external observance
of the Law of Moses. When the Pharisees saw how the people flocked to
listen to Him, their critical attitude grew into jealousy, and, in the
end, their jealousy became hatred.
The Sadducees were a
worldly-minded group who rejected the "traditions" of the Pharisees and
wanted to keep on good terms with the Romans. From political motives
they took sides against our Lord, and, with the co-operation of the
Pharisees, planned His death (Jn. 11:47-53).
Thus, for their own reasons, both groups tried to discredit our Lord in
the eyes of the people or to trap Him into saying something that they
could use against Him.
The Greatest Commandment ?
The Pharisees attempted to discredit our Lord by putting to Him a
question they thought He could not answer (Mt. 22:33-40). As they
studied the Law of Moses so carefully, they often discussed which of
all the different precepts in it was the most important. Some thought
one thing, some another.
Now, if the learned men among the Jews could not decide which was the
most important commandment in the Law of Moses, was it likely that a
carpenter from Nazareth could solve the problem? The Pharisees did not
think so. If, then, Jesus could not give an answer, the people would
see that He was not so clever as they supposed. So an expert in the Law
of Moses approached our Lord and, calling Him "Master," asked which was
the great commandment in the Law.
Our Lord immediately replied by quoting from the Law (Mt. 22:37; cf.
" 'You shall love the Lord your God
with your whole heart,
and with your whole soul,
and with your whole mind.' "
"This," our Lord continued, "is the greatest and the first commandment.
And the second," He went on, "is like it,
" 'You shall love your neighbour as
No Jew would have denied that there is only one God, Creator of
all things, Source of all we have and are. It should have been clear,
then, that our first and most important duty is to love Him who made
us, and since all that we are is God's work, we should love Him with
our whole self - with all our heart and soul.
Once our Lord had said this, it seemed obvious. It might not be so
obvious that our second greatest duty is to love our neighbour. But he,
too, comes from the creating hands of the same Father, so we are all
children of one great family and should live and behave as such.
The Sadducees' Question
The Pharisees believed in the resurrection of the body, but the
Sadducees denied this doctrine. They thought that they could prove to
our Lord that resurrection would lead to impossible situations, and so
could not happen at all.
Some Sadducees came to Jesus with an argument based on an ancient law
which said that, if a man died childless, his brother should marry his
widow and raise up children to his name. The Sadducees claimed that
through the operation of this law a certain woman had married no fewer
than seven brothers in turn. "At the resurrection, therefore," they
asked, "of which of the seven will she be the wife?" Thus, they
implied, the doctrine of the resurrection leads to such absurdities
that it cannot be true.
Our Lord attacked these Sadducees with vigour. "You err," He told them,
"because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God" (Mt.
22:29). He went on: "Those who shall be accounted worthy of that world
and of the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor take wives.
For neither shall they be able to die any more, for they are equal to
the angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection" (Luke
The Sadducees could make no answer to our Lord's attack on their great
argument. They were reduced to silence.
Tribute to Caesar?
Let us now take an example of an attempt to trap our Lord and get Him
into trouble, and let us see how He avoided the trap.
The whole thing was carefully planned by the Pharisees (Lk. 20:20). The
men who were to put the catch-question were instructed to pretend that
they were good and honest Jews who had a scruple of conscience about
paying taxes to the Romans. Their idea was that the Jews, because they
were God's Chosen People were not bound in conscience to pay taxes to
their pagan conquerors.
The tools of the Pharisees tried to play their part well. "Master,"
they said, "we know that You are truthful, and that You teach the way
of God in truth and You care nothing for any man; for You do not regard
the person of men. Tell us, therefore, what do You think: Is it lawful
to give tribute to Caesar, or not?" (Mt. 22:16-17).
If our Lord said that it was not right to pay the tax, the Pharisees
could denounce Him to the Roman authorities for encouraging rebellion.
On the other hand, if He said it was right to pay the tribute money,
they could then denounce Him to the nationalistic groups among the Jews
and get Him into trouble that way. He must say either yes or no. What
other answer could He give?
Our Lord's first reply was to denounce these men who were pretending to
be troubled in conscience. "Why do you test Me, you hypocrites?" He
asked (Mt. 22:18).
Whose Image ?
Having torn away their mask, our Lord faced the Pharisees' problem. It
was based on a misunderstanding. The Pharisees thought that the
Saviour's kingdom would be a kind of Church - State, which would rule
the rest of the world. But our Lord had not come to found a political
kingdom, of whatever character. His Church was to be a religious body
that would have to exist under various forms of government.
Consequently, the members of His Church would have civil as well as
"Show Me," He now said, "the coin of the tribute" (Mt. 22:19-22). They
gave Him a coin, and He held it up for all to see. "Whose are this
image and the inscription?" He asked. The particular type of coin with
which the tax had to be paid was a Roman coin bearing the image of the
emperor, and so the Pharisees could only reply to our Lord's question:
"Caesar's." Handing the coin back, He said: "Render, therefore, to
Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are
The Pharisees could not answer this. Probably they did not understand
our Lord's full meaning, but they could see that He had not fallen into
their trap, and they went away.
Every Jew would know, of course, that God's rights are supreme and that
our first duty is to Him. Our Lord had made it clear that He was not
going to institute a kingdom that would exercise political power. Such
power would remain in the hands of the rulers of the various countries
into which the Church would spread, and every good follower of His
should also be a law-abiding citizen - insofar, of course, as state
laws do not require him to act against God's law.
One day in the Temple the Pharisees presented our Lord with a more
involved problem. They brought to Him a woman who had violated the
sixth commandment. 'You shall not commit adultery ' There was no doubt
about her guilt. According to the Law of Moses, she should be stoned to
death. "What, therefore, do You
say?" the Pharisees asked Christ (Jn. 8:2-5).
They were not interested in our Lord's view as such. What they wanted
was to get Him into trouble somehow. If He said, "Yes, that is the Law,
stone her," they could report Him to the Romans, who had forbidden the
Jews to put anyone to death (Jn. 18:31). On the other hand, if He said,
"No, you must not stone her," He could be accused of speaking against
the Law of Moses. And, in any case, how could He show pity and compassion
in such a case as this? The Pharisees must have felt that this time
they had the perfect trap.
At first our Lord took no notice of the question. He was not an
official Jewish judge. Why should the woman be brought to Him? Sitting
there in the Temple court, He bent down and began to make marks in the
dust with His finger.
But the Pharisees kept on asking, "What do You say?" Finally Jesus
straightened up and looked at them. If they must have a reply, He would
give one. He said: "Let him who is without sin among you be the first
to cast a stone at her" (Jn. 8:7). Then He bent down again and
continued making marks in the dust.
One by one the Pharisees turned and walked away. When Jesus looked up
again, they were all gone. "Where are they?" He said to the woman. "Has
no one condemned you?" "No one, Lord," she answered. "Neither will I
condemn you," said Jesus. "Go your way, and from now on sin no more"
Our Lord had not said anything against the Law of Moses. Nor could any
accusation against Him be carried to the Romans. He had, indeed, shown
Himself merciful and compassionate, but to a repentant sinner whom He
warned to sin no more. He who had come to save sinners had done His
work, and in doing it He had brought out the fact that, on the private
and personal plane, we have no right to play the judge. * [* Footnote:
We may form a prudent judgement on the morality of another's act, but
we have no right to judge the person.] There is only One who has that
right - He who is Himself sinless. Jesus, sinless and all-holy, could
judge if He wished. He forgave.
By What Authority?
Let us examine an instance now in which it was Jesus who put the
awkward question. This time there will be no answer. On the Monday of
Holy Week, our Lord drove the dealers and money-changers out of the
Temple (Mt. 21:12-13). The next day, while He was teaching there (Mt.
21:23), the Jewish authorities came to Him. They were furious, not only
because they made money out of renting the booths and stalls to the
dealers, but also because they regarded Christ's action as unjustified
interference in their official domain. They demanded that He tell them
by what authority He did these things. Who gave Him such authority?
Our Lord responded calmly. He would first, He said, ask them something.
If they answered His question, then He would answer theirs. The
question He put was about the baptism that John had been giving. Did
John baptize people because he personally thought it was a good idea,
or did he do it because God inspired him to do it?
The Temple authorities began to discuss the question among themselves.
They realized that, if they admitted that John was a prophet acting
under God's direction, Jesus would want to know why they did not
believe John when he declared that He, Jesus, was the Son of God (Jn.
1:34). On the other hand, the authorities could not say that John was
not a prophet, because the people all regarded him as one, and might
become dangerous in their anger if any denial were made of John's
What, then, could they say?
Only: "We do not know." And as they had not answered His question,
Jesus turned away, saying that He would not answer theirs; "Neither do
I tell you by what authority I do these things" (Mt. 21:27). Their
refusal to answer our Lord's question brought out their insincerity;
and since they were not sincere, it was useless for Him to tell them
that He had every right as the Son of God to take action in His
Father's House, the Temple.
A Good Debater?
If we are to learn to understand our Lord better from this study of His
encounters with the hostile Pharisees and Sadducees, we should note,
first of all, that He did not make "debating points." His replies went
far beyond the clever answer of a good debater. On every such occasion,
He brought out some great truth or determined some fundamental
principle. His solutions of the problems put to Him are valid guides
for all time. He showed that our first duty is to God, our second to
our fellow men. His Church would be an independent religious body
existing within the framework of political bodies. We are not to judge
man's future state in an eternal world by what happens among mortal
men. If we are to learn the truth we must be rightly disposed, honest
and sincere, willing to accept the truth because it is the truth.
Our Lord's way of dealing with the Pharisees who wanted the sinful
woman stoned was not, of course, a guide for official judges in courts
of law. Neither He nor the Pharisees in question were appointed
instruments of the law. What He wanted to bring out on this occasion
was the fact that laws deal with external and visible actions, while He
Himself was preaching a doctrine that penetrates into the very heart of
man and searches his inmost soul.
We may note also that our Lord never used His superiority to exult over
the discomfiture of an opponent; yet on every occasion He showed
Himself the master of clever men and gave them an answer that none
could rebut, and none could have foreseen. No one would have even dimly
guessed His line of reply.
No wonder, then, that the people marvelled at our Lord's teaching (Mt.
7:28; Lk. 4:22), and at His replies (Mt. 22:33; Mk. 12:32).
"One is your Master"
Our Lord is our Teacher. "Only one,", He told the Apostles, "is your
Master, the Christ" (Mt. 23:10). And again: "You call Me Master and
Lord, and you say well, for so I am" (Jn. 13:13).
That is why, on Mount Tabor, the Father spoke the great words from
heaven: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear Him"
(Mt. 17:5). That is, He is the Revelation of the Father (Jn. 1:13), so
we must heed and accept all that He tells us. He is the Truth that we
all need to know; for He is our Way to the Father, He is the Life we
must live by (Jn. 14:6).
Christ our Lord is the Revelation of God, and in revealing God to us He
has revealed Himself. "No one," St. John tells us, "has at any time
seen God. The only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has revealed Him" (1:18).
Because He is Son, our Lord is "the brightness of His [the Father's]
glory and the image of His substance" (Heb. 1:3). Hence our Lord
Himself declared: "No one knows the Son except the Father; nor does
anyone know the Father except the Son, and him to whom the Son chooses
to reveal Him" (Mt. 11:27).
Through our Lord, then, we learn the ways of God - His love, His power,
His providence, His pity, and His desire for the love of every human
heart. God is the Almighty to whom "all things are possible" (Mt.
19:26). He is holy in an absolute sense, so that Christ could say: "One
there is who is good, and He is God" (Mt. 19:17). That is, God is
Goodness itself and the Source of all created goodness, so that
independently of Him there cannot be anything that is truly good. Men
must adore and serve this supremely good and holy God. This is God's
right and man's duty. "Begone, Satan!" our Lord said to the tempter.
"It is written, 'The Lord your God shall you worship, and Him only
shall you serve' " (Mt. 4:10). It follows that the first and greatest
commandment is to love God with all our power (Mt. 22:37-38). If we are
so unfortunate as to lose God, we lose everything (Lk. 12:4-5).
Who Shall See God?
God loves the humble, our Lord said, and He reveals His secrets to
those who think little of themselves (Mt. 11:25). Again and again, in
various ways, Jesus made it clear that it is the heart of a man that matters, not
his external appearance nor even his apparently good actions. A man may
appear very religious outwardly and yet not be so pleasing to God as
some poor fellow who beats his breast and pleads for God's mercy. That
was the point of our Lord's parable about the Pharisee and the Publican
(Lk. 18:9-14). Our Lord assures us that it is the childlike person who
will find his way into the kingdom of God (Mt. 18:3). The man whose
heart is free will see God - that is, the man of single mind, who does
not devote himself to getting all he wants in this world and thinks
that he can still love and please God, too (Mt. 5:8). Unless the human
heart is set on God, the prayer of the lips is vain (Mt. 15:7-11). If,
on the other hand, we trust in God, everything that we need for our
salvation will be given to us: "Ask, and it shall be given to you" (Lk.
Our Lord went so far as to say that we should not even worry; for God
has care of us (Lk. 12:22-27).
God's providence is supreme; for no one, no power on earth, can snatch
Christ's faithful followers out of His hand or out of the hand of His
Father (Jn. 10:28-29).
All this may give us some idea of the ways in which Jesus revealed God
to us, and from it we can understand something of what we might call
His practice of religion, His spiritual life. As man, our Lord revered
the Father in just those ways that He teaches us to do. We should
notice how His whole bearing is that of a beloved and only son,
profoundly and spontaneously reverent. He invites us to love and serve
God as Him who is truly our Father.
Both in what He reveals to us of the Father, and in His own attitude,
our Lord manifests the richness and depth of His thought and feeling.
His whole concern is with God and our relation to Him. Nothing else
matters. His attitude is summed up in the prayer He taught His
disciples (Mt. 6:9-10), the "Our Father".
Thus, in revealing God's ways to us, our Lord revealed Himself. This
self-revelation can be seen clearly in His intercourse with His Father
- in His prayer.
"Father, . . ."
The first thing that we notice about our Lord's prayer is, I think, the
fact that it is so simple and direct. He did not look to any mediator
between Himself and His Father. Rather, He spoke to the Father as to
One with whom He was on terms of perfect intimacy:
"I praise you, Father, . . ." (Mt.
"Father, if you are willing, . . . " (Lk. 22:42) ;
"Father, save Me from this hour . . ." (Jn. 12:27);
"Father, glorify your name . . ." (Jn. 12:28);
"Father, forgive them . . . " (Lk. 23:34); and so on.
So constantly, so naturally, did our Lord pray that we may say that He
led a life of prayer. There was no place, no circumstance, in which His
heart could not immediately pour itself out in trustful and loving
prayer to His Father. He prayed on the lonely hillside or in the midst
of a great crowd, in the noisy Temple courts or in the peaceful spaces
of a private garden, walking by the side of a river or in the quiet of
a closed room. He would rise early in the morning to pray, and
sometimes His evening prayer would be continued far into the night or
even to the dawn of another day (Mk. 1:35; Mt. 14:23; Lk. 6:12).
Jesus began His public life with prayer: "It came to pass . . . , Jesus
also having been baptized and being in prayer, that heaven was opened,
and the Holy Spirit descended upon Him in bodily form as a dove" (Lk.
3:21). He also ended His life in prayer, breathing forth His soul on
Calvary with these words: "Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit"
(Lk. 23:46). St. Luke goes on: "And having said this, He expired." On
Tabor, Christ was transfigured while He prayed (Lk. 9:29), and in the
Agony in the Garden of Gethsemani He prayed repeatedly (Mt. 26:29, 42,
44). So impressive was His constant recourse to prayer that His
disciples asked Him to teach them to pray. It was then that He taught
them the Our Father (Lk. 11:1-4).
The Unfallen Man
All this we can understand. But there was also something about our
Lord's prayer that sets Him apart from us. We beg God to have mercy on
us and to forgive us our sins. But Jesus never expressed any request
for pardon, any plea for mercy or forgiveness. In His prayer there is
no trace of regret, remorse, or sorrow for faults. He conducted Himself
before God as one who is already perfect, who already possesses that
absolute purity which is the goal of the spiritual life in its
perfection. He never asked to make progress. In His prayer there was no
request or desire for greater perfection. Already He had everything. He
urged others to repentance, He bade others "sin no more"; but He
Himself felt no need of repentance, no consciousness of anything amiss
in His whole life. He warned others to take care and be on their guard,
but He behaved as one who was perfectly secure and beyond the reach of
Another remarkable thing about our Lord's prayer is that it was so
ordinary. There is nothing in the Gospels to indicate any unusual state
of soul. Always our Lord was perfectly Himself, in complete possession
at all times of His powers and faculties. Nevertheless, He moves
through the Gospel pages as one who was also completely human. He
experienced hunger and thirst, and He knew what it was to be tired out.
Ingratitude hurt Him as it hurts us. He felt compassion for the poor
and needy, and He came to their aid. The sorrows of men touched His
heart, and He mingled His tears with ours.
Model and Master
Thus, this truly human Man lived a wonderful life of constant prayer in
the conscious presence of God, and His example is a lesson and model to
us. His prayer is the direct and simple intercourse of Son with Father.
Here, too, we can learn from our study of our Lord. Knowing and
understanding better the wonder that came into the world when the Son
of God took our flesh from a human Mother, we can grow in appreciation
and love of our Lord and Master. It is this admiring love that impels
us to shape our lives according to His teaching and example.
THE HEART OF CHRIST OUR LORD
Having considered our Lord's powers of mind and His life of prayer, let
us turn now to His sentiments or emotions and His appreciation of
nature and of the world around Him.
The soul of Jesus was always at peace. No trouble, anxiety, or emotion
ever crossed it independently of His will. Calm, unhesitating, never
embarrassed, He pursued His way in tranquillity of soul and sentiment.
There was no undue eagerness or haste, no impatience - except to suffer
for us (Lk. 12:50). Enemies surrounded Him and spied upon Him. They
sought to catch Him in carefully planned traps or to embarrass Him by
awkward questions. Yet we see Him always Master of Himself, as He was
Master of those that hated Him. His soul remained untroubled, serene,
When the Apostles were afraid in the storm on the Lake of Galilee,
Jesus was asleep in the boat. The Apostles awoke Him, and He rebuked
them for their fear and want of faith. Then, and only then, for His
disciples' sake, without concern or haste, He bade the waves be still
The devils, acting through people whom they possessed, interrupted our
Lord's discourses: "What have we to do with You, Jesus of Nazareth?
Have You come to destroy us? I know who You are - the Holy One of God"
(Mk. 1: 24). The Pharisees, the Scribes, experts in the Law of Moses,
even the people themselves, interrupted our Lord and insulted Him:
"This man blasphemes" (Mt. 9:3); "You have a devil" (Jn. 7:20);
"Master, in saying these things, You insult us also" (Lk. 11:45). On
one occasion a crowd in Jerusalem picked up stones to cast at Him (Jn.
8:59); His own townsfolk took Him to the top of a cliff with the
intention of hurling Him over (Lk. 4:29). Yet neither insult or threat
made Him lose His composure. When He said to His disciples, "Let us go
again into Judea," they answered: "Rabbi, just now the Jews were
seeking to stone You; and do You go there again?" (Jn. 11:7-8). Jesus
did go back, deliberately. To the rabble that came out to the Garden of
Gethsemani to arrest Him, He said, "Whom do you seek?" When they
replied, "Jesus of Nazareth," He calmly told them: "I am He" (Jn 18:4,
5). When Pilate threatened Him, Jesus warned him: "You would have no
power at all over Me were it not given you from above" (Jn. 19:11).
We see, then, that there never appears in the soul of Jesus any emotion
or agitation that we could liken in any way to disorder or
imperfection, and we must conclude that if He showed distress in the
Garden of Gethsemani, it was because He let that distress come upon
Him. Freely, and for our sakes, He underwent pain and sorrow of soul:
"My soul is sad, even unto death" (Mt. 26:38).
"Woe to you, hypocrites!"
The serenity of the soul of Jesus did not exclude indignation at what
was wrong. He hated all sham and hypocrisy and insincerity - every form
of pretence. He loathed especially insincerity in religion, in the
worship of God, and when He met it He flayed it without mercy. So
completely and transparently sincere Himself, He could not bear
falseness in others.
Those that called down our Lord's severest condemnation were the
Pharisees, who set themselves up as models of religious behaviour and
looked for the esteem and respect of others. Jesus condemned them
because their religion was only an external thing and not an expression
of the attitude a man should have in his heart and soul toward God.
"Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!" Christ said, "because
you pay tithes on mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the
weightier matters of the Law, right judgement and mercy and faith" (Mt.
23:23). That is, the Pharisees paid to the Temple a tenth part of even
the smallest herbs, but they failed to observe what was much more
important in the Law, the practice of the social virtues. "Woe to you,"
He said to them again, "because you clean the outside of the cup and
the dish, but within they are full of robbery and uncleanness. You
blind Pharisee! clean first the inside of the cup and of the dish, that
the outside too may be clean" (Mt. 23:25-26). The cleanliness in
outward things should be an expression of one's purity of heart. "You
also outwardly appear just to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy
and iniquity" (Mt. 23:28).
These, and other denunciations that St. Matthew records in chapter 23,
show us how much our Lord esteemed sincerity in the practice of
religion, and they are a testimony to His own utter sincerity and
complete detachment from all self-interest.
The World around Us
As far as nature is concerned, our Lord was deeply sensible of the
world around Him, its details and its beauty. He watched the reeds on
the Jordan banks swaying at the touch of every breeze (Mt. 18:8) ; He
listened to the soughing of the wind in the eaves of the house (Jn.
3:8): "The wind blows where it will, and you hear its sound," He said
to Nicodemus. The colour of the evening sky had a meaning for Him, and
He could read the indications of a coming storm (Mt. 16:2-3). He saw
wheat growing in the fields - "first the blade, then the ear, then the
full grain in the ear" (Mk. 4:29). The fields white for the harvest
caught His eye, and He told His Apostles to pray that labourers might
be sent to gather in the harvest (Jn. 4:35; Lk. 10:2). He knew how men
were engaged for work in the vineyards, and that the most trying period
of work was the middle of the day (Mt. 20:1-16). Our Lord even showed a
detailed knowledge of the difficulties the farmer had to contend with.
This appears in the parable of the Sower. (Mt. 13:4-9).
All this mirrors conditions in the Palestine of that time. The tilled
lands were not fenced in, and people took the shortest way home, so
that beaten tracks ran through the fields. Seed falling on this hard
ground could not sink in, and became the spoil of the wild birds. Or a
bed of rock may lie close under a film of soil. Seed falling there
springs up quickly, because of the moisture and the warmth caught on
this surface. But the moisture is soon dried up as the sun becomes hot,
and the seed cannot thrust its roots deeper to get more moisture since
the rock prevents it; so it withers away. Again, thorns grow quicker
than grain, so they outstrip it and kill it.
Our Lord had also watched the fishermen at work. He saw them cast their
net and draw it in full of fish. Then they would sort the catch,
keeping the good fish for eating or sale, and throwing away those that
were useless (Mt. 13:47-48). He knew how a shepherd would leave his
flock in a safe place while he went to search for a missing sheep (Mt.
18:12). He understood what a glass of water meant in hot and dusty
Palestine (Mt. 10:42).
The glorious wildflowers on the Galilean hills caught His eye (Mt.
6:28-30). He had watched the farmer plowing his field and looking
steadfastly ahead so as to keep the furrow straight (Lk. 9:62).
The World of Men
Just as He observed the world of nature, and the homely crafts of men
in winning a living from flocks and soil, so, too, our Lord took note
of what went on in city and town and home.
Rich men would send out invitations to a banquet, and sometimes the
invitation would not be appreciated and excuses would be found for not
attending (Mt. 22:1-13). A rich man would have a steward or overseer to
manage his estate and household; one in such a position might prove
dishonest (Lk. 16:1-8), while another would know his duty and do it
(Lk. 12:42-45). A type of rich man would be tempted to enjoy his riches
- one of those who "used to clothe himself in purple and fine linen,
and who feasted every day in splendid fashion" (Lk. 16:19), while at
his very gate a beggar might be dying of hunger (Lk. 20, 22).
The poor cannot afford extravagance but must look after everything
carefully, because they have little. So they patch a garment with a
suitable piece of material, in order that the patch may last (Mt.
9:16). Nor do they put new wine in old wineskins, because the
fermentation would burst the worn skins and both wine and container
would be lost (Mt. 9:17). And we like to think that our Lord had often
watched His Blessed Mother making bread, and that this was the source
of the apt simile: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman
took and buried in three measures of flour, until all of it was
leavened" (Mt. 13:33).
There are many other indications in the Gospels of how closely our Lord
observed the world around Him. Perhaps one of the most striking is His
little story about children sulking when they should be playing. He
said that the Jews of His time reminded Him of such children.
Some of the children wanted to play either at having a marriage
procession, or at having a funeral; while the rest peevishly held aloof
from both games, the gay and the solemn (Mt. 11:16-17).
We see, then, that this Man of such great powers of mind, so able to
deal with adversaries, this Man who lived in constant, direct converse
with His heavenly Father, was also One who knew human life thoroughly
in its every aspect.
Everything that our Lord said about the world around us and about human
behaviour was said for the sake of conveying some spiritual lesson;
but, at the same time, it shows us that this Person who came from
another world took His place in our own world and saw and understood it
all. Truly God, He was also truly one of us. His eye was caught by the
loveliness of a flower, as ours are. His ear took in the varied notes
of the wind's voice, as ours do. He was interested in human behaviour,
even in the details of daily life, household chores included. Most of
all, He was interested in the hearts of men, whether or not they really
recognize His Father as Lord of all. He saw that as the great problem
in every human life, and since we tend to forget that our Lord came
into this world to win us to a happy eternity in His own home, He used
every means to make this fundamental fact clear to us.
THE WILL OF CHRIST OUR LORD
Having studied our Lord's powers of mind and His sentiments and
feelings, we may turn now to consider the perfection of His heart and
will. It is by the mind that we know and understand. The will is the
power of doing things. It is the power of loving or hating, of seeking
or rejecting. It is in the will, therefore, that virtue or vice are
found. We merit or we sin through the free decisions of the will.
We might say, of course, that when we come to study the Son of God, we
would expect Him to be perfect, free of all sin, and possessed of all
the virtues. And that was indeed the case. But the mere stating of the
fact does not make a great impression on us. The aim of these pages is
to try to see how completely Christ our Lord was free of all sin and
imperfection, and how far His virtues went. In this way we may come to
a deeper understanding of Him and a better appreciation of His moral
When we examine the life of Christ, we find not only that He was free
from sin but that He was quite conscious of the fact and even used it
as an argument. To some of those Jews who were opposed to His teaching
He said: "Which of you can convict Me of sin?" (Jn. 8:46). And he could
say this though He knew that these jealous men watched Him closely to
find something that they could use against Him. They did not find it.
There was no answer to that extraordinary challenge. There never has
been an answer. Christ stands alone, the only truly perfect Man. ,
Why did our Lord claim this freedom from sin? For the sake of His
teaching. He came into the world to tell men what God wants of them,
what He wishes them to do; and men might well ask what right He had to
assert so definitely that what He said was the will of God for us. He
showed that He had such a right by working miracles, but He also put
Himself forward as a proof. That is, He offered His own way of life,
entirely in accordance with the will of His Father, as a proof that He
came from God. One who lived as God wants men to live could not lead
men astray into error and sin. So, when Jesus said He was sinless, He
had an excellent reason for making the claim. It was not boasting - it
was the simple statement of a wonderful and most significant fact.
The Unselfish Man
The moral perfection of our Lord's character is revealed in various
ways. We find that He was fair and just. That is, while He condemned
the wicked and malicious, He also praised the good and those who sought
to do what was right. He was strong - He bore patiently the hostility
of His enemies, their insults and abuse. He accepted and endured not
only hunger and thirst, hard work and long journeys on foot, but also
pain and suffering beyond the experience of other men. But perhaps what
strikes us most is His complete lack of consideration for Himself. He
was wholly free of all traces of selfishness and declared that He had
come into the world to sacrifice Himself for others: "The Son of Man
has not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a
ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28). On another occasion He said: "Greater
love than this no one has, that one lay down his life for his friends"
(Jn. 15:14). And He made it clear that He was going to do just that. He
would give His life in sacrifice to redeem and save us.
The Balanced Character
There was nothing missing from our Lord's character. There was no
weakness, no overbearing strength in any direction. One virtue
completed another, and all worked together in perfect harmony. The
strength and resolution of His character was counterbalanced by
simplicity, kindness, gentleness, and deep sympathy. Yet His gentleness
did not degenerate into weakness or indulgence. He never repelled the
sinner who came to Him in sorrow, yet He never approved of evil or
failed to make it clear that sin is deeply wrong. There was a certain
austerity about His life - His needs were few and simple. Nevertheless
He could take His place at a banquet or attend a wedding feast. Perhaps
most significant of all is the fact that little children ran to Him,
and He took them in His arms.
Our Lord's powers of mind, as we have seen, were of the highest order,
yet we do not find Him making a display of His ability or knowledge.
When He evaded the traps set for Him by His enemies, He did not exult
over their discomfiture. He never gloried in His superiority. Rather,
He sought the company of the poor and the ignorant, and He mingled so
naturally with these people that they did not feel that He was
condescending toward them.
When Jesus was faced with a difficulty, He did not accept a compromise.
As we saw in His conflicts with the Pharisees, He went beneath the
question at issue and brought out what was involved. He worked hard to
establish His kingdom, and He prayed for it far into the night;
nevertheless we do not find in Him any fearfulness about the future,
any anxiety, even, about the morrow.
Jesus was a Man who loved solitude, but He went about among men and
mixed freely with all classes and types. His love for human souls went
to the supreme limit of self-sacrifice, and yet He could thank His
Father for hiding His mysteries from men who were satisfied with their
own ideas and did not want to learn the truth that He, God's Son, had
brought into the world.
It is clear that Christ our Lord did not live or move or think in an
unreal world. He knew the world and its ways, yet He was not of it. The
world finds Him disconcerting because He recalls all men to their duty.
He demands that we should recognize the fact that we owe complete
obedience to our Father in heaven. Nothing else is reasonable. No other
way of acting is real. Jesus Christ is also disconcerting to the world
because He put Himself forward as the only hope of the world, as the
only way to the Father. He could not do otherwise, because that is the
fact. Nevertheless, we find that at the same time He effaced Himself
and accepted entirely the Father's plan for the redemption of the world
- a plan that involved so much suffering and sorrow for Himself. He
knew that He was all that really matters to men, yet the Father's will
was the very food of His soul: "I have to eat of which you do not know"
"Come to Me . . ."
The perfection and balance of our Lord's character revealed itself in
many ways. All classes of people came to Him - fishermen, soldiers,
civil and military officials, business men, students, cripples,
beggars, lepers - and He could get on with them all. Women left home to
follow Him at a distance and to minister to His needs out of their own
resources (Lk. 8:3). The secret was His approachability and His
When the people were so amazed at His miracles in raising the dead to
life that they could not move, He thought of the needs of those He had
brought back to life. He told the stupefied parents of the little girl
He had just restored to them, to give her something to eat (Mk. 5:43).
Lazarus was standing before the tomb, bound hand and foot with the
grave clothes. "Jesus said to them, 'Unbind him, and let him go' " (Jn.
11: 44). Lest the multitudes should faint on the way home, He would not
dismiss them without first providing food for them (Mt. 15:32). When
many sick people were brought to Him to be healed, He did not cure them
with a word or with a sweeping gesture. No; He went around and laid His
hands on every one of them. His interest in each of these poor people
was PERSONAL. Moved by the sorrow of Martha and Mary, "Jesus wept" (Jn.
11:35). He appreciated courtesy, just as we do, and He was hurt when
men showed themselves ungrateful (Lk. 17:17).
Jesus could be severe, but His severity was reserved for hypocrites -
for those who pretended to be good and holy men when they were not
really such. That very severity shows us how wonderfully sincere He
was, how genuine, so to say. He was a Man who could be trusted
What We Are Not Told
The Gospels tell us what our Lord said and did, but they they do not
say explicitly that there were certain things He did not say or do. We
have to gather from the silence of the Evangelists and from our general
knowledge of Himself the fact that this very human Man was entirely
free from certain very human weaknesses. Perhaps the most significant
of these signs is the fact that He never sneered at anyone. It is so
easy, so human, to say "I would not do that! " Yet, although Jesus was
sinless and knew quite well that He was sinless, He never looked down
on another. Nowhere in all the Gospels is there a single trace of
contempt. He mocked no one. He did not ridicule or scorn anyone.
Certain ones He did denounce, with a severity terrible even on the
printed page; but He always did this in a direct way, for a definite
reason. For example, He condemned them for not believing when all the
evidence they needed had been offered to them. He rebuked them for
sinning against the light that shone in their midst. He reproved their
craving for honour and recognition, and He named the various forms of
injustice of which they were guilty. So Jesus condemned these men, but
He never sneered at them or belittled them.
Again, there was in our Lord no cynicism - He never lost faith in human
nature, although no man ever had more cause to do so. For three years
He had taught the Jews His sublime doctrine, explaining to them the way
of salvation. He had cured their sick, fed their hungry, healed their
crippled, and even raised their dead to life. Patiently, He had borne
insult and injury, always trying to bring His hearers to see the truth.
Yet, in the end, the Jews rejected Him and forced Pilate to condemn Him
to a criminal's death. And as He hung there on the cross, the crowd
taunted Him, deriding His claims and challenging Him to save Himself:
"He saved others, Himself He cannot save!" (Mt. 27:42). Yet He prayed
for all with tender pleading: "Father, forgive them for they do not
know what they are doing" (Lk. 23:34).
Our Lord never spoke an idle word - a word of no benefit to anyone. He
never apologized for Himself or for His teaching - men must simply take
Him for what He was. The Gospels nowhere record that He ever asked for
time to think things over or that He withdrew anything He ever said.
There is no hint of uncertainty anywhere in all His teaching. He never
expressed doubt, He never hesitated, He was never at a loss. When some
of the Temple guards were sent to arrest Him, they returned
empty-handed. "Why have you not brought Him?" their masters asked. The
guards could only answer: "Never has man spoken as this Man" (Jn.
7:46). It was a strange reply to give for failing to carry out orders,
but it was the simple truth about our Saviour. No one has ever spoken
to mankind as He spoke.
FILLING OUT THE PORTRAIT
In the preceding pages an attempt is made to throw some light on
various aspects of our Lord's character. Details can still be added to
make the portrait more clear.
One of the most remarkable things about our Lord's character is its
directness and simplicity. Every word meets the occasion or the
circumstances. He does not talk above the heads of His listeners; to
critics He could give a reply that was beyond them; but when the
Apostles asked our Lord to explain something that He had said, He
always gave an explanation.
Indeed, we find that His general practice was to give His hearers as
much as would benefit them and that his approach was always determined
by the attitude of the person or people with whom He was dealing. The
power of adaptation is rare among men, and our Lord's was
extraordinary, so exactly and consistently did He meet the needs or the
deficiencies of the human beings whom He encountered.
"My Father's Will"
Not only was Christ's manner simple and direct; His own life had a
wonderful simplicity. Our Lord's whole life in this world was ruled by
a single principle. "I seek not My own will, but the will of Him who
sent Me" (Jn. 5:30). This rule of action affected all that He did (Jn.
8.29), and because of it His life attained a marvellous unity.
Human nature tends to waver and hesitate, to vary and change. Christ
our Lord showed no doubt or hesitation. He was always sure of Himself.
If He seems to change, we find on examination that it is because the
circumstances have changed. In other men self-confidence can be pride
or selfishness or mere foolishness. Jesus of Nazareth was most
realistic in His understanding of men and of the world. He was most
unselfish, courteous, and considerate. Although He spoke so much of
Himself and gave Himself the central role in the drama of the world's
history, He did so because it was the will of Another - His Father.
This surrender of His own will to the will of the Father was the basic
fact in our Lord's practice of religion, but it was by no means the
whole content of His religion. His approach to God, if we may so call
it, was one of delicate tenderness. We reach out to God, seeking to
know and understand Someone far beyond us. For Jesus, the gap between
man and God did not exist. If we try to find some kind of comparison
from our own experience, the best we can think of is the behaviour of a
very loving and devoted son toward an equally good and loving father.
There is no conflict or friction, because each understands the other
perfectly, and the son has no other ambition than to please his father.
But once we begin to develop such a comparison, we realize that we are
going beyond our human experience and painting an ideal picture. Yet
that ideal was realized by one Man who lived a human life among us in
this world. He did not evade the difficulties of life by working
miracles in His own behalf. Rather, He accepted our human limitations
and shouldered the burden of daily life, just as His Father wanted Him
"Gentle Jesus, meek and mild"?
In their endeavour to convey an idea of goodness and gentleness, many
portrayals of our Lord suggest a lack of real strength in Him. We know
that strength is necessary to the complete character of a human being.
Hence we look for it in our Lord, and we find it. He appreciated the
rugged strength of St. John the Baptist, who did not go about dressed
in soft garments, who was no reed shaken by every wind that blows (Mt.
11:7-8). Time and again we see Christ faced by a hostile crowd,
slipping away only when His life was threatened, because His hour had
not yet come. Twice He drove a horde of dealers from His Father's House
(Jn. 2:13-17; Mk. 11:15-17). There was nothing spineless or hesitant
about Jesus of Nazareth. He faced the world with a personal challenge
and said that on Himself the stream of humanity would split and divide.
His claims were, and are, absolute.
It is true, as G. K. Chesterton once pointed out, that "The mass of the
poor are broken and the mass of the people are poor, and for the mass
of mankind the main thing is to carry the conviction of the incredible
compassion of God." But if we overlook altogether the strength of
Christ, we cannot appreciate the perfection of His character; one
without strength lacks an essential of the perfect character.
Our Lord's strength of character is counterbalanced by a wide and deep
sympathy. Jesus saw not only the ordinary virtues and weaknesses of
mankind; He penetrated into the deepest motives, good and bad, that
drive men on to action. So complete was His understanding of mankind
that He himself has become timeless.
It is not merely that our Lord saw all this with His mind. Our needs
touched His heart. Seeing human grief, "Jesus wept" (Jn. 11:34),
mingling His own tears with the streams of human sorrow that pour down
the centuries. The fate that obstinate Jerusalem would bring upon
herself also drew tears from His eyes (Lk. 19:41); and on the way to
Calvary, in His own great pain, He could think of what would come upon
others: "Do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and your children"
Our Lord's sympathy with us and with all our forms of sorrow is shown
most clearly in His agony in the Garden of Gethsemani. Not that He had to suffer all that, but He wanted to suffer what we suffer, as
far as He could, and we may say that in a way His agony included all
the sorrows of the world. By taking our human nature the Son of God
became a member of a fallen race, where "all heads droop and all hearts
are broken." Christ our Lord was a man, and He wanted to suffer what we
suffer - fear and loneliness, dread and apprehension, shrinking from
pain and suffering and death; to bear all this that we might kneel
beside Him in our own anguish of soul and there find strength and
courage. He did not come to teach us to bear pain and sorrow stoically.
Rather, the ideal that He set before us is to triumph over our human
weakness through the grace of God. And so He showed us the way.