It seems that one of the main difficulties that some people have with the Christian gospel is that it seems to them to be unrealistic. Few of them would deny that Jesus lived a good life or that He said some beautiful things. That, in fact, is the basis of their problem. As they see it, Jesus was so good and His teachings are so beautiful that they simply do not fit in a world such as ours.
There is a tendency among some people to think of Jesus as an idealist, a man who saw life, not as it is but as it ought to be. His message of love, His ethical code and moral standards are marvelous beyond compare. We like to talk about them, sing about them, hear sermons about them; but we’re not at all certain that they have any real place in what we think of as the real world.
So we come to Mass; and for a few moments inside the four walls of the church, we think about life the way it ought to be. Then we leave this place of refuge and go back out to deal with life the way it is. Jesus is “infinite sweetness, vague poetry, universal charm,” but the real world is cold, hard, cruel, and greedy. And somehow the two just don’t fit.
Isn’t that how many see it much of the time? In contrast to that concept is the statement of Jesus, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” In other words, our Lord thought of Himself as a realist. As He saw it, His way was not a religious side street. It was the main road. All other roads were blind alleys and dead-end streets. As Jesus saw it, His teachings were the way life ought to be; it was the plain truth about the way life is. As He saw it, His life was not a beautiful novelty to be admired and applauded. It was the real thing, the only kind of life that ultimately makes any sense or will really work.
He believed and taught that one of the worst things about sin is what it does to the sinner. He said that some people’s lives were like tombs, that on the outside they may look neat and tidy but on the inside were rotting corpses and dead men’s bones. He told a story about a young man who threw restraint and responsibility to the wind, went his own willful way, and ended up in the pigpen of life. Jesus taught that the only effective way to deal with sin is to face it, confess it, repent of it, and accept the cleansing of forgiveness.
Is that a dream world or is it the real world? When Jesus taught us to pray, “Forgive us our sins,” was He dealing with fact or fantasy? Over 2000 years ago, Jesus was saying things about people that modern psychology continues to confirm. Perhaps we should take Jesus a bit more seriously. It could be that He lived in a real world that most of us have not yet even discovered.
On this subject, our Lord had one central theme to which He returned time and time again – the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. He believed and taught that the human race is basically a family. And He presented that concept, not as an idea, but a fact. God is Father and men and women of all nations are brothers and sisters. That is what Jesus thought and taught about the human race.
And in this fragmented, hostile world, that must surely seem an incredibly idealistic thought. Could it be that the real reason behind social strife and misery is the refusal of the human race to face the fact that we’re a family? And could it also be that the only way we will ever solve our social problems and differences is on a basis of cooperation and goodwill, just like any sensible family does?
So it seems to me that we would be very unwise to think of Jesus as an idealistic dreamer. There is evidence time and again to suggest that Jesus may be the only true realist among us. Jesus told it like it really is: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through me.”