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The Gospel is not a compendium of maxims

  • FATHER GEORGE W. RUTLER

There are those who would reduce Christ to a glorified motivational speaker.


catchfishThomas Jefferson edited the New Testament so that the Resurrection and Pentecost were irrelevant, making the Sermon on the Mount the pinnacle of Christ's teaching. But this reduced the Messiah to an aphorist. Even had that been the case, there were others more verbose than any "Sage of Galilee.

In the eighteenth century, the 4th Earl of Chesterfield wrote his son four hundred letters on how to live as a gentleman, oblivious to the fact that the youth had been born out of wedlock to a housemaid left to live in penury. A wiser author of epigrams was the last of the "Five Good Emperors," Marcus Aurelius, who was a Stoic in the second century—and if you have to be a pagan, Stoicism is as good a way as any, if not as much fun as Epicureanism. 

Both of those men warned against procrastination. Lord Chesterfield coined the phrase: "Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today." This was wisdom, albeit snobbish, and not unlike Benjamin Franklin's homely advice on how to make a man "healthy, wealthy and wise." Marcus Aurelius was almost prophetic, and remarkably so since he left words he did not expect to be recorded but which ring true to Christ, when he wrote: "Think of your many years of procrastination; how the gods have repeatedly granted you further periods of grace, of which you have taken no advantage."

The Gospel is not a compendium of maxims, nor is Christ an amiable motivational speaker expecting to retire in Galilee and count his royalties. When he tells the scribe to follow immediately and not bury his father, and forbids another would-be follower to tarry to say farewell to his family, he is speaking of procrastination that defers the primacy of God to tomorrow. But Christ can only be a soul's Saviour if he saves today: "Today if you should hear his voice, harden not your hearts . . ." (Hebrews 3:15).

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Acknowledgement

Rutler5smFather George W. Rutler. "The Gospel is not a compendium of maxims." From the Pastor (July 7, 2019).

Reprinted with permission from Father George W. Rutler.

The Author

Rutler1rutler46smFather George W. Rutler is the pastor of St. Michael's church in New York City.  He has written many books, including: The Stories of Hymns, Hints of Heaven: The Parables of Christ and What They Mean for You, Principalities and Powers: Spiritual Combat 1942-1943, Cloud of Witnesses — Dead People I Knew When They Were Alive, Coincidentally: Unserious Reflections on Trivial Connections, A Crisis of Saints: Essays on People and Principles, Brightest and Best, Saint John Vianney: The Cure D'Ars Today, Crisis in Culture, and Adam Danced: The Cross and the Seven Deadly Sins.

Copyright © 2019 Father George W. Rutler
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