No matter what you think about Jesus, both believers and non-believers regard him as one of the world's greatest spiritual teachers. In this column we'll look at some of his most famous teachings and see how they apply to our war-torn, terror-wracked and scandal-stricken world.
In Luke 12:3 Jesus tells us, "So then, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in broad daylight, and whatever you have whispered in private in a closed room will be shouted from the housetops."
I thought of these words as I followed the appalling spectacle of John Edward's shameful affair with his mistress Rielle Hunter while his wife Elizabeth was dying of cancer. All the sordid details of Edward's extra-marital shenanigans the modern media has "shouted from the rooftops" of the Greensboro, North Carolina courthouse.
I thought too of these words as I followed the trial of Monsignor William Lynn in Philadelphia. He is being accused in court of protecting the church's image and pedophile priests instead of defending innocent children from sexual abuse. I had the same reaction when I read of the criminal case against Bishop Robert Finn, head of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese who is on trial for not reporting the sexual abuse of children.
Or perhaps Jesus' words in Matthew 18:6 are more appropriate not only for those churchmen, but for all those pimps who, God help us, traffic in children. "But he that shall scandalize one of these little ones that believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone should be hanged about his neck, and that he should be drowned in the depth of the sea." Even allowing for Eastern hyperbole, Jesus' words are strong and frightening.
Jesus also had lots to say about death and being ready for it. For it comes like a thief in the night. "Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour." Matthew 25:13. I think of the untimely deaths of John Lennon, who was shot to death at the age of 40 and Dan Wheldon, the Indianapolis 500 champion who died in a racing car crash at the age of 33.
I think too of those high-school football players who died from head concussions in the prime of their youth and the recent deaths of three athletes, two of them professionals.
These deaths apparently did not come from concussions but from depression. The deaths of 27-year-old Rick Rypien and 28-year-old Derek Booaard from the National Hockey League stunned hockey fans. The suicide of 29-year-old U.S. freestyle skier Jeret 'Speedy' Peterson, a silver medalist at the 2010 Olympics, has also traumatized the Olympic community.
In the case of a celebrity like Michael Jackson, however, Jesus' words in Luke 12: 19-21 are more appropriate. There Jesus tells those comforting themselves because of the abundance of their material possessions, "But God said to that man, 'Foolish man! Tonight you will die. So what about the things you prepared for yourself? Who will get those things now?" As you read this, survivors and hangers-on are fighting over the millions and royalties Jackson left behind. Instead of competing for all this wealth, they would be wise to ponder Jesus' words in Matthew 5:3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." More stuff will not make them happy.
This is the political season. Politicians are running for the House of Representatives, the Senate and for the Presidency of the United States. Implicitly and explicitly they are asking us to trust that they will serve us well. Given their records many voters are understandably skeptical at this campaign rhetoric. It would be helpful for them to recall Jesus' words in Matthew 20:25-26: "But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant."' It would be wonderful - and amazing - if our elected leaders could take these words to heart and work to serve the interests of the nation and the citizens who elected them.
This will sound Pollyannaish and naive, but all of our personal, national and international problems would be improved and many solved, if we only heeded Jesus' words in Matthew 22: 37-39 on loving God and neighbor. " 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' "
Here are some more words from Judaism's most famous rabbi. You can apply them to your life. For our judgmental society, John 8:7, "He said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her."
Finally, for our war-torn world Matthew 5:9, "Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."
That's spiritual wisdom for the ages - and for all of us.
Retired from the administration at State University of New York at Fredonia, Daniel O'Rourke lives in Cassadaga. His column appears on the second and fourth Thursday each month. A grandfather, Dan is a married Catholic priest. His new book, "The Living Spirit" is a collection of previous columns. To read about that book or send comments on this column visit his website www.danielcorourke.com/