The nerve of Jesus!

The oddest thing about Jesus’ remark? No one was offended!

If you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, now much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!–Matthew 7:11, NKJV

Imagine! In a very offhand way, Jesus told everyone who had gathered to listen to him that they were evil! Who would dare suggest such a thing to anyone today? That would even offend inmates in a maximum security prison.

Mass media did not yet exist in Jesus’ day, but today the leading outlets in print, broadcast, and online media seem to love nothing more than to hear of someone’s gaffe and jump on it. If that person’s enemies or rivals jump first, then the media gleefully cover their outrage.

If anybody today began a sentence, “If you then, being evil. . . ,” the whole audience would be so offended that they wouldn’t hear a word of the rest of the speech. Twitter would be alive with indignation at such arrogance, intolerance, etc. Dozens of people would post the gaffe on You Tube, with any surrounding context omitted. It would play on every TV station for days. The person’s reputation would certainly suffer irreparable harm.

It’s not as if Jesus did not stir up controversy. The Bible describes multiple occasions on which a crowd argued heatedly with Jesus or even wanted to kill him. Yet he said, “If you then, being evil. . . ” and apparently no one batted an eyelash. Why?

Because they knew they were evil. Everyone knew that “There is none who does good, no, not one” (Psalm 14:3b).

The New Testament adds, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). In our society, we like to think of ourselves–and all of humanity–as basically good. Yet we all know that the world is full of evil, from wars and mass murder down to office gossip.

Sermon on the Mount, pulpit

Sermon on the Mount. On the pulpit at Wimborne Minster, England.

Why Jesus was right

If we are basically good, where does all this evil come from? People must somehow be corrupted by society. But what is society besides a collection of people? How can society be corrupt if the people in it are not? The idea that humanity is basically good turns out to be nothing but a comforting lie.

The bad news, then, is no one does good (exclusively and consistently), and everyone sins. By the way, “sin” is a word borrowed from archery that refers to missing the target or falling short. If you have ever said, “After all, nobody’s perfect,” you have in fact confessed the truth that everybody sins. Contrary to popular stereotype, sin encompasses much more than whom someone sleeps with, what someone drinks, or what someone chooses for entertainment. It isn’t necessarily even fun. (What’s fun about holding a grudge and being mad all the time?)

Further bad new is that none of us can do anything about it. Each one of us has our own idea of right and wrong, apart from God’s and apart from anyone else’s. And no one succeeds in doing right all the time even by that standard. There is nothing modern about evil, either. Archeology tells us about the violence and vast social inequalities from prehistoric societies onward.

The good news, the gospel, is that Jesus, who did not sin, became sin for us so that anyone by faith has the opportunity to overcome sin. Not that a believer becomes better than someone else, but that a believer becomes better than before. We still sin, but the realization becomes painful and we continue to allow Christ within us to help us sin less and less.

So, if you, then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, now much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him! Ask him for his grace. He has been waiting for you.

Photo credit: Some rights reserved by chelmsfordblue

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