Reflection: The Two Gimmicks of Jesus Christ
by Father Don Thomas
There are countless titles under which Jesus Christ has been identified. In this reflection, I would like to express some thoughts about Jesus Christ, the Teacher. Known all over the world, Christ had a unique way of communicating with others. It is interesting to note that He did not use tape recorders, TV monitors, blackboards, word-processors or computers, but it has been well established that He had two excellent gimmicks that enabled Him to teach like no one had ever taught before or since. Those two gimmicks were the parable and the paradox. He was a master of both. Through them He was able to share His plans for the salvation of the whole world. Let us now turn our attention to those gimmicks.
Reflecting on the parables, first of all, we note that the ordinary person finds the parable is easier to understand than the paradox. After attending a religious education convocation in New Orleans about fifteen years ago, an explanation was given on the topic of the parables, and I was pleasantly surprised to hear such brilliant insights on the parables. I left that auditorium convinced that there is a lot more to the parables other than saying they are simply stories that have a moral or lesson to them. For our consideration at this time, let that suffice as we refer to such parables as the Good Samaritan, the sower and the seed, the Good Shepherd, the Prodigal Son, and others. We read these parables and then draw a moral or a lesson from each of them, and that is what Jesus had in mind when He taught by way of parable. The parable was unquestionably one of His favorite gimmicks.
What I would like to concentrate on in this particular reflection is the paradox. It is an incredibly clever way to teach, and no one has ever employed the use of the paradox like Christ, the teacher. By way of definition, a paradox is usually a statement that is actually contradictory or false. The little trick about recognizing the paradox is to listen to or look at one word and immediately think of its opposite, like tall–short, or big–small, or hot–cold. It becomes quite easy to recognize the paradoxes Jesus uses in the scriptures. One thing we ought to keep in mind is that you almost have to feel sorry for the Apostles when Jesus is speaking to them paradoxically. After all, they were simple fishermen for the most part and uneducated. They did not have degrees after their names, so imagine their reaction one day when Jesus said to them "if you want to be first, you have to be last", or again "if you want to find your life, you must lose it", or still another, "if you want to live, you must die". They had no idea of what Jesus was talking about and that is why they probably stood there scratching their heads, wondering what He was trying to tell them. Everything He said sounded like contradictions.
We can rest assured that Jesus knew they were completely confused and befuddled, and that is why one day He decided to go out along the country road, to take into His hands a bunch of wheat and say to them "unless the grain of wheat falls to the earth and dies, it just remains a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it will produce much fruit". What Jesus was doing was preparing them to understand His own death and resurrection. He was trying to teach them about Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and all about what we call nowadays the Paschal or Easter mystery. Down in Louisiana, for example, to personalize this mystery, I used to point out that if you take a few rods of sugarcane and just put them on a sidewalk and leave them there, nothing happens. They just dry up. But if you put those seeded rods in fertile soil, cover them up and bury them and then water them and let the sun get at them, something fantastic happens. The seed as seeds die and the stocks of sugarcane pop into existence. There has to be the death first of all before it comes to life. "If you want to live, you must die" Jesus was preparing them for the way He would die on Good Friday and come back to life on Easter Sunday. He was also teaching them that if they wanted to live in heaven some day, they had to die to this world we call earth. Also, He was saying that if we want to live with God in the state of grace, we first have to die to sin. We cannot have it both ways. Our soul is either in the state of serious sin or in the state of grace. "If you want to live, you must die".
All of Christ's teaching on this matter comes home to us so clearly through the exemplification of the two sacraments of Baptism and Confession, what we now call the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Consider this beautiful text. Jesus said: "through Baptism we are buried with Christ in a death to sin, so that we may rise to a new kind of life". There is the paradox again. Death makes life possible. If you want to live, you must die, and every time a person is baptized, there is a death that takes place—a death to original sin, and then the soul rises to a new kind of life—the life of sanctifying grace. That is why we say that up to one's baptism, he or she is a creature of God, but once a person is baptized, he or she becomes a child of God because now they share in His life—grace. Thus, at every baptism, we are reminded of Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
It is the same thing with Confession. When we as Catholics commit what we call a mortal or serious sin, we believe that our soul is spiritually dead. That is why we approach the confessional, as if we are walking into a tomb, where the forgiveness of God is ours for the asking. As we kneel or sit there, we confess our sins and express sorrow for those same sins, and once again the Paschal or Easter mystery is exemplified. God forgives or destroys our sins by forgiving them (death to sin) ... and we are restored to grace, to the life of God. Spiritually dead when we walked in (Good Friday) ... we now walk out spiritually alive or resurrected (Easter Sunday). Who ever could have thought of a better lesson-plan than that, other than Christ the Teacher? What a privilege it is to be one of His students, one of His followers. Let us thank Him sincerely and apply His lessons to our daily lives. The parables and the paradox are fantastic tools, and Christ used them very effectively.
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