Jesus’ testimony concerning Himself by Fulton Sheen
The passages below are taken from Fulton J. Sheen’s book, “Life of Christ.”
The closer a person approaches God, the less worthy he feels. A painting under candlelight shows fewer defects than under the brilliance of the sun; so too the souls who are some distance from God feel more certain of their moral integrity than those who are very close to Him. Those who have left the lights and glamours of the world, and for years have been irradiated by His countenance, have been the foremost to acknowledge themselves as freighted down with the great burden of sin. St. Paul, who has been such an edification to men, called himself “the chief of sinners.” In the presence of the holiest of creatures, the soul becomes self-accusing and broken-hearted with the weight of its defects. As evil men feel their guilt more in the presence of an innocent babe than in the companionship of those who are wicked like themselves, so he who loves God is the most deeply burdened with the sense of his own unworthiness.
But Our Blessed Lord, Who claimed oneness with God, never once confessed a sin or an imperfection. In vain can this be attributed to moral dullness, since His analysis of sin in others was so penetrating. What man is there in the world who could boldly stand up before great crowds and say:
Which of you can prove me in the wrong? (John 8:46)
Though Our Blessed Lord associated Himself with sinners, there never existed the least suspicion against His spotless innocence. He told His disciples to pray, “Forgive us our trespasses,” but not even in His last agony did He have to utter such a prayer. He forgave the sins of others, in His name: “Thy sins are forgiven thee,” and yet never asked for pardon. He issued the challenge: “If you cannot detect a moral blot on My escutcheon, then credit Me with truth.” Because He was sinless, He asserted His position in such a way as to make claims upon all mankind, such as calling Himself “the Light” of a darkened world:
I am the light of the world. No follower of mine shall wander in the dark; he shall have the light of life. (John 8:12)
Note, it is not His teaching that is the Light of the World, but rather His Person. As there is only one sun to light a world physically, so He was asserting that He was the only Light for the world spiritually; without Him every soul would be wrapped in darkness. As dust the room cannot be seen until the light is let in, so no man can know himself until this Light shows him his true condition. He who as only a good man could never claim to be the Light of the World; for there would cling to him some of the trappings and faults of even the best human nature. Buddha wrote a code which he said would be useful to guide men in darkness, but he never claimed to be the Light of the World. Buddhism was born with a disgust for the world, when a prince’s son deserted his wife and child, turning from the pleasures of existence to the problems of existence. Burnt by the fires of the world, and already weary with it, Buddha turned to ethics.
But Our Divine Lord never had this feeling of disgust. If He was the Light, it was not because He had insured Himself stumbling in the darkness. Mohammed admitted at his death that he was no Light of the World, but said, “Fearful, beseeching, seeking for shelter, weak and in need of mercy. I confess my sin before Thee, presenting my supplication as the poor supplicate the rich.” Confucius was so
overshadowed by the darkness of sin, that he never made such a claim. He admitted:
that I have not been able to practice virtue aright, that I have not been able to utter or pursue aright what I have learned, that I have been unable to change that which was wrong—these are my sorrows. . . . In knowledge perhaps I am equal to other men, but I have not been able to transform the essence of what is noble into deed.
Before his death, Buddha said to Ananda, his favorite disciple, “The doctrines and the laws, 0 Ananda, which I have taught and proclaimed unto you, they shall be your master when I have left you.”
Our Blessed Lord left the world without leaving any written message. His doctrine was Himself. Ideal and History were identified in Him. The truth that all other ethical teachers proclaimed, and the light that they gave to the world, was not in them, but outside them. Our Divine Lord, however, identified Divine Wisdom with Himself. It was the first time in history that it was ever done, and it has never been done since.
This identification of His personality with Wisdom He broadened when He said:
I am the way; I am the truth and I am life; no one comes to the Father except by me. If you knew me you would know my Father too. (John 54:6-7)
This is equivalent to saying that without the Way there is no going; without the Truth, there is no knowing; without the Life, there is no living. The Way becomes lovable, not when it is in abstract codes and commandments, but when it is Personal. As Plato once said, “The Father of the world is hard to discover, and when discovered cannot be communicated.” Our Lord’s answer to Plato would have been that the Father is hard to discover unless He is revealed through the Person of His Son.
There is no such thing as seeking first the truth and then finding Christ, any more than there is any point in lighting papers to find the sun. As scientific truths put us in an intelligent relation with the cosmos, as historic truth puts us in temporal relation with the rise and fall of civilizations, so does Christ put us in intelligent relation with God the Father; for He is the only possible Word by which God can address Himself to a world of sinners.
Everything is entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son but the Father, and no one knows the Father but the Son and those to whom the Son may choose to reveal him. (Matthew 11:27)
Life is resident in Him in virtue of an eternal communication from the Father. All who came before Him, and who will come after Him, and who offer any other way than Himself, He compares with thieves and robbers of mankind.
I am the door of the sheepfold. The sheep paid no heed to any who came before me, for these were all thieves and robbers. I am the door; anyone who comes into the fold through me shall be safe. He shall go in and out and shall find pasturage. (John 10:7—10)
No one else ever made His personality the condition of securing peace or eternal life. Our Blessed Lord, however, identified Personality with a door; it is an emblem of separation because on the one side is the world and on the other side the home; but also it is a sign of protection, hospitality, and relationship. As the old city of Troy had but one gate, so Our Blessed Lord said that He is the only Gate to salvation. Being united with Him He called a trysting place, where He and souls meet in the ecstasy of love. “Come and go at will,” would seem to indicate a union of both the contemplative and the actual life; for the combination of an interior union with Christ is here combined with practical obedience in the world of action.
Not only did Our Lord identify all Truth and Life with Himself, but He put forth His claim to judge the world—–something no mere man would ever do. He said that as the Judge of all He would return again seated on a throne of glory and attended by the angels, to judge all men according to their works. Imagination recoils at the thought of any human being able to penetrate into the depths of all consciences, to ferret out all the hidden motives, and to pass judgment on them for all eternity. But this final judgment was a long way off and hidden from the eyes of men. There would be a symbol or rehearsal of the final judgment which would be the destruction of Jerusalem and which would be accomplished before the end of the actual generation of Christ’s day. It would also be a prelude to the final destruction at the end of the world, when the Kingdom of God would be established in its eternal and glorious phase. Speaking of the end of the world, He said:
Then will appear in heaven the sign that heralds the Son of Man. All the peoples of the world will make lamentation, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with great power and glory. With a trumpet blast he will send out his angels, and they will gather his chosen from the four winds, from the farthest bounds of heaven on every side. (Matthew 24:30-31)
When He comes to judge it will not be merely the circumscribed area of the earth in which He labored and revealed Himself; rather it will be all the nations and the empires of the world. The time of His second coming He knows not as man, but only as God. He will not tell it except in warning that it will be sudden, like lightning. He came as a “Man of Sorrows”; then He shall come in His glory. The attributes of His suffering humanity will be necessary for His identification. Hence, after His Resurrection, He kept the scars. With Him will be the angels, and all the nations will be divided into two classes: sheep and goats. As He divided men on earth into two classes, namely, those who hated and those who loved Him, so He would divide them then. “I am the Good Shepherd,” He said of Himself. The title He would vindicate on the last day by a separation of His flock of sheep from the goats.
The sheep will hear themselves commended for loving service to Him, even when it was unconscious service. There are many more people loving and serving Him than one suspects. It would seem that the most surprised of all will be the social workers who will ask, “When was it that we saw Thee hungry? Was it case #643?” The wicked, on the other hand, will find themselves refusing Him when they refused to do anything for their fellow man in His name.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all the angels with him, he will sit in state on his throne, with all the nations gathered before him, He will separate men into two groups, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left. Then the king will say to those on his right hand. You have my Father’s blessing; come, enter and possess the kingdom that has been ready for you since the world was made. For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was a stranger you took me into your home, when naked you clothed me; when I was ill you came to my help, when in prison you visited me. Then the righteous will reply, Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and fed you, or thirsty and gave you drink, a stranger and took you home, or naked and clothed you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and come to visit you? And the king will answer, I tell you this: anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me. Then he will say to those on his left hand, The curse is upon you; go from my sight to the eternal fire that is ready for the devil and his angels. For when I was hungry you gave me nothing to eat, when thirsty nothing to drink; when I was a stranger you gave me no home, when naked you did not clothe me; when I was ill and in prison you did not come to my help. And they too will reply, Lord when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and did nothing for you? And he will answer, I tell you this: anything you did not do for one of these, however humble, you did not do for me. And they will go away to eternal punishment but the righteous will enter life. (Matthew 25:31—46)
His words even imply that philanthropy has deeper depths than is generally realized. The great emotions of compassion and mercy are traced to Him; there is more to human deeds than the doers are aware. He identified every act of kindness as an expression of sympathy with Himself. All kindnesses are either done explicitly or implicitly in His name, or they are refused explicitly or implicitly in His name. Mohammed said that alms had to be given, but not in his name. Our Lord made that the condition, but as a mere man, it would have been foolishness. Furthermore, only an Omniscient Will could ever judge the motives behind all philanthropy to decide when it was charity, and when it was self-praise. That He claimed He would do and with such finality that the repercussions would be eternal. He Who was the Redeemer said that He would also be the Judge. It is a beautiful arrangement of Providence that the Judge and the Redeemer meet in the same Person.
When one takes into account also His reiterated assertions about His Divinity—such as asking us to love Him above parents, to believe in Him even in the face of persecution, to be ready to sacrifice our bodies in order to save our souls in union with Him—–to call Him just a good man ignores the facts. No man is good unless he is humble; and humility is a recognition of truth concerning oneself. A man who thinks he is greater than he actually is, is not humble, but a vain and boastful fool. How can any man claim prerogatives over conscience, and over history, and over society and the world, and still claim he is “meek and humble of heart”? But if He is God as well as man, His language falls into place and everything that He says is intelligible. But if He is not what He claimed to be, then some of His most precious sayings are nothing but bombastic outbursts of self-adulation that breathe rather the spirit of Lucifer than the spirit of a good man. What avails Him to proclaim the law of self-renouncement, if He Himself renounces truth to call Himself God? Even His sacrifice on the Cross becomes a suspect and a dated thing, when it goes hand in hand with delusions of grandeur and infernal conceit. He could not be called even a sincere teacher, for no sincere teacher would allow anyone to construe his claims to share the rank and the name of the Great God in heaven.
The choice that lies before men is either the hypothesis of culpable insincerity or the fact that He spoke the literal truth and, therefore, must be taken at His word. It is easier to believe that God has achieved His Works of Wonder and Mercy in His Divine Son on earth than to close the moral eye to the brightest spot that meets it in human history, and thus lapse into despair. No human could be good, aye! he would be arrogant and blasphemous, to have made the assertions He did concerning Himself. Instead of being above His moral followers who call themselves Christians, He would have been infinitely below the level of the worst of them. It is easier to believe what He said about Himself, namely, that He is God, than to explain how the world could ever have taken as a model such an unmitigated liar, such a contemptuous boaster. It is only because Jesus is God that the human character of Jesus is a manifestation of the Divine.
We must either lament His madness or adore His Person, but we cannot rest on the assumption that He was a professor of ethical culture. Rather, one can say with Chesterton, “Expect the grass to wither and the birds to drop dead out of the air, when a strolling carpenter’s apprentice says calmly and almost carelessly, like one looking over his shoulder: ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’” The Roman sergeant, who had his own gods and was hardened both to war and death, came to the answer during the Crucifixion, when both his reason and his conscience affirmed the truth:
Truly this man was a son of God. (Matthew 27:54)