Traces N.5, May 2007

What Good Is Jesus?

“What good is Jesus?” How many times have we been asked this question? How many times have we asked it ourselves? We’re asked by friends who are curious about the faith; others use it to express their acidic skepticism. “Don’t you see what kind of world we live in? Well, then, what good has this Jesus of yours been?” How many times has this question welled up in us, when we’ve been in the grip of terrible pain, or dismayed to witness something we couldn’t have believed possible? Or how many times have we asked ourselves this question when, at work and in our daily tasks, certain things are required of us, or when we’re measured, awarded, or defeated on their basis?
We could easily say that this question is inevitable. Just as it rises up in us, so it rose up in the silent consternation of His first friends on the road to Emmaus. “But we were hoping that He would be the one to redeem Israel.” As time passes, even though we’ve met Him and followed Him, this is how we can end up, thinking, “He’s no use.”
The Jesus of the intellectuals, reduced to a prophet of a never-achieved utopian socialism, or a kind of dispenser of obvious goodness, certainly is of no use. This figure is fine for debates, fodder for journalists’ exchanges, or for eliciting the human desire for a myth or hero with which to identify. But it’s not enough to satisfy the restless uneaseof our young people, inquietude in schools, family bonds, and economic, social, and political structures. There can be a growing temptation to live solely for the conquest and defense of your own self-affirmation, regardless of the costs, ready to complain about anything that blocks the achievement of your own self-interest or desires–as if the truly useful things of life were money, a certain degree of autonomy, and a hearty helping of good luck. And for those who don’t have them, tough luck.
Then, it can happen that you’re struck by a testimony, by a fact, a man, whose fullness of the positivity of life doesn’t go by any of the names we normally recognize. His joy does not lie in money, success, or the degree of autonomy achieved, but in saying, “You, my Lord, Jesus.” One such man, one who has, so to speak, put himself on the same level as the many who can say this, is the man who today is Pope. Joseph Ratzinger is among the ranks of those who testify that Jesus is useful for our own life, and has written a book relating what he has discovered about the Man of Nazareth. It is a book among books, like a fact among facts, or a face among faces. He did it to try to show who He is, writing, “What did Jesus truly bring, if He didn’t bring peace to the world, well-being for everyone, a better world? What did He bring? The answer is very simple: God. He brought God; now we know His face. Now we know the road that we men have to take in this world. Jesus brought God and with Him the truth about our destiny and our origin; faith, hope, and love. Only our hardness of heart makes us think that this is so little.”
Hardness of heart is our enemy, and can make Jesus seem “useless” to us. Fortunately, we are surrounded by holy men, and by those who are not so holy but whose hearts are not hard; those who in the name of Jesus, with manifest works or hidden ones, with great gestures or invisible ones, are making life more human. They have understood and constructed life, rendering to God what is God’s. That is, they live the assertion that He is the ultimate meaning of everything. We have to look at these faces every day to see His true face, to defeat our hardness of heart, for no hardness can melt away by itself. We need someone who comes toward us and embraces us, becoming a companion on our journey, as it was for the two men of Emmaus, who returned home saved from their skepticism.