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A Review of Jesus Christ’s Moral Teachings by Aytollah Makarem Shirazi

Jesus Christ (‘a), most of his teachings concern ethics and moral values. He valued ethics and moral teachings so much that he came to be known by his followers and adherents as the Great Moral Teacher.

One of the purposes behind sending divine Messengers has been the teaching of moral values.  This is because the ultimate goal of all the prophets has been the moral training of mankind in a way that they would observe moral values in all arenas of their lives.

A Survey of the Moral Teachings of Jesus Christ [peace be upon him] In the View of Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

Introduction

Moral teachings have existed since the creation of man[1]. According to history, Adam, as the first prophet of Allah, gave lessons in moral values and ethics to his children, lessons which he himself had been taught by Allah when he lived in Heaven.[2]

Other prophets also made giving moral lessons to mankind their business as they knew that the only way of ensuring man’s eternal felicity was to teach them how to lead a life based on moral values.

As regards Jesus Christ (‘a), most of his teachings concern ethics and moral values. He valued ethics and moral teachings so much that he came to be known by his followers and adherents as the Great Moral Teacher.[3]

Jesus Christ (peace and blessings upon him) the Messenger of Compassion and Moral Values

One of the purposes behind sending divine Messengers has been the teaching of moral values.[4] This is because the ultimate goal of all the prophets has been the moral training of mankind in a way that they would observe moral values in all arenas of their lives.[5]

Jesus Christ as a great divinely-sent prophet was given the mission of spreading moral values among the people and instruct them in piety and human virtues.[6] This is something which is confirmed by the holy Quran as well:

” و لما جاء عيسى بالبينات قال قد جئتكم بالحكمة و لأبين لكم بعض الذي تختلفون فيه “[7]

And when Jesus brought [the Children of Israel] clear proofs, he said: “I have brought you wisdom and have come to clarify for you some of that concerning which you differ.[8]

As it is clear from this Quranic verse, Jesus Christ publicly announced that his mission was to “bring the people wisdom”. Wisdom, in its original sense, means prevent all detrimental factors in order to ensure the well-being of something. Therefore, when it is used for human life, wisdom means preventing man from doing things which are detrimental to his faith and spiritual life through moral training and self-purification.[9]

Moreover, it is a known fact that, the best path that man can take is the one which leads to the satisfaction of Allah, a path which can lead man to attain nearness to his Lord. However, this is impossible without trying to cultivate in oneself the moral values which are, in effect, a reflection of Allah’s Divine Attributes.

By realizing that Allah is the possessor of a Supreme Wisdom, man will be drawn to knowledge and wisdom which will, in turn, lead him to cultivate supreme moral values in himself, just as Jesus Christ did.[10]

Undoubtedly, it was the great character and moral conduct of Jesus Christ that drew the people to him and created an atmosphere of fraternity among the people. There are numerous stories about Jesus’ compassion and kindness toward the people; these stories are, in fact, lessons in ethics and moral values for us all.[11]

The more Noble the more Humble

Humility is a virtue which can affect both educational and cultural aspects of human life. When a humble person does not know something, he would easily ask others to learn, something which is a key to one’s educational development.

On the contrary, an arrogant and self-important person never asks questions as he believes that this way he would reveal his weaknesses; such people neglect the fact that arrogance and self-importance constitute a major impediments to learning.[12]

It is due to arrogance that many people are unable to perceive the truth in various aspects of their lives. On the other hand, humble people are quite popular in the society, since everyone can easily connect to humble individuals.

But the benefits of humility are not restricted to social life only; a humble person can have a much better connection with Allah because humility is the key to the acceptance of man’s prayers and it is the essence of worship.[13]

Furthermore, as it was discussed above, humility and arrogance can have marked effects on educational achievement; a humble person is constantly learning without being ashamed to ask questions where he does not possess the necessary knowledge. On the other hand, as a person acquires more knowledge, he becomes more humble because the issues of “knowledge” and “humility” are intertwined; this fact is also reflected in the famous saying “the more noble the more humble”.

The relationship between knowledge and humility can be likened to the branches of a tree; usually the branches which are more fruitful are nearest to the ground and those with fewer fruits stand higher in the air.

Conversely, arrogance and self-importance prevent one from acquiring the necessary knowledge which is necessary for man’s spiritual and personal development.[14]

With regard to this issue, Jesus Christ has been quoted as saying:

“It is through humility, not arrogance, that human knowledge grows, just like large farms which are built on soft soils of leveled lands not on high, rocky mountains![15][16]

According to yet, another narration, Jesus Christ taught his disciples the following:

“Knowledge is not a heavenly thing for you to await its descension, nor is it to be extracted from the abyssal depths of the earth; knowledge is deep in your hearts, nature, and essence. In order to obtain it, you need to cultivate the moral values and virtues of angels and righteous people.[17][18]

Patience in the Face of Adversities, Tough but Fruitful

Patience is the key to the attainment of moral virtues and also to all sorts of worldly and spiritual attainment.[19] This is why patience itself is considered among the highly important moral and human virtues, a virtue that all great prophets and leaders possessed.[20]

It is noteworthy that no other moral virtue has been so greatly emphasized in the teachings of the divinely-sent religions, something that shows the tremendous importance of patience. It has such a key role in human life that it can even be considered the essence of all human virtues and the means for achieving felicity and prosperity.[21]

Needless to say that, like any other virtue, learning to have patience in one’s life requires practice and gaining experience in the face of different problems and in difficult situations.[22]

One of the factors that can help one understand the importance of patience and to learn to cultivate this great human virtue in himself is that no great success, whether worldly or spiritual, can be achieved without patience. This is because overcoming obstacles in life requires patience and hard work, something that people with little patience will never be able to do.

Therefore, by keeping in mind that no one with little patience will be able to achieve success in this life, one will be able to show more patience when encountering problems.[23] Like any other great success, living in Paradise requires hard work and patience in the face of the problems of this world.[24]

Moreover, most of the moral virtues cannot be possessed except by disciplining one’s soul in order to cultivate such virtues in oneself. Therefore, given the fact that patience in the face of adversities is the essence of all human virtues and the key to success, one needs to cultivate it in oneself at all costs.[25]

The importance of showing patience has also been emphasized by Jesus Christ (‘a); he taught his followers the following:

“You will not achieve what you like unless through patience in the face of what you dislike.[26][27]

The Mundane World is merely a Pass not a Permanent Home

From the viewpoint of all divinely-sent religions, including Islam, this world is a transient one created for human beings to work hard and do good deeds in order to prepare themselves for their eternal life in the Hereafter. This is why Allah tests all human beings with different sorts of tests; these include ordering them to worship Him and obey His legislated law, refrain from following their carnal desires, and show patience in the face of tribulations which are inherent in the life of this world.

The reason behind these tests is that, by obeying their Lord and bearing the problems of this world patiently, human beings will elevate themselves spiritually and purify themselves in order to be ready for a blessed and felicitous eternal life in the Hereafter[28].

However, the glitter of this world and its short-lived pleasures usually deceive mankind from understanding the deeper function of them, i.e. that they are created merely as a means of trial and that they soon come to an end with the end of man’s worldly life.[29]

Thus, the capricious people find this transient and small world extremely attractive and become so fund of it that they will totally disregard the felicitous and never-ending life of the Hereafter which will be full of God-given bounties.[30]

It must be kept in mind that this world is just a means not the end; therefore, our task in this world is to use it in order to achieve a much greater goal. On the contrary taking this world as the end is a grave mistake which can cost mankind a prosperous eternal life in the Hereafter.

This fact has also been reflected in the teachings of Jesus Christ; in one of his teachings to his Disciples, Jesus Christ likened this world to a bridge which the people only cross, and which no sane man would build a house on:[31]

“The world is a bridge for you merely to cross; you are not to stop on it and try to build your life on it or be enthralled by its glitters.[32][33]

These remarks by Jesus Christ indicate that this world is not the place where man is supposed to build his life; rather, it is like a bridge that man must cross in order to arrive at his final destination.[34]

These remarks also show that the glitters of this world are enough for man to deceive himself or deceive others. Yet, the only people who will be deceived by this world are the ones who take this world as their ultimate goal and all they want is to enjoy its pleasures.

However, if the blessings of this world are used as a means for fostering great human values and achieving eternal felicity in the Hereafter, this world will turn in to a means through which one will secure a felicitous eternal life. In such a case, this world will be a veritable bridge leading man to a greater goal.[35]

Naturally, the people who fail to have a correct understanding of this world will take it as the ultimate goal of mankind instead of a road to a greater destination[36]. Therefore, such individuals will take this world as their only home and will fail to prepare themselves for their real home in the afterlife by striving to cultivate moral virtues in themselves[37].

A Sickness which Even Jesus Christ was Unable to Heal

Vanity and self-importance, as two of the negative character qualities of human beings, are indicative of ignorance and lack of knowledge. One thing which we all need to keep in mind is that man, with all his potentials and capabilities, is a weak being. He is so weak that a mosquito bite can cause him to get a fatal disease and die; he can also very easily die suffocating on food or drink.[38]

Similarly, a powerful person with an important government position might be fired the next day and a person with a lot of wealth might go bankrupt overnight. So, how can a creature this weak be excessively proud of himself?!

What leads such a weak being to vanity and self-importance except ignorance and the lack of knowledge? Yet, perhaps the worst thing about an ignorant person who lacks enough knowledge is that such an individual is prone to all kinds of worldly and spiritual deviations[39].

This is because man’s lack of proper knowledge about himself leads him to think he is a mighty being, whereas if he comes to know himself better, he will realize he is nothing compared to the greatness of his Lord. The Rays of Guidance: a Series of Ethical Teachings, p. 268.

It is through such understanding that man will realize that, no matter how hard he works and what great deeds he does, he will still have done very little compared with the huge bounties given to him by Allah. Only then will he realize the enormity of the responsibility he has toward his Lord and will, hence, be protected against such negative character qualities as vanity and self-importance[40].

Clearly, then, only an ignorant and stupid person will fall in to arrogance and self-importance.[41]

According to an interesting narrative, Jesus Christ once said:

“I have healed many sick people with incurable sicknesses; I have even brought the dead back to life by Allah’s leave. Yet, I have been unable to cure stupidity!”

His Disciples then asked him what the signs of stupidity were; he replied: “Vanity and self-importance are the distinguishing signs of stupidity; vanity causes man to think that he alone possesses all the valuable virtues and self-importance causes him to think that he is always right and that others have no right to have a say in anything.” Then Jesus Christ went on: “This is a kind of stupidity which cannot be cured.[42]

Conclusion: acting based on the Knowledge that one Possesses is the Key to One’s Success

According to the teachings of all monotheistic religions, “knowledge” together with acting based on it, and “conviction” together with “moral virtues” are the necessary means through which man can attain nearness to his Lord.[43]

None of these factors, when separated from the other, can help man develop toward perfection. For instance, knowledge with inaction or action without knowledge will entail catastrophic results.[44]

Based on a famous narrative, Jesus Christ once said: “I once saw a rock on which was written: “flip me” so I flipped it and I saw the following written on its back: “A person who does not act based on what he knows will be helpless in trying to gain the knowledge of what he does not know; therefore, what he knows will be totally useless.[45][46]

Obviously, then, knowledge which is not acted upon is destructive; according to Islamic traditions, a knowledgeable person who never put his knowledge in to practice for some worthy purpose will be so foul-smelling in Hell that the other inmates of hell cannot stand being near him.

Therefore, it is incumbent upon all human beings to strive for self-purification and to be an example for others not merely in words but in practice, just as the divine prophets and leaders were.[47]

Researched and edited by the news editorial of the website of Grand Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi’s office.

———————————————–

References

[1] Ethics in the Quran, vol. 1, p. 38.

[2] Ibid, p. 39.

[3] Ibid.

[4] The Goals of Ḥusayn’s Uprising, p. 16.

[5] Great Leaders, p. 26.

[6] The Message of the Quran, vol. 8, p. 266.

[7] Surah Zukhruf, verse No. 63.

[8] Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 21, p. 103.

[9] Ibid.

[10] The Message of the Quran, vol. 4, p. 150.

[11] The Teachings of the Infallibles (‘a), vol. 2, p. 18.

[12] Islamic Ethics as Reflected in the Book “Nahj Al Balāghah” [based on the Muttaqīn Sermon]. Vol. 1, p. 138.

[13] Ethics in the Quran, vol. 2, p. 76.

[14] Islamic Ethics as Reflected in the Book “Nahj Al Balāghah” [based on the Muttaqīn Sermon]. Vol. 1, p. 138.

[15] Biḥār Al Anwār, vol. 2, p. 62.

[16] Ethics in the Quran, vol. 2, p. 76.

[17] Tafsīr Ṣirāṭ Al Mustaqīm, vol. 1, p. 267.

[18] The Message of the Quran, vol. 1, p. 426.

[19] Tafsīr Nemūneh, vol. 20, p. 284.

[20] Ethics in the Quran, vol. 2, p. 415.

[21] Ibid, p. 446.

[22] Ibid, p. 445.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] The Message of Imam Amir Al Mu’minīn (‘a), vol. 9, p. 499.

[26] Al Maḥjah Al Bayḍā’, vol. 4, p. 67.

[27] Islamic Ethics in the Book “Nahj Al Balāghah” [based on the Muttaqīn Sermon], vol. 2, p. 503

[28] The Message of Imam Amir Al Mu’minīn (‘a), vol. 2, p. 183.

[29] Ibid, vol. 11, p. 327.

[30] Ethics in the Quran, vol. 2, p. 107.

[31] Beautiful Parables of the Quran, vol. 2, p. 66.

[32] Biḥār Al Anwār, vol. 14, p. 319, hadith No. 21.

[33] The Message of Imam Amir Al Mu’minīn (‘a), vol. 2, p. 184.

[34] The Message of the Quran, vol. 6, p. 266.

[35] The Lexicon of Tafsīr Nemūneh, p. 499.

[36] Ethics in the Quran, vol. 2, p. 107.

[37] The Message of Imam Amir Al Mu’minīn (‘a), vol. 13, p. 105.

[38] Ibid, p. 636.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Ibid, p. 369.

[41] The Message of Imam Amir Al Mu’minīn (‘a), vol. 13, p. 636.

[42] Biḥār Al Anwār, vol. 14, p. 324.

[43] The Rays of Guidance: a Series of Ethical Teachings, p. 19.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Biḥār Al Anwār, vol. 2, p. 32; Mizān Al Ḥikmah; ibid.

[46] Islamic Ethics as Reflected in the Book “Nahj Al Balāghah” [based on the Muttaqīn Sermon], vol. 2, p. 324.

[47] The Rays of Guidance: a Series of Ethical Teachings, p. 21.

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