Pope Francis made an excellent point in his homily today at his Mass with the new cardinals at the Vatican Basilica, when he said: "My brother Cardinals, Jesus did not come to teach us good manners, how to behave well at the table!" In this respect, his theme dovetails nicely with that of Michael Voris, who, over the last year, has been harping about "the church of nice." [Via Rorate]
My own version of this is to talk about "Care Bear Theology." That is, if the Gospel can be reduced to the saccharine message of the Care Bear care-a-lot niceness, who needs Jesus? The words of Pope Francis are even more blunt: if the purpose of Jesus was merely to come and teach us good manners, he said, "he would not have had to come down from heaven and die on the Cross."
This simple but important point goes back to a misunderstanding about the Person and work of Christ that was widespread when I was in college during the era of the Vietnam War, peace protests, and "flower children." There was a widely-accepted conceit that Jesus was primarily a role model, a guru who had come to set an example for us. From John Howard Yoder's scholarly book, The Politics of Jesus, to folk-song-singing and pot-smoking Jesus Freaks, there was the idea that Jesus had come to help us learn to get along more peaceably, to be kinder and gentler, to love our enemies, forgive others, live simply.
As important as these things unquestionably are, to suppose that this was the essential point of Jesus' earthly ministry is to miss entirely the basic point of His Incarnation: Jesus came, not primarily to be our example or even to teach us, but to do for us something that we cannot do for ourselves -- namely, to die for us and atone for our sins.
[Hat tip to New Catholic]