The Word Engaged

Nietzsche’s Nemesis

“What the world considers absurd.”

Zephahiah wanted God’s people to seek justice and pursue humility. But he knew that such a community would always be a minority. “I will leave as a remnant in your midst a people humble and lowly, who will take refuge in the name of the Lord.”

Such are the people Jesus calls: not necessarily wise, as humans account wisdom, nor vastly influential, nor well born, but surely countercultural in the way they address the secular order. “God chose those whom the world considers absurd to shame the wise. He singled out the weak to shame the strong. He chose the low and despised, who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who were something; so that mankind can do no boasting before God.” 

It is Christ who is our justice, our redemption, our sanctification, our wisdom. This confounds any mentality which seeks self-justification or pursues fulfillment through earthly goods. To such a mind-set, Christ’s wisdom is unrealistic, even foolhardy. It certainly contradicts our way of imagining human happiness.

Just look at the Sermon on the Mount to get a sense of Jesus’ radical reversal of our common sense. We want abundance, control, and authority to conquer the kingdoms of the earth. His wisdom affirms that only the poor in spirit can achieve the reign of God.

We want more than all else to avoid pain and suffering. In fact most of our operating ethical systems rest upon the principle of maximizing pleasure. Yet Jesus says that those who open themselves to sorrow will find ultimate consolation.

We bristle at being overlooked, passed by, neglected, unappreciated. “We’re number one” is the roaring chant of our arenas, our nationalism, our special-interest groups, our petty hurts. But Jesus says that the lowly inherit the land.

We scavenge to inflate ourselves with things, projects, people; but the Sermon on the Mount counsels us to abide in our hunger for holiness, to live with a thirst for justice.

With divided hearts and tawdry desires, we wonder why we still feel so unhappy. He says that in purity of heart and whole-heartedness we find bliss and see God.

And peacemakers? Those do-gooders, those bleeding hearts? See how far that will get them in this “real” world. Most often they are held in contempt, even by Christians.

Perhaps that is why Jesus thinks his followers will be persecuted for holiness’ sake. His wisdom is such an insult to natural cleverness, the Sermon on the Mount will be ridiculed as “wimpdom,” not wisdom.

Friedrich Nietzsche scoffed at the Beatitudes as prescriptions for sheep and slaves. He knew what a devastating challenge Christ was to his visions of the “superman.” It was only fitting, then, that when old Nietzsche titled his last howl of power and aggression, he called it the Anti-Christ.

Still, Nietzsche saw the revolutionary import of Christ’s teachings. It has been the fate of some Christians blithely to bear the name of Christ without ever having weighed his startling words.

John Kavanaugh, SJ

Father Kavanaugh was a professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University in St. Louis. He reached many people during his lifetime.

 

**From Saint Louis University

Kristin Clauson