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Newsflash: Jesus Christ was right and Fr. Thomas Reese was wrong

The liberal, opinion-prone Jesuit recently wrote that Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, did not know what he was talking about.

Byzantine mosaic of Jesus Christ (c.1300) in the Pammakaristos Church, Istanbul, Turkey [Wikipedia]

Fr. Thomas Reese, SJ, has long had a reputation for liberal-speak and theological confusion. For example, in a column he wrote for the National Catholic Reporter at the end of January 2023, Reese wrote “I just don’t believe in transubstantiation.” To be fair, the liberal Jesuit did maintain belief in the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist; but in his mind, the Catholic dogma of transubstantiation is wrong because he doesn’t believe in “prime matter, substantial forms and accidents that are part of Aristotelian metaphysics.”

In 2018, Fr. Reese argued that pro-life Catholics should embrace birth control as the “lesser of two evils” in reducing the number of abortions. In response, Cardinal Timothy Dolan expressed serious reservations, calling Reese’s proposal a “capitulation to the abortion culture, and a grave weakening of the powerful pro-life witness.”

But in a column in early March at the Reporter, the priest exhibited a new level of chutzpah – by apparently “correcting” the Son of God. “Actually,” Reese wrote, “Jesus is wrong.”

In his article, which focuses on the readings for Mass on February 19, Reese writes (his words, not mine):

Jesus continues his commentary by commenting on the commandment, “You shall love your neighbor but hate your enemy.” Actually, Jesus is wrong. There is no Old Testament injunction to hate your enemies. Leviticus says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” and makes no reference to enemies.

What Jesus is criticizing here is the common narrow definition of neighbor as only one’s friends or countrymen. This narrow interpretation is alive and well all over the world.

What Reese is trying to do is to demonstrate the sinfulness of racism, antisemitism, Christian nationalism, Islamophobia, homophobia, tribalism, sexism, bullying and partisanship. What he does, though, is set his understanding over that of Jesus himself.

To what was Jesus actually referring? Well, it was not, as Fr. Reese implied, the book of Leviticus. Jesus was not quoting the Old Testament nor the rabbinic tradition. Rather, he was commenting on the common beliefs of the time, drawn from the ancient Qumran Community Rule (also called the Manual of Discipline). Jesus’ challenge to his followers, as written in Matthew 5:43, is that they not follow the Community Rule.

Dr. Douglas Ward of The Center for Judaic-Christian Studies explains in his article “Who Taught ‘Hate Your Enemy’ and Why?”:

The Community Rule begins by saying that members of the community should be taught to seek God and to obey Moses and the prophets so that “they may all love the sons of light, each according to his lot in God’s design, and hate all the sons of darkness, each according to his guilt in God’s vengeance.”

…The sectarians arrived at their narrow interpretation of Lev 19:17-18 by comparing these verses with Nahum 1:2, which states that “the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” While it is wrong to hate or practice revenge against a brother, they reasoned, hatred against an enemy is endorsed by God’s example, which they were called to follow (Lev 19:2).

Fr. Thomas Weinandy, OFM, Cap., a prominent theologian and a former member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission, said that Fr. Reese had it wrong when he claimed that Jesus was referencing the Scriptures. “He’s not referring to the Scriptures,” Fr. Weinandy explained, “…but to the common opinion of the day. Fr. Reese is mis-referencing Jesus. I think Tom Reese, it would seem to be, is referring not to a passage in Scripture, but to what was common belief among Romans and pagans.”

With regard to Reese’s earlier misstatement concerning the mystery of Transubstantiation, Fr. Weinandy again disagreed. “The Church,” Weinandy said, “is not dealing necessarily with Aristotelian metaphysics. You don’t have to be an Aristotelian to talk this way! Everybody believes that everything is ‘something’ – everything possesses a certain kind of ‘whatness.’ Whenever we talk about substances, we’re talking about ‘whatness.’ So a chair has ‘chair whatness’; a bird has the ‘whatness’ of being a bird.

“So Jesus picks up a piece of bread, but then he says, ‘This is My Body.’ So the ‘whatness’ of the bread has now changed into the ‘whatness’ of his body. The same is true when Jesus picks up the chalice filled with wine. What it is now is the blood that Jesus has poured out. When we talk about Transubstantiation, we’re talking about ‘whatness’; what it is now is the Body and Blood of Jesus. But this has nothing to do with Aristotelian metaphysics.”

Dr. Matthew Ramage, Professor of Theology at Benedictine College and editor and author several books, including Jesus, Interpreted: Benedict XVI, Bart Ehrman, and the Historical Truth of the Gospels (CUA, 2017), was perplexed by Fr. Reese’s statement. “I’m not quite sure why he is saying Jesus is wrong,” Ramage says. “Does he really think that, or is it to rhetorical effect? Perhaps, since he proceeds to try to say that Jesus was right in some way. But it’s all rather confused, admittedly.”

Dr. Ramage offered these thoughts on Reese’s confusing statement:

When Jesus says “You have heard that it was said,” this does not necessitate that the saying in question was explicitly from the lips of God. What we have here is a quotation that combines Leviticus 19:18 with a contemporary Jewish “interpretation” appended to it that does not proceed directly from the Old Testament. Certainly, it would not have been difficult for Jews at the time to piece together various Old Testament sayings and draw the conclusion that God wants us to hate our enemies (see Psalm 139:21-22, for example). Indeed, the community of Qumran on the Dead Sea explicitly taught hatred of enemies (read: Gentiles).

However, Jesus’ precise point here is that the righteousness of the old law (including misplaced, overzealous interpretations of it) is no longer sufficient. While in his divine pedagogy God allowed hardness of heart in times past, Christ proclaims that now is the time to learn complete purity of heart so as to love God and become perfect even as our heavenly father is perfect (Matthew 5:48) – which requires us to love even our enemies, especially Gentiles.

At the conclusion of his most recent essay, Fr. Reese writes, “It is not easy to be a follower of Jesus. Anyone who thinks it is, is simply not listening to him.” Or, in some cases, even believing what he says is correct.

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About Kathy Schiffer 18 Articles
Kathy Schiffer is a Catholic blogger. In addition to her blog Seasons of Grace, her articles have appeared in the National Catholic Register, Aleteia, Zenit, the Michigan Catholic, Legatus Magazine, and other Catholic publications. She’s worked for Catholic and other Christian ministries since 1988, as radio producer, director of special events and media relations coordinator. Kathy and her husband, Deacon Jerry Schiffer, have three adult children.


  1. I’m starting to think that “SJ” stands for “Sorry Jesus”.

    I’m sure there are good Jesuits, but so many of their priests seem to use the Church for their own agendas.

    A few years ago I took some grad level courses at a Jesuit faculty of theology. So many of their priests were ignorant in the most basic aspects of the faith. It’s like they entered the order knowing nothing and then jumped to the most esoteric (and decadent) theological questions.

    • Thanks, dear Kathy, for a beautifully concise, powerfully referenced, and helpful critique of the shoddy scholarship of Fr Thomas Reese SJ. Poor man!

      Am shocked by his apparent inexperience of The Living Lord: where Fr. Reese writes, “It is not easy to be a follower of Jesus”, Paul says we are counterfeits if we don’t experience Jesus Christ alive in our hearts. (2 Corinthians 13:5)

      Yet, Fr Thomas would not be alone in our Church in saying: “It’s all too hard!” How can that be, when Jesus tells us: “Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden light.” (Matthew 11:29-30)

      If we shrug off His yoke and spurn the burden of His instructions then, yes, our life will be as difficult as that of the hypocrites whose ‘solution’ was to crucify Him.

      As already commented by ‘Anon’, it’s scandalous that even the highest Jesuit education fails to bring its students into an intimate and totally trusting relationship with The Lamb of God. Without that, there’ll be no Holy Spirit anointing, so indispensable if we are to understand God and deeply know how perfectly beautiful God is and how infinitely worthy of all our faith and dedication.

      Maybe we could pray for a genuine Pentecost transformation for Fr Thomas and, indeed, for all of The Society of Jesus, so they become intimate with and worthy of the High Name they have adopted.

      Always in the grace & mercy of Jesus Christ; love & blessings from marty

  2. I have often thought that “priests” such as this should be dismissed from ministry, as they do so much damage to the church and it’s followers. They can get away with drawing people into error, because the uniform of the church which they wear provides them with instant credibility among the uninformed when they say these outlandish things. Time for the church to take action. What is to be gained by allowing these apostate Priests to defame and demean the church and her teachings? Or JESUS???? Remove priests who publicly make such statements unless they agree to disavow them. They are entitled to their own opinion, but they are not entitled to wear the cloak of the church for credibility and cause scandal while they do so. Disgusting.

  3. The problem with so many of our Churchmen who occupy the protestant wing of the Catholic Church is that they refuse to hate certain sins – mainly those of the carnal and lustful variety. Sorry, but we’re to hate ALL sin, not just the sins that conform to our politics (like sins against “equity, inclusion and the environment”).

  4. Among the publications that claim to be Catholic, The National Catholic Reporter (NOT Register) and America Magazine are two that should not be read by serious Catholics. I recently received a subscription “opportunity” from America Magazine, to which I responded, “The day I decide to become a heretic, I will subscribe to America Magazine. That will never happen.” When it comes to the Jesuits today, there seems to be no comparison to the Jesuits of yesterday who taught Catholic theology. Satan uses many to stir up confusion as at Babel.

    • Perhaps we would be better to read them and get the whole story first hand rather than depend on someone else’s interpretation or biased opinion. There is too much ‘
      “Them and us”, labeling and name calling and not enough dialogue and charity. We don’t have to agree to love. If we are mature and solid in our beliefs and faith we should be able to debate differences and issues. Narrow minded, lock step adherence and political correctness is not the Christian way. Sanctification is a slow process and involves growth and change. As the Jesuit Mitch Pacwa says ” we are in sales,not management” Gos bless.

  5. I have to say, I give this guy credit. He’s not even pretending to regard Jesus as his Lord and God.

    He’s taken off the mask and revealed the real nature of the Jesuitical order in the 21st century.

    Like all leftists, they’re smarter than anybody. In fact they’re even smarter than Jesus, so everything they say is indisputably true.

    Or at least it would be if truth actually existed.

    • You must be smart to come to these conclusions. It seems as if you are taking Gods place in judging. Strange when you consider that Jesus was considered a liberal by the establishment of His time. God bless.

      • “It seems as if you are taking Gods place in judging.”

        Are you judging that someone is judging?

        “Strange when you consider that Jesus was considered a liberal by the establishment of His time.”

        Anyone who suggests, even indirectly, that Jesus was “a liberal” and thus is somehow aligned with modern liberalism is clueless about both Christ and modern politics.

  6. Thank you for an extremely well written article, Ms.Schiffer. It is hard enough to accept that half my Catholic peers who take Communion have been polled to respond they don’t actually believe that the Host IS the Body of Christ (in whatever “whatness”, as you reference, a person can believe), but to more and more read or hear of PRIESTS saying such things is so extremely disheartening. It is like some priests are TRYING to confuse and mislead the laity. To those who say “it is just a REPRESTENTATION, I ask, could you take the left overs, bring them home, and use them to dip into peanut butter or artichoke dip, then feed the dog the leftovers?”. I never, ever get a yes to this, and my response is “That is because you KNOW this is the Body of Christ in whatever form you can believe it to be true, and have been led to SAY the opposite out of fear or embarrassment by non-believers”. I wonder who is leading priests to mislead the people?

  7. An informative explanation by Schiffer of the ‘hate your enemy’ non scriptural, cultural injunction.
    Insofar as ‘prime matter, substantial forms and accidents that are part of Aristotelian metaphysics’, Saint Thomas Aquinas adapting to Aristotelian metaphysics is expressing in human terms a mystery. As such the metaphysical principles affirm the real presence for human understanding.
    Others, besides Fr Reese have criticized the transubstantiation diagram on the same basis and suggest simple faith. Although the issue with that is the tendency to form less concise concepts eventually drifting away from what real presence is. So far no one has come up with a better rational description for confirming what the real presence actually means.
    What the intellect holds to in the Aquinas formula are comprehensive principles that stimulate the intellect to extend beyond the physically perceivable to the invisible reality. The interior epiphany of the hidden Christ.

    • Favours of peace and continued discernment. To mention metaphysics, the great philosophical, and spiritual guide, Apostle Paul, is a constant blessing. Perhaps Peter, John and James might be considered the foremost amongst the apostles, yet Paul’s magnificent epistles are of enormous comfort and guidance. His training found its apex in the Lord jesus.

      As you dig into life’s complexities you use the golden spade of truth to uncover that which will bless us.

      All praise to Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

  8. Well done! It seems that if anything proved Jesus’ point, it would be the behaviour of the hierarchy of the Jews, who saw Him as an enemy who needed to be killed.” If that’s not hatred, what is?

    • Good explanation, Genevieve!

      Perhaps the Pharisees were simply following Psalm 149, with a ” “wo-edged sword”.

  9. Who knew? Father Reese is a Fundamentalist! I’ve run into this inverted fundamentalism from senior priests who love to quip, “Jesus never told us to worship Him but to follow Him.” I challenged one of the priests who shared this anti-exegesis with a group of us. Of course, these guys have no use for others whom they label fundamentalists.

  10. Queen Elizabeth I of England is reputed to have said. His were the words that spake it, His were the hands that break it, what His Word doeth make it, I accept and take it.” We can believe without knowing. Some things are beyond comprehension. Simple childlike trust.

  11. I’ve said this many times, and I seriously hate to say it again, but here goes: I graduated from Loyola Blakefield in Baltimore in 1961, and it really saddens – and surprises – me to see what has become of the Jesuits since then.

  12. Thanks for this article.
    Unfortunately, Fr. Reese seems to be the go-to guy when the MSM want to “explain” some aspect of Catholicism. The same MSM will never consult a far more knowledgeable and coherent discussion of the faith found in this article.

  13. Bergoglio, Martin, Reese, Hollerich …

    Ignatius and the company of Jesuit saints must be distraught with what has become of their own.

  14. South America gave us heavily armed Jesuit killers who replaced the crucifix with the hammer and sickle at Pope John Paul’s Mass in Nicaragua, Marxist liberation theology, and the wishy-washy Pope Francis SJ. Perhaps the risen Jesus has left and joined some other society.

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