Such was the case with his Father's Day message today.
It was richly multileveled. He spoke of his relationship with his own father, how the latter had led and taught through quiet example far more than overt lecturing or hammering home of formal standards. (He even got a little choked up when he noted it was the second Father's Day without his dad.) He cited the statistics tying social ills - drug abuse, violent crime, educational failure - to the absence of a father in a male's life. He made note of the fact that Jesus consistently referred to God as his Father, rather than calling him Lord or any other characterization found elsewhere in scripture.
But it was his distillation of the panoply of qualities that go into making a good father down to three that really gave shape to his remarks. These are providing, protecting and teaching. He then spoke of the sense of balance that a father needs to bring to each role. Overemphasis on providing can lead to the classic absence of the workaholic who misses the games, recitals, graduations and birthdays that are the milestones of his children's lives. Giving protection an outsized role leads to hovering and smothering and denying a child the space to fail and learn from it. Being too focused on teaching can lead to a child tuning out and thereby missing valuable lessons.
He then touched on the ways in which post-American culture elevates the undeniable virtues of the feminine mode of being human in a zero-sum context, as if that can't be good without maleness being bad. In other words, what happens is that masculinity gets disparaged. Hence we get university workshops on "toxic masculinity."
This, he ventured, is why we now hesitate to depict Jesus, who was a carpenter circa 20 AD, when such a tradesman was routinely slinging around large timbers and stones and using tools that required considerable strength to bring to bear on such materials, as manly. We want him unwaveringly gentle, with pretty hair and soft facial features. We want him exquisitely tolerant.
But that's not who he was. Yes, he made it clear that he was here to maximize the number of found sheep. The lost and the dead were his first priority. But he made it clear that their hearts were indispensable parts of the equation. If someone refuses to be found by Jesus, he has no choice when the hour of no sunset and no dawning arrives but to say, "I never knew you." When he encountered broods of vipers, he called them as much.
It doesn't take a rocket science to see why millennials are turned off by a plain-speaking messiah. They are most uneasy with the notion of right and wrong being objective. They see the church as engaging in the codification of human opinions:
Just how important is the kind of example-setting that a committed father can do to the health of our culture? Well, if enough men with offspring slack at it, role models become ever-fewer:
Many youth have had no -- or very limited -- exposure to adult role models who know what they believe, why they believe it, and are committed to consistently living it out.
Authenticity is a term that can be used for good or ill. Employed in the service of some kind of "people-ought-to-just-be-themselves" ethos, it encourage narcissism and even infantile self-absorption. But a dignified authenticity - of a type nearly synonymous with backbone - is a precious commodity.
Father's Day presents those of us who are males, even if we don't have children, with a call to nobility. Male and female He created us, and He saw that it was good.
Manliness is not celebrated by the antics of singers in bro-country videos, or even action movies featuring some squinty-eyed, machine-gun-wielding protagonist with his back to the wall.
At least not nearly as well as by the example of a dedicated father, who, even in his inevitable sinfulness, perseveres in his effort to demonstrate qualities he understands to be good, right and true.
Of course, it's best celebrated by the Nazarene carpenter who said that his words came from his Father and nowhere else.