President Harry Truman wished for a one-armed economist because his economic advisors were always saying, "On the other hand …".
Someone once asked economist Milton Friedman, the Nobel Laureate, what the stock market was going to do, and he replied, "It will go up, it will go down, and it will go sideways, but not necessarily in that order."
Professor Friedman was wise in his retort, for no one really knows what the market is going to do. On the other hand (beg pardon), it sure would be nice if someone had convictions about something these days. Too many people are hesitant to take a moral stand on anything for fear of being called intolerant, arrogant, or a bigot. Even nominees for the Federal bench are afraid to state clearly their conviction that abortion ends a human life. Instead they spout some convoluted legalese about not letting personal views interfere with enforcement of the law. Their waffling has done nothing to get them confirmed, as a filibustering Senate has prevented even a simple up or down confirmation vote. And I personally get weary of so-called intelligentsia trying to establish a moral equivalency between the 9/11 hijackers and American foreign policy. There can be no "on the other hand" in this case.
Such lack of moral clarity is nothing new. The people of Jesus’ day were astonished at his teaching for "he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes" (Matthew 7:29, Mark 1:22). The scribes loved to quote the teachings of the rabbis to justify their doctrinal positions. That’s why Jesus said of them, "In vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men" (Mark 7:7). We can imagine how the scribes would sound in front of their students. "Rabbi Akbar has said that water from an clean vessel when poured into an unclean will contaminate both, for the uncleanness travels up the stream of water as it is being poured. On the other hand, Rabbi Akiba says that the uncleanness is purged by the water." Jesus authoritative teaching? "It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what proceeds out of the mouth, this defiles the man." (Matthew 15:11, New American Standard Bible)
Time and again Jesus prefaced his teachings with "You have heard that it was said of old …" followed by "but I say to you… ." Read Matthew 5 beginning in verse 21 and see how simply and plainly he called it without regard to what the rabbis had conjured up. In Jesus’ day as in ours people are looking for a moral compass. They are looking for something solid upon which they can anchor their souls. There is nothing more solid nor sure then the teachings of Jesus. The people in his day recognized it. Some of them loved it and some of them hated it. And it’s no different today.