The Challenge of Jesus
It’s probably a good thing I put it off. I wasn’t ready for it before now. But right now, the challenge of Jesus is pretty central in my life. The book jacket says it is “a double edged challenge: to grow in our understanding of the historical Jesus within the Palestinian world of the 1st century, and to follow Jesus more faithfully into the postmodern world of the 21st century.”
Probably if I wasn’t interested in the latter, I wouldn’t care much about the former. In my own spiritual journey, I am indebted to a college class on the Bible and social justice, and later, a reading of Walter Wink for his political analysis of the Gospels.
I am also indebted to Marcus Borg, and his book The Heart of Christianity, for opening space for me in the Christian world. I don’t necessarily agree with all of his interpretations, nor all of N.T. Wright’s assertions either, but Borg gave me space to not know. Because that’s my main point of view about the history of Jesus: I don’t know. I don’t know enough to dispute with any of these authors about their historical analysis. On the simplest level, I wasn’t there, and I don’t believe any one really knows what really happened 2000 years ago. And that’s okay with me. Borg empowered me to admit that I don’t know the truth about the virgin birth or the physical resurrection of Jesus. And to accept that it doesn’t matter to me, at least not right now, because my faith doesn’t rest on these propositions being literally true. My faith is built on the truth of Jesus’s existence in my own life and the transformative value of what is written about Jesus. I’m not caught up in whether it’s all myth or history or a combination of both, although I tend towards the “some of each” position, if you really want to know.
Freed of some intellectual roadblocks, I am more able to confront the second part of the challenge. And that is the most interesting part of Wright’s book for me.
Wright describes Jesus’s healings as a “sign of a radical and healing inclusivism—not simply including everyone in a modern, laissez-faire, anything-goes fashion but dealing with the problems at the root so as to bring to birth a truly renewed, restored community whose new life would symbolize and embody the kingdom of which Jesus was speaking.” (p.69) He describes the early Christians as organizing their lives as if they really were living in the kingdom of God, “the returned-from-exile people, the people of the new covenant.” (p. 133)
Our task is to do this again, not in first century Palestine, but in the 21st century, right where we live. “We in turn walk sorrowfully on the road to Emmaus [after the breakdown of our modern presuppositions], only to find our hearts burning within us at the opening of Scripture, our eyes opened to the presence of God in Christ in the breaking of the bread and our feet suddenly energized to go and tell the good news to others.” (p. 169) Oooh, oooh, me too! I know how that feels! (And so did George Fox!)
Wright closes the book with a lovely explanation and charge to the graduate students he originally spoke to, about how to be Christians in their professional as well as personal lives. Neither on a shrill and shallow level, denying the depth of the problems our world faces; nor weakly and thoroughly compromised by worldly pressures; nor by escaping to a place of idealized and isolated purity. But by going out into the places of pain and despair in the world with God’s healing love AND with all our minds and all our strength. To love as we have been loved.
This is the challenge of Jesus.
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