Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Simple Jesus You May Not Know

The day before Christmas Eve, I picked up N. T. Wright's Simply Jesus:  A New Vision of Who He Was, Why He Did, and Why He Matters; I couldn't put it down.  If someone else had written this book, I might not have bothered.  I might have said, "What else is there to say about Jesus that hasn't already been said?"

Of course, there's still plenty to say.  And N. T. Wright is the person to say it, and often in ways that surprise me.

This book is most important in describing the time period of Jesus, particularly the ways that first century humans understood time, space, and matter, and the way that first century Jews understood the Temple.  Wright also does a remarkable job in explaining the prophets, the reformers, and the radicals who came before Jesus, who inspired the imaginations of their contemporaries.  It's a great way to understand the context of Jesus, what people were expecting, and why Jesus might have used the language that he did.

The second part of the book explains what it all means to us, modern believers centuries later.  He talks about our job as believers:  "The Beatitudes are the agenda for kingdom people.  They are not simply about how to behave so that God will do something nice to you.  They are about the way in which Jesus wants to rule the world.  He wants to do it through this sort of people--people, actually, just like himself (read the Beatitudes again and see.  . . . When God wants to change the world, he doesn't send in the tanks.  He sends in the meek, the mourners, those who are hungry and thirsty for God's justice, the peacemakers, and so on" (page 218, italics in original).

If you've been going to church, the ideas in the second part of this book will probably not be unfamiliar to you--although you may be delighted and/or perplexed to see how Wright interprets the Gospels and the lessons of Jesus.

By now, you may be thinking, hmm, sounds a little heavy for my capacities.  That's another beautiful thing about this book:  it's readable, it's accessible, and it's fascinating.

Here are some quotes to whet your appetite:

"The disciples wanted a kingdom without a cross.  Many would be 'orthodox' or 'conservative' Christians in our world have wanted a cross without a kingdom, an abstract 'atonement' that would have nothing to do with this world except to provide the means of escaping it." (page 173)

"Jesus is like somebody who has two homes.  The homes are right next door to each other, and there is a connecting door.  One day, the partition wall will be knocked down and there will be one, glorious, heaven-and-earth mixture." (page 195)

"Jesus rules the world through those who launch new initiatives that radically challenge the accepted ways of doing things:  jubilee projects to remit ridiculous and unpayable debt, housing trusts that provide accommodation for low-income families or homeless people, local and sustainable agricultural projects that care for creation instead of destroying it in the hope of quick profit and so on." (page 219)

"Jesus has all kinds of projects up his sleeve and is simply waiting for faithful people to say their prayers, to read the signs of the times, and to get busy.  Nobody would have dreamed of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission if Desmond Tutu hadn't prayed, and pushed, and made it happen.  Nobody would have worked out the Jubilee movement, to campaign for international debt relief, if people in the churches had not become serious about the ridiculous plight of the poor.  Closer to home, nobody else is likely to organize a car shuttle to get old people to and from stores.  Nobody else is likely to volunteer to play the piano for the service at the local prison.  Few other people will start a play group for the children of single mothers who are still at work when school finishes.  Nobody else, in my experience, will listen very hard to the plight of isolated rural communities or equally isolated inner-city enclaves.  Nobody else thought of organizing the 'Street Pastors' scheme, which, in my country at least, has had a remarkable success in reducing crime.  And so on.  And so on."  (p. 230)

1 comment:

Di said...

I especially like the part about the two houses-- thank you for this.