Friday, November 03, 2006

What Jesus Meant

I read an interesting little book awhile back called “What Jesus Meant” by Gary Wills. It started off rather badly for me, by slamming the Jesus Seminar, which is a group of scholars who intend to “renew the quest of the historical Jesus”. Jesus Seminar scholars like Marcus Borg are one of the reasons I can now claim an authentic Christianity for myself after a very long separation. He goes on for 6 pages describing why they are misguided. So, I wasn’t terribly inclined to hear what he had to say after that.

Nonetheless, I trudged forward, and I am glad I did. He has a lot of interesting things to say, and makes a convincing case for a Jesus who is far more radical than most everyone is comfortable with. He also has fresh and vibrant translations from the Greek. It is good to be challenged like this. Here’s are some excerpts:

When pilate asks Jesus if he is King, he answers:
John 18:36 “My reign is not of this present order. If it were of this present order, my ministers would do battle to prevent my surrender to the jews. But for now my reign is not of this present order”
Many would like to make the reign of Jesus belong to this political order. If they want the state to be politically Christian, they are not following Jesus, who says that his reign is not of that order. If, on the other hand, they ask the state simply to profess religion of some sort (not specifically Christian), then some other religions may be conscripted for that purpose, but that of Jesus will not be among them. His reign is not of that order. If people want to do battle for God, they cannot claim that Jesus has called them to this task, since he told Pilate that his ministers would not do that.


If Jesus opposes wealth and power, hierarchy and distinctions, he must have opposed their invariable instrument, violence. And of course he did. More than any other teacher of nonviolence – more than Thoreau, than Gandhi, than Dr. King – he was absolute and inclusive in what he forbade:
Luke 6.27-38
I say to all you who can hear me: Love your foes, help those who hate you, praise those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who punches your cheek, offer the other cheek. To one seizing your cloak, do not refuse the tunic under it. Whoever asks, give to him. Whoever seizes, do not resist. Exactly how you wish to be treated, in that way treat others. For if you love those you love back, what mark of virtue have you? Sinners themselves love those who love back. If you treat well those treating you well, what, what mark of virtue have you? Sinners too, lend to sinners, calculating an exact return. No rather love your foes, treat them well, and lend without any calculation of return. Your great reward will be that you are children of the Highest One, who also favors ingrates and scoundrels. Be just as lenient as that lenient Father. Be not a judge, then and you will not be judged. Be no executioner, and you will not be executed. Pardon, and you will be pardoned. Give, and what will be given you is recompense of crammed-in, sifted-down, overtoppling good showered into your lap. The excess will correspond to your excess”
Tremendous ingenuity has been expended to compromise these uncompromising words. Jesus is too much for us. The churches’ later treatment of the gospels is one long effort to rescue Jesus from his “extremism”. Jesus consistently opposed violence. He ordered Peter not to use the sword, even to protect his Lord – yet thousands, in the Crusades, would take up sword to protect the site of that Lord’s death. If one cannot use violence to protect the Lord, what can one justifiably use violence for?


Brownie said...

"It is good to be challenged..."

I'm curious what it was, specifically, you found so challenging. Had you not read these words before? Did you find some new nugget? Or insight?

Brownie said...