While in Maine I began reading the book What Jesus Meant by Garry Wills. Pastor Mark (our senior pastor) lent it to me with a high recommendation. I would like to share a few quotes from it that I found particularly thought provoking. I share them here both because I think you might appreciate them, and so I will be able to refer back to them at some future time. I just hate to spend my sermon-writing-time hunting down that perfect illustration or quotation from a book I read, but can’t find. I have yet to come up with a filing system that works, so I tend to rely on my memory. As Dr. Phil asks, “How’s that working for you?”
I have found this book insightful because Wills looks at Jesus’ actions and words from the perspective of what Jesus meant ~ not what we want Jesus to mean. How often do we ask in Bible study, “Did Jesus REALLY mean that?”
Wills begins his study by questioning our popular tendency to slap cloth bands around our wrists with the slogan WWJD. The truth is that we don’t really want to know what Jesus would do. If we did we would have sold all our material goods, taken up residence with the outcasts and disowned our families. We have reduced Jesus to a kind, humble man, with easily understandable motives. We have taken the radical-ness out of Jesus. To truly understand who Jesus was we need to appreciate the radical nature of his humanity and divinity, his life and death, his teachings and actions, and honestly assess who we are as his followers in light of it all. That is what I have gotten out of the book so far (about half way through).
Wills identified the journey that led him to write his book with the words of Saint Anslem, “…faith out on a quest to know.” I hope that I continue to embody that quest, the quest to know, in my journey of faith as well.
So, from What Jesus Meant by Gary Wills:
Writing about the story of Jesus’ birth, life and death: “As Chesterton (Gilbert Chesterton) said, his story resembles the great myths of mankind because be is the fulfillment of the myths. When someone said that other stories tell of God’s voice coming from heaven, and so does the scene of Christ’s baptism, therefore his story must be just like the other ones, Chesterton asked, ‘From what place could a voice of God come, from the coal cellar?’” (intro. xxvii)
Wills quotes Romano Guardini: “The statements of the apostles are guides to him which never quite do justice to the fullness of his divine-human natures. The apostles never state more about the historical Jesus than he actually was; it is always less.”
Writing about Jesus’ miracles: “His miracles are targeted to teach lessons about the heavenly reign he brings with him, and one of the main lessons is that people should not be separated into classes of the clean and the unclean, the worthy and the unworthy, the respectable and the unrespectable.” (p. 29)