Saturday, November 26, 2011

Simply Jesus by N. T. Wright

Wright says there are some simple questions with not so simple answers. “Who is Jesus?” is one of them. In chapters 1-5 Wright covers what the questions are and why they are hard to answer. In chapters 6-14 we learn what Jesus' public career was all about, what he was trying to accomplish, and how he went about it. In the last chapter, Wright asks, “So What?”
Jesus puzzles us because his world (customs, culture, etc.) is strange to us. Wright notes the “sheer historical complexity of speaking about Jesus.” (20) He invites us to get our minds and imaginations into Jesus' own day. He reminds us of the deeply rooted idea of God himself coming to rule and reign as Israel's king. Yet Jesus did not do what the people expected a victorious king to do.
It is important, Wright says, to take off our Western spectacles and put on first-century Jewish ones. That is essential if we are to understand Jesus and his actions. “If we don't get this straight, we simply squash Jesus into the little boxes of our own imaginations rather than seeing him as he was.” (64)
Wright reviews the parables, saying they are not abstract. “The parables, in fact, are told as kingdom explanations for Jesus' kingdom actions. They are saying: 'Don't be surprised, but this is what it looks like when God's in charge.'” (91)
To help us understand the “King of the Jews” concept, Wright looks at the lives of Judah the Hammer, Simon the Star, Herod the Great, and Simon Bar-Giora.
When Wright comes to the crucifixion, he says of his interpretation, “This way of looking at the climax of Jesus' story is not, to be sure, the standard, traditional, 'orthodox,' 'conservative,' reading... Mt contention is that it enables us to understand the original historical reality for which … dogmas are later, often dehistoricized, abstract summaries.” (176)
What does it mean that Jesus is king now? Wright reminds us that, “God intended to rule the world through human beings.” (212) Jesus works through his followers (rather than doing it all himself). Wright urges a fresh reading of Acts, recognizing “that through Jesus' followers God is establishing his kingdom and the rule of Jesus himself on earth as it is in heaven.” (215) A proper reading of the Beatitudes is to see them as the agenda for kingdom people. “They are about the way in which Jesus wants to rule the world.” (218)
Throughout the book Wright speaks of “the perfect storm;” pressure from the Roman Empire, the thousand-year hope of Israel, and the purposes of God...all converging.

Wright always seems to say something in his book that I find disturbing. Wright looks at the books of Isaiah, Daniel and Zechariah as “three main scriptural passages that seem to have contributed to Jesus' sense of vocation as he undertook [this] final journey.” (165) Wright then adds the Psalms, saying Jesus not only knew them, “but made them the very stuff of his vocation. He found himself in them and determined to act accordingly.” (165-166)
I don't like the idea that Jesus took his directions from the Psalms. I imagine a scene where Jesus remembers a scene from the Psalms, then gets busy making it happen. I would rather have in my mind John 5:19. Jesus said there that he did nothing of his own initiative, “but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” (NET Bible) That, I think, was the motivation for his actions while on earth.

Wright is always thought provoking. I was challenged by his urging me to understand Jesus within the context of the world at the time he was on earth.

Harper One, 231 pages. 
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