Thursday, March 12, 2009

Jesus Conversation Redux

For the last year I have been leading a class on Wednesday nights formally called "Knowing Jesus: A Conversation About Our Founder." I envisioned it as truly a conversation in which we would come together and enter into dialogue about Jesus, with a lot of back-and-forth sharing of ideas, insights, opinions, and questions. I really didn't want it to be a lecture in which I provided the answers and everyone else soaked it all in. I'm a student of Jesus myself, and I have as many questions as answers.

It didn't quite turn out that way. Part of it may be the natural deference that people give to a pastor when discussing things biblical and theological, but at the core I think it was something else altogether. We aren't used to talking about Jesus the man. We are used to talking about Jesus the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity, the Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, Savior of the World.

We don't know much about Jesus the 1st century Jewish peasant who lived in the Roman province of Judea ruled by a Caesar who claimed to be one god among many gods, surrounded by a corrupt religious system and a revolutionary fervor that would erupt within a generation of his execution.

I mean, we've heard that stuff, but it's deep background and we don't give it much consideration when we listen to his words and watch his actions. So "Blessed are the peacemakers" becomes a general rule about personal relationships rather than a political statement aimed not only at the zealots who advocated the violent overthrow of Israel's Roman occupiers but also at the Romans and their so-called Pax Romana or "Roman Peace," a peace which came when all opponents either acquiesced or died resisting.

And that's just one example of how our de-historicizing of Jesus has led to our missing the full import of his sayings and actions. The Prodigal Son becomes a nice story about personal repentance and salvation rather than the re-casting of Israel's history of Exile and hoped-for restoration. The Good Samaritan becomes a nice story about how we should stop and help a stranger change a flat tire rather than a radical challenge to Israel's racism, nationalism, and religious arrogance.

These weren't just nice stories. In Jesus' day they were the kinds of stories that would get you in trouble. And they did get Jesus in trouble.

So for the last year I spent a lot of time talking, teaching, and challenging people's comfortable but inadequate views of Jesus. I'm still doing the later, but the last few weeks it's been less of a lecture and more of a conversation. New people have joined into the discussion, and the veterans are helping to bring them along even as they continue to learn new insights.

It's a lot of fun. If you're into that kind of thing, that is.

So if you're in Frederick and want to join us, please do. But if you aren't and can't, or are and can't, then let me invite you to join in the conversation right here. Post a comment or question, and let's get into it.

It could get interesting.

This is an important conversation. After all, if we get Jesus wrong, nothing else truly fits.

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