Making Jesus Strange
I’ve been doing a follow-up of each session of our “UnApologetic” webinar. Here’s this week’s review on the chapter titled “Yeshua.” I’ve also been attaching the tape of the session to these blogs. Alas, no tape this week as someone forgot to hit “record.”
As we began Jason, who was moderating, asked me why Spufford’s chapter on Jesus was titled “Yeshua,” which is the Hebrew form of the later latinized “Jesus.”
My answer was “to make Jesus strange.” To defamiliarize us with Jesus who feels so known, familiar, and fit to a certain picture we have of him.
And really that is the point of Spufford’s entire brilliant chapter, to catch us with the strangeness of this figure, the way he challenges our fixed ideas and eludes the limitations we place on him.
In presenting his story of Yeshua, Spufford hews to the main purpose of his book, which is to speak to us on an emotional level. And he succeeds in that. As I said in the discussion, the first time I read this chapter I found myself saying — able to say — “I love this Yeshua, this Jesus.” I’ve often felt some pressure to say “I love Jesus,” or to claim “a personal relationship with Jesus,” or “to accept him as my Lord and Savior,” as various catch phrases popular in American Christianity would have it.
But there was something coercive about these urgings that did not seem to align with what I did understand of God and of Jesus. There’s nothing coercive about Spufford’s rendering of Yeshua. It is presented, he is presented as “here’s the story,” “here’s his story.”
And at this point in my life I know the four gospels well enough to know when someone is playing fast and loose with what we have been given. Many have of course done just that, making Jesus over into whatever form and frame they are pushing, offering us their “new” and “improved” Jesus.
Spufford does, as he comments later, “simplify, select and heighten . . . to make the emotional outline of it as clear as I can,” but he doesn’t distort or give us a Jesus who is different than Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
Here are a couple brief selections that I found especially moving:
“The lack of limits is what he asks of people, the limitlessness of what he wants for people, washes away the difference between insiders and outsiders. He is never recorded as saying no to anyone.”
“And he is never disgusted. He never says that anything — anyone — is too dirty to be touched. That anyone is too lost to be found. Even in situations where there seem to be no grounds for human hope, he will not agree that hope is gone beyond recall. Wreckage may be written into the logic of the world, but he will not agree that it is all there is. He says, more can be mended than you fear. Far more can be mended than you know.”
Perhaps, it was fitting that the session was not recorded. All attempts to capture Jesus fail, as Albert Schweitzer concluded years ago in the powerful concluding words of his book, The Quest for the Historical Jesus.”
“He comes to us as One unknown, with a name, as of old, by the lakeside, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same words: ‘Follow thus me!’ and sets us to the tasks which He to fulfill for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience, Who He is.”