Thursday, April 3, 2014 Context

In the last few weeks I have read "Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters," by theologian and scholar N. T. Wright, "Killing Jesus" by Commentator Bill O'Reilly and historian Martin Dugard, and a short reflection on the tenth day of Lent, "Why Was the Cross Necessary?" by Catholic theologian Father Robert Barron.  That was all topped off with a single sentence about Jesus from Paul David Hewson, aka Bono.

Both O'Reilly/Dugard and Wright do an excellent job of putting Jesus in context, O'Reilly/Dugard taking the unusual approach of explaining more extensively what was going on in the Roman Empire and in Jerusalem in particular, and Wright, also considering Rome, but emphasizing the Jewish world view, based on their history, the Hebrew Scriptures, and the fulfillment of prophecies therein.  Wright uses a "perfect storm" metaphor to explain the disruption that occurs when the Jewish world view, the Roman world view, and the arrival of God, in flesh, announcing a new world order, the coming of the Kingdom of God, collide. Both books give a pretty clear understanding of why the crucifixion of Jesus was a quite reasonable, and even necessary, response to Him in the eyes of the powers that were. 

The O'Reilly/Dugard book claims to be historical, not theological, and describes Jesus not as a Messiah but only as a man who "galvanized a remote area of the Roman Empire and made very powerful enemies while preaching a philosophy of peace and love."  The only thing that really bothered me about the book was the slant in this phrase describing the response of Jesus to the question of whether it was OK to pay taxes to Caesar: "Why are you trying to trap me? Jesus seethes."  Well, he did address them as hypocrites so maybe he was "seething."  Or maybe he was just feeling sorry for them.  Anyway, such interpretation is more characteristic of historical fiction than of history. Don't let that keep you away from the book.  I just want you to know I noticed it.  

The Wright book is a theological treatise and goes beyond the crucifixion with chapters titled, "Under New Management: Easter and Beyond," and "Jesus: The Ruler of the World."  It is a book that can help Christians see the big picture, the total Bible Story, and avoid the mistakes that easily come from picking and choosing verses out of context and basing ones theology on them.  

Then there was Father Barron's reflection for the 10th day of Lent, pure theology, explaining why The Cross was necessary.  It is very short, and you can read it here

And then Bono's declaration, included in this brief clip of an interview:  "When asked, "Who was Jesus?," Bono answered, “That is the defining question of what Christianity is about... Either he is the Son of God… or he was nuts.”  Note the switch from present to past tense. I will go with the present tense alternative. Of course that is the choice also of Bono, Barron, Wright, O'Reilly, and Dugard.  

All of these are highly recommended reading for these last few days leading up to Easter, day one of the new creation.