Talking with Jesus (Oh yeah?) 17

“ I finished the book ‘ Diary of a bad year” by J. M. Coetzee, knowing that it was profound and unsentimental, as he often is. And I reflect that the writings I really value are similar, like those of Jose Saramago or Dante, words worn bare against reality, with no time for nonsense, admitting that human life may have a terrible beauty, but that it certainly has a terrible ugliness. And that’s where you come in, Jesus. For your real words, not those invented in your name like the Gospel of John, with their pious loveliness, but those central to the tradition of Mark, Matthew and Luke, have also been rubbed against reality. You knew what we are like, so you had to tell us not to do religion for reputation, not to do charity to blow our own trumpet, not to use God like a actors on a film set. You knew our rage for revenge, our delight in violence, so you told us to love our enemies, to do good even to those who persecute us. You made no false promises, saying only that if we endured to the end we would be rescued. You watched as we walked past the least important of our brothers and sisters in need, and told us we were thereby ignoring our true king. Ah, there’s no one like you in the religions of the world, no one with your grasp of the nitty-gritty of life and your remedies for rescuing it. How did you do it?”

“I grew up without pretence. My parent were loving and full of trust in God. And there was the world of Galilee, the bright lake, the boats, the fish, the dogs, donkeys, foxes, wolves, ostriches, sparrows, the wild flowers the grain, the almond trees, oh, all of it, and human beings like my parents who worked hard to make a decent living. A shining world! But at the same time, the storms that sank the fishing boats, the droughts that led to famine, the diseases that left the bodies of children lying in the streets, the killings when the Romans came conquering or the Jihadis came to punish anyone who worked with them. The rich who took land from the poor and left them to starve. I knew that if God had any wisdom for people, it had to be as dry and real as sand, dealing with they way things are, but passionate enough, and funny enough to help people survive and live splendidly. I didn’t always manage it, but I tried.”

“You liked stories….”

“Yes, because the best stories deal with the world as it is, so there’s room for character, humour, surprise..”

“Like the fat farmer who plans for expansion, but snuffs it before it can happen.”

“You like that one?”

“And the man whose well-off pals are too busy to come to his party so he invites the poor, the riff-raff, the destitute.”

“But do you like it when the father welcomes back the arrogant wasteful son and sidelines the faithful hard-working one?”

“Yes, but only because I’m more like the wasteful son than the faithful one. But I can understand what the faithful one feels. If I can ask, however, why is your sower so inept that he wastes good seed on bad ground?”

“Because in Palestine we plough the ground after the sowing is done, whereas with you it’s the other way round. So the sower cats the seed on unploughed land hoping that some of it is good. My father is just as careless with the gospel of his kingdom. Lots of people did not accept it. The story is based on what happens.”

“You could be pretty brutal at times, mind you. ‘if your right hand leads you into sin, cut it off’ I suppose you know that one of your faithful saints, a man called Origen, troubled by his sexual urges, cut his willy off?”

“He was a very troubled man whose faith was touched with false teaching that bodies were bad and only souls were good. But I’m sorry if my words gave him an excuse to damage himself. I meant that we should not be over – protective of flawed habits of thought or action. We need harsh discipline, but as those who go to the gym know, it’s easily borne and can be enjoyable. I had no condemnation of pleasure as such, for ‘my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

“In any case, it’s your hold on reality that holds me. One of my favourite poets, Seamus Heaney wrote of the ‘moment when the bird sings close to the music of what happens.” The closer the better.

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