‘I’ve been listening to the audio version of this book for the past week. As soon as it ends I find myself compelled to start it over. This book, like no other I’ve read, brings Jesus and most importantly his teachings to life. I was struck by the radical nature of what Jesus preached; it can actually be frightening what he asks of us. But then the fear can be swept away leaving a deep sense of peace. It is in fact quite wonderful. The voice acting is first rate. The actor who portrays Jesus does so brilliantly. I will be buying a print version soon.’ Michael Soucy, Amazon USA
Who was Jesus of Nazareth? Many admire his spiritual teachings; some go further and claim him as the messiah, while a few deny he ever existed at all. But everyone has an opinion about this obscure preacher who lived his brief life in one of the less significant regions of the Roman Empire; and who, in being crucified, died the traditional death for criminals and trouble-makers.
Jesus lived in turbulent times. Under Roman rule, Judea was a hotbed of nationalist, political and religious interests, all vying for power. Jesus was caught in the middle of these, allied to none and ultimately reviled by all. “My kingdom is not of this world,” he said, though he agreed taxes should be paid to the Romans. “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
See ten video extracts from the making of the eBook…
Are you political or spiritual?
Why do you upset people?
The Sabbath is made for man
Whatever happened to family values?
What makes good prayer?
What makes a good person?
What on earth is the Kingdom of God?
The mother of the Zebedee boys
Is there life after death?
Who are you?
Jesus taught simply but challengingly, advocating love for our enemies, a spirit of forgiveness and respect for children. What else was new about Jesus? He spoke of a new way of being which he called “the kingdom of God.” This was not a place but an inner state, and the doorway to this kingdom was trust in a heavenly father. As he would often say: “Have anxiety about nothing.” It was a trust Jesus himself required in a life full of conflict; not least with his family who largely disowned him. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?” he famously asked when they attempted to rein him in.
In Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth, the questions are imagined, but the words of Jesus are not; they are authentically his, taken from the various records of his life in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Thomas. Jesus himself never wrote anything down, but in a culture of oral transmission, his words, deeds and stories were well-remembered and it’s not hard to see why.
It’s the shape of our heart which Jesus is interested in. This is what came across as I spoke with him, in these most challenging of conversations. It’s not what we do that matters, but who we are and that’s why he upset the religious people of his day: he didn’t give them anything to hide behind.
So what do I take away from the encounter? Initially, my head is full of the pictures he drew from nature and life. The world was indeed his scripture. I see the lilies of the field, the patient farmer, the suspect builder, the solitary seed, the angry man woken at midnight, the falling sparrows and the deaths in Siloam. He uses whatever is around him to say truthful things. And such a sense of humour! I still smile when I think of the man with the beam in his eye advising his friend about the speck in his. And what did he write in the sand when the woman caught in adultery was brought to him? I now wish I’d asked.
And he was a man of great courage: that particular virtue comes before almost anything else; a man who declined both the comforts of home and the goodwill of his family to become a wandering preacher. What did he preach? It was nothing new in a way; yet in another way, it was entirely new. He talked of trust, as witnessed most clearly in a child; of humble prayer purified by our forgiveness of others; and of the fatherhood of God – an intimate fatherhood, defined by the word “daddy”. No other teacher I have ever heard has suggested this. And no other teacher has told us to love our enemies.
From these deep springs emerges a kingdom where all are healed, where tears are wiped from our eyes and a new sense of family exists, more generous and open than our present partial understanding.
Oh, and the way he uses language! The verbal twists, the stories, the hyperbole, the savagery and the satire – he’s like a butterfly, determined never to be pinned down, but always to provoke and shatter so a new climate of learning is made possible. He’d call that preparation for the kingdom. And so he dismantles our certainties, pierces our pomposity, overturns our past, confuses our pathways, ridicules our sacred and leaves us naked – because to become naked is to unlearn everything we thought we knew.
He can’t share his understanding with us, of course; understanding cannot be shared, only discovered by each soul for them selves. But he seems to imagine that such discovery is possible. It’s as if he says “That which is alive in me, is alive also in you, but I can’t take you there.” It may mean us changing our mind; but Jesus was courageous enough to change his mind along the way – remember the woman in Tyre? – proving the old saying: “Life is change and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
I reflect also on his lack of sentimentality. No one is more aware than Jesus of the destructive forces at work in the world; and more particularly, in individual people. Everyone is potentially lethal. And knowing the power and presence of such dark forces in each human soul, his language about them is savage. He links intention to action, motive with deed, leaving no one safe. So he colludes with nothing that has left the place of light, and this lost him many friends and made him many enemies.
As a consequence, he struggled to be heard; people feared him and turned on him. And as his story of the four soils revealed, for much of the time his message could not penetrate through the barriers of habitual reaction in his listeners. It is hardly surprising that he was crucified; he threatened everyone – except children.
He doesn’t want us to take ourselves too seriously, of course, a frequent failing in adults. His stories are full of people taking them selves too seriously and getting upset accordingly. Instead, he wants us to repent into a new mind, a new way of experiencing things – a way of life that is full of trust and therefore quite free of anxiety. What happened to Zacchaeus, I wonder, after his shocking encounter with Jesus? It’s a new way of being that does not draw all its meaning from outer events, but is at heart an interior event, an inner state which is the kingdom of God within, merciful towards others and freeing of others, for that is how God is to us.
It is strange that a message of such kindness drew Jesus into such conflict, but that perhaps says more about us than him. It’s a sad fact that goodness does not always bring forth goodness; that sometimes it brings forth hate. Yet the more I reflect on the man, the simpler he becomes. Has he in fact done anything more than restore us to our lost parentage, to an intimacy we’ve been hardened against?
As my Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth reveal, he’s not always easy company; he wasn’t easy company for anyone, once the social niceties were done with. For me, his life and his words have an undoubted ring of truth, but in the end, it’s only your conclusions that count.
Over to you.