I finally finished reading Marcus Borg’s Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. I commented on this book, I think, on my other blog. Borg tends to explain away much of gospel writers accounts of Jesus’ life as metaphorical or more reflective of the early Christian tradition of Jesus rather than accurate historical accounts. He seems to be fairly certain about that conclusion but it’s hard for to me to make that kind of leap. Although there are some definite ideas of which I didn’t agree with Borg, I really enjoyed this book. It has many powerful observations that helped me see, what I feel, is a more compelling and accurate view of Jesus and the world he lived in.
The most memorable points in the book were in the middle and at the end. In the middle of the book there is a section where Borg talks about the “alternate wisdom” of Jesus. He outlines how Jesus came to town and completely subverted the conventional wisdom of the world in which surrounded him. Who he ate with, who he spent time with, those who he chose as disciples, and on and on. Borg compares this alternative wisdom of Jesus to our world and the conventional wisdom that so easily clouds our ability to see and hear the message that Jesus is trying to communicate to us. Very compelling stuff.
In the very last chapter, Borg really rocked it. He hits on something that I’ve never heard before, the idea that there are macro stories within the Old Testament that we can use as lenses to view the life and purpose of Jesus. Borg chooses three stories in scripture to build his point: the exodus story, the story the exile of the Jews from Jerusalem to Babylon, and the story of the Jewish priesthood (Borg does not claim these are the only stories we can choose from, but felt these three were essential for this approach). The exodus story signifies the journey of freedom away from Pharoah. The exile story signifies the being away from home, separated from where you belong, being oppressed. The priesthood story signifies the sinfulness of man, the falling short, the required sacrifice, then repentance and lastly our need for the grace of God in the forgiveness of our sin.
Borg sets his sights on the priesthood story that, in his opinion, we have adopted today as the main way to view Jesus, while not giving enough consideration to the other two stories in terms of what the life of Jesus means for us now. His point is not to totally discredit the priesthood story, he feels it serves a very great purpose. But he merely points out that because we are fixating on this way of viewing what Jesus’ message was, we tend to interact with Jesus exclusively in the context of this sin, guilt, repentance forgiveness…….essentially framing our experience as one of “requirement” and “reward”. It’s an experience of believing now and cashing in when we “get to heaven”. The very nature of this approach to Jesus is one where we find ourselves chasing our own tales, so to speak. It is not us moving along with God on a journey, it’s just just staying where we are, hoping to get “somewhere” in the future.
The danger in not giving the other two stories a chance to shape our vision of what Jesus’ message was is the elimination of the aspect of this “personal relationship” being a journey. When we view the message of Jesus through the lens of all three stories, we get a more balanced perspective of the message of Christ. The story of exodus is our story as well. We are under the rule of todays conventional wisdom, and Christ can lead us on a journey of freedom. We don’t have a Pharoah ruling over us, but we do have commercialism, greed, racism, sexism, superficiality, etc……all of the kingdoms of this world that are not the Kingdom of God. We long for freedom from these false Gods and with this longing comes the connection to much of what Jesus did and said. The exile story is one of feeling foreign, empty, hallow, not where we should be, we don’t “fit in”, we’re oppressed, etc.
You see the dude with a mega phone on the corner yelling about how we are sinners and we need to repent so that we can be with Jesus in heaven or burn in HELL!!!. Let’s face it, a lot of people think it’s crazy talk and I would have to agree. But if we point out that not only is God graceful with our shortcomings, but that God wants us to be free of of the oppression of all the addiction, eating disorders, greed, spousal abuse, selfishness, injustice, evil, solitude, and emptiness of this world. Everyone can relate to that and connect on those terms.
If all we do is present the message of Jesus only as one of requirement and reward, like in the story of the priesthood, then those who do not feel guilty about they way they live will be completely unmoved by that message. But if we paint a more complete picture, by using all three of these stories, then we are really giving the message of Jesus more complete, identifiable voice. In focusing on all three, you end up making the story of the priesthood even MORE powerful. When in the proper context, it becomes an even more amazing quality of our God.
None of this probably makes any sense but if you read the book, Borg will spell it out for you a tad bit better than this lame attempt. I was just pumped about these ideas and had to write out the wave of excitement. That, and hanging out in a hospital all day kind of makes you crazy. Regardless, I highly recommend this book. It’s to be taken with a grain of salt, but that’s sometimes what the wounds need.