I finally got around to reading Why Jesus? by Bishop William Willimon.
I’ve had it for a while, but my excuse to read the book was using it as a resource for my sermon series during Lent.
I always enjoy Bishop Willimon’s writings. I read Pastor for a Theology of Ministry class at Asbury (interestingly, Willimon was elected bishop the week we were at Asbury for this class, in 2004). I really enjoyed This We Believe, which I wrote about before. Bishop Willimon also blogs (Peculiar Prophet).
I’m looking forward to Bishop’s Retreat next January in Lancaster, PA, where Bishop Willimon will be the guest speaker!
Here are some of my favorite highlights from a few chapters in the book …
My favorite chapter was the opening chapter on Jesus as Vagabond. Willimon notes, “Most people met Jesus on the road” (1).
All the gospels present Jesus on a continual road trip—God in motion urgently making a way to us in defeat of the desert in which we wander. Euthys, the Greek word for ‘immediately’ occurs forty-two times in Mark’s Gospel. No sooner does Jesus do something than ‘immediately’ he hits the road to elsewhere. Some of Jesus’ best words were spoken on the run. (1)
After the resurrection, Jesus returns to his disciples …
And what does Jesus say to them? Does he say, ‘You have all had a rough time lately. Settle down and snuggle in here in Galilee among these good country folks with whom you are most comfortable. Buy real estate, build a church, and enjoy being a spiritual club’? No, he doesn’t say that. This is Jesus after all, not a Methodist bishop. The risen Christ commands, ‘Get out of here! Make me disciples, baptizing, and teaching everything I’ve commanded you! And don’t limit yourselves to Judea. Go to everybody. I’ll stick with you until the end of time—just to be sure you obey me. (4)
Not only was he on the move but also Jesus constantly invited everyone to join his journey. … Jesus tends to come to people where they are but rarely leaves them as they were. Conversion of thought and life, a whole new world, is part of the adventure of being loved by Jesus, of being invited to be his traveling companion. (9)
I love the title “peacemaker.” Peacemaker should not be confused with “peacekeeper.”
He who never raised a sword, even in self defense, nor permitted his disciples to carry or use swords, openly proclaimed his message as a ‘sword.’ … Jesus brings peace, but his peace often begins as disruption and despair before it is sensed as peace. It is not peace as the world gives, his peace. Prince of Peace Jesus was a threat to world peace. (13)
I also enjoyed the chapter on Jesus as “party person.”
Nowhere is Jesus’ human nearness … more apparent than in the portrayal of Jesus as moving from one dinner party to the next. He was no ragged renunciator of this world. He was a party person. … Jesus was accused more than once of showing the unseemly behavior of ‘a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ (39)
Jesus’ own gregarious life made oxymoronic the term ‘solitary Christian.’ You can’t do this faith solo.
When asked to cite the single most important of the commandments, Jesus flatly refused and instead offered a two-fold command to love God with everything we’ve got and to love ‘your neighbor as yourself,’ as if one made no sense bereft of the other. (39-40)
God in Jesus Christ is encountered not through solitary walks in the woods, or even by reading a book (!), but rather at a mundane dinner table, doing that most utterly carnal of acts—sharing food and drink with friends. (40)
In the final chapter of the book, Willimon writes …
Jesus is not here to get what you want out of God; Jesus is God’s means of getting what God wants out of you. Jesus is not an effective way whereby we climb up to God; Jesus is God’s self-appointed means of getting down to us. … Perhaps that’s why few people came to Jesus; he went to them. Jesus rarely said, ‘Love me,’ and never said, ‘Agree with me.’ Rather, he most frequently commanded simply, ‘Follow me.’ And not too long after he said ‘follow me,’ as soon as we got to know him, he said, “Don’t be afraid.” What does that tell you about the way he invites us to walk? (116)
Well, that’s just a sampling from a few of the chapters in the book. Other chapters include: Storyteller, Preacher, Magician, Home Wrecker, Savior, Sovereign, Lover, and Body.