Tuesday, September 08, 2009

The For Everyone Series - Tom Wright

Just a recommendation because I've gotten a lot out of this series. I'll try to keep it fairly brief.

A lot of you may know that N.T. (Tom) Wright, Bishop of Durham, noted New Testament scholar, theologian, and historian, has written over thirty books, both for academic and for popular readership, focusing on different aspects of Christianity. The Challenge of Jesus: Rediscovering Who Jesus Was and Is ranks as one of my top non-fiction reads and illuminates Jesus in ways I seldom, if ever, thought. I also started wading into his Christian Origins series, but to be bluntly honest, I think those volumes may be a little too much for me.

Here, though, I want to plug Tom Wright's For Everyone series, and especially the Gospel editions. If you're interested in who Jesus was from a historical standpoint combined with a discussion of what scripture is saying in that context, because really, they go hand-in-hand, then I can't recommend a series of Biblical commentaries more than this one.

I'll just give a couple of instances from Mark for Everyone, snippets that show scripture in a new light for me, to illustrate why I enjoy these books so much. The first one comes from the Mark 2:1-12 passage. Here's verses 1-5:

1A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. 2So many gathered that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. 3Some men came, bringing to him a paralytic, carried by four of them. 4Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on. 5When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Son, your sins are forgiven."

Wright actually quotes all twelve verses, but I'm just listing these five because of what Wright then states regarding just these. Perhaps I've been dense all these years, but I never thought this:

Most people don't realize that this was probably Jesus' own house. He had moved to Capernaum from Nazareth; the point of the first two verses is that when Jesus returned from his short preaching trip around the neighbouring villages, he found crowds pressing around the door as though he were a movie star or
well-known footballer. Jesus himself was the unlucky householder who had his roof ruined that day.

This opens up quite a new possibility for understanding what Jesus said to the paralyzed man. How would you feel if someone made a big hole in your roof? But Jesus looks down and says with a rueful smile: "All right - I forgive you!" Something in his voice, though, made them all realize this was different. This forgiveness went deeper than domestic disputes. Jesus was speaking with a quiet authority which went down into the paralyzed man's innermost being. Not surprisingly, those around him felt uneasy. Only the priests could declare forgiveness, speaking in the name of God. If that's what the man needed, his friends should take him to the Temple in Jerusalem, not to a wandering preacher.

I think I had heard, maybe some time ago when I was a kid, that perhaps it was Peter's mother-in-law's house, but even that had passed mostly out of my mind. It just never occurred to me that this was Jesus' own house. So, yeah, when Jesus tells the man his sins are forgiven, the man probably understands he has sins, but then he's also just had his friends cut a hole in This Guy's roof so he could be healed. Also, I knew that crowds followed Him when he preached, and I suppose I'm dense, but I never figured they were like the paparazzi there at his doorstep. Really, I think a lot of times, I've failed to see in Jesus' humanity, some of the day-to-day stuff that I take for granted, i.e. coming home to my house and relaxing for one.

With nearly every passage of scripture, Wright has dozens of similar nuggets that just make the mind reel. The one other scripture passage -- I won't quote this one -- is Mark 14:12-25 and concerns the Last Supper. I will, however, quote a bit from the commentary:

It's a deep human instinct -- I believe a God-given one -- that we mark significant moments with significant meals. Sharing a meal, especially a festive one, binds together a family, a group of friends, a collection of colleagues. Such meals say more than we could ever put into words about who we are, how we feel about one another, and the hopes and joys that we share together. The meal not only feeds our bodies; that seems in some ways the least signficant part of it. It says something; and it does something, actually changing us so that, after it, part of who we are is 'the people who shared that meal together, with all that it meant.'
How true is this?! He goes on to speak about the Jewish festivals and what they celebrated with these meals and, of course, leads into the Last Supper, Jesus sharing with His disciples. Going back to the eating meals together, I think of my family's special dinners at holidays - Christmas, Thanksgiving, New Years, Easter - celebrating annual events in our lives. The fact that we're full at the end and that the food was good, well, that is nice. However, the special part is the togetherness, the sharing of our lives, and the binding of our spirits during these times. Wright puts these thoughts together and crystalizes them in a way, over and over, I think, "Yeah!"

I know Tom Wright has his critics with hard-lined reformed Christians, and I know I don't agree with him even on some of the things he writes in the For Everyone books. However, all that stuff really goes out the window for me when I just get down to reading the Bible verses and then hearing what Wright has to say in the For Everyone books. It expands everything for me. To me, it doesn't matter what denomination you may be, and really, I don't think it matters whether you're a Christian or not a Christian, if you're looking to find out about who Jesus was/is. I think everyone can learn a lot about who Jesus was as a man in his particular era, and then learn what orthodox Christianity says about Him as God the Son.

If you ever read one, let me know what you think.


Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to look this author up. Thanks, man.


Rich said...

I can bring a book to Writer's Critique... but just not tonight's. I forgot them at home.


DugALug said...

Sounds like some cool stuff. I will have to add it to the list.

God Bless