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March 17, 2001
Column #1020


     Once again, it is Lent. For Catholics and some Protestant liturgical churches, this is an important season to take stock of our souls. Sadly, many Christians ignore this time of preparation for Easter, commemorating the Resurrection, the central event of Christianity. 

     Millions will fast or "give up" something such as alcohol or sweets as a modest reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross.

     However, in this season I'd like to suggest another way to make a memorable Lent. Read the new novel about Jesus, "The Gospel of Yeshua: a Fresh Look at the Life and Teaching of Jesus" by Skip Johnson, a former reporter and editor of the Charleston, SC "News & Courier."

     In reading this book, you can steep yourself in the life and character of Jesus. In fact, you may find some surprises.

     Johnson writes in his Preface he found it almost impossible to write the story of Jesus, because the Gospels of Mark, Luke and Matthew differ so radically from John. "John shows Jesus declaring his Messiahship at the beginning of his ministry, repeating the claim so often it almost became a mantra. Matthew, Mark and Luke all show Jesus going to great lengths throughout his ministry to specifically avoid being identified as the Messiah....Also John says Jesus' career lasted three years" while the other writers say it "lasted one year."

     At a low point in Johnson's life, after losing a job, he became intrigued with Jesus. "It occurred to me that if his teaching were true, then I or anyone else could prove it. All we would have to do is live his teaching. If we did, we would either consistently realize his promises, in which case his teaching must be true, or we would not consistently realize his promises, in which case Jesus must have been either a liar, a madman or both."

     Years of testing convinced the author Jesus is who he said he was. As he has Jesus explaining to his disciples: "It is a consistent, fundamental law of life that you get out of life what you put into it. If you want to receive, you must give. If you want mercy, you must be merciful. If you want to be forgiven, you must forgive."

     What I found fascinating in this novel is the glimpse it gives into what Jesus and his disciples might have been like as people. 

     When Yeshua (as his contemporaries knew him) asks his cousin to baptize him, John is confused: "I don't understand it. Ever since we were children you've been the leader. You're the smart one. You always shared your knowledge and wisdom with me, but you're the teacher. I can't baptize my teacher."

     In the wilderness Jesus begins to address "a question too ludicrous to consider, too blasphemous to speak, but too important to ignore...Am...I...the..Messiah?" 

     If so, what is his role? He's tempted to become "what most of his countrymen feel they have been promised...a military Messiah who will destroy Rome...judge the world and establish God's eternal reign on earth." Yeshua knows he could do it, but "cannot persuade himself that God wants him to become a warrior. The God he has grown to know and trust is the God of love, not a God of force."

     I found the book's insight into what Jesus taught about love particularly profound. Thomas asks, "I have to like everybody I meet? 

     "Yeshua laughs, "Of course not. You don't have to like anybody. You have to love everybody. Love them regardless of whether you like them....The love I speak of concerns much more than feelings of the heart. It is an act of the will. It requires you to seek the highest good for others regardless of whether you like them...

     "If you refuse to forgive someone who has wronged you, you force yourself to carry an unnecessary  burden - a useless dead weight - while the person you are refusing to forgive suffers nothing. The moment you forgive, however, that useless burden lifts from your shoulders."

     On the night before he was crucified, Jesus says, "The covenant I bring you depends wholly on love, or on `the blood I shed for you.' ...There are no rules to follow, no laws to obey. There is only love to be lived."

     For Jesus it meant offering no defense when charged, taking "absolute love into the teeth of absolute evil," and defeating it. "He is walking toward death, but he is striding toward life," asserts the author of this inspiring book to read during Lent.

Copyright 2001 Michael J. McManus.

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