No matter who you are, no matter where you live, no matter any possible variable the mind could conjure, William Willimon’s presentation of Jesus confronts you. As a young preacher listening to the words of a seasoned vet, I appreciated Willimon’s fifth chapter ‘Preacher,’ in which he summarized the story of Jesus’ first sermon as presented in Luke’s gospel. After heading back to his hometown of Nazareth, Jesus went to the synagogue and delivered a message of God’s kingdom being open to Gentiles just as much Jews, and used clear cut, obvious examples from their scriptures of the much heralded prophets Elijah and Elisha: the former, during a famine, bypassed hungry widows of his native country to feed an immigrant; the latter overlooked all the lepers who were his fellow countrymen and healed a leper who commanded the army of his nation’s enemy. The congregation’s response? They tried to kill Jesus. In reflection, every preacher who has not or does not illicit such a response from a congregation today must inquire why, beginning with the person in the mirror. A challenging book written insightfully and with much wit, which could be read by pretty much every person alive.
I am having extreme difficulty in describing how great this little book is. I found it well written, witty, humorous, and often incredibly deep in insight. Willimon has reminded me that Jesus can make me so angry in that he will go through great lengths to embrace my staunchest enemy, even my oppressor; after all, Jesus called both zealots and tax-collectors to follow him, certainly an awkward and seemingly opposing pair. That Jesus loved to have a good time with the all-in-out rascals of society, making the have-it-togethers sort of uneasy with his excessive partying. Moreover, the book challenges our colluding American nationalism, calling us who bear the name Christian to look beyond our economy, possessions, and borders to help those in need that Jesus makes one in the same with himself. And perhaps most unnerving, is that Jesus did not merely come to let me off the hook by forgiving me, but to in turn to invite me to follow him on a cruciformed road that few then and now have dared to tread. May we allow this Jesus, the one who openly accepts us where we are, and yet takes our life complete with our desires, dreams, and possessions, and tramples them unmercifully so that he can craft us into vessels for his kingdom to speak once again.
with quotes like the ones below, the breadth of Willimon’s treatment of Jesus and of His message is well-demonstrated. his book is a rapid, fresh, and refreshing read, bordering ever-s0-slightly on the scholarly, but remaining entirely approachable by any and all readers. apart from an almost flippant approach to what are actually very weighty topics (i.e. his constant talk of Jesus “partying” which serves to unfortunately anachronize the crucially important and serious subject of Jesus’ meal table practices and their messianic-banquet related application to His vision of the kingdom of God), some easily correctable mis-statements (that don’t derail him from his overall mission), and some treatments of situations of and statements from Jesus that could use a more culturally contexted approach, the book is well worth the attention of the western Christian that needs to have his or her outlook challenged. Willimon definitely serves to shake up our thoroughly modern and culturally-infused “Christian” sensibilities, and could take this shaking even further if he were to incorporate the work of men such as Kenneth Bailey and his eye-opening work in books such as “Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes”. this would go a long way in aiding Willimon in filling some gaps (realizing that it is impossible to fill every gap), while also extending the sobriety introduced into our thinking into his sometimes less than sober treatment of the Scriptural text and the stories of Jesus.
The modern world has ways of turning us in ourselves, eventually to worship the dear little God within. Christianity, the religion evoked by Jesus, is a decidedly fierce means of wrenching us outward. We are not left alone peacefully to console ourselves with our sweet bromides, or to snuggle with allegedly beautiful Mother Nature, or even to close our eyes and hug humanity in general. A God whom we couldn’t have thought up on our own has turned to us, reached to us, is revealed to be someone quite other than the God we would have if God were merely a figment of our imagination—God is a Jew from Nazareth who lived briefly, died violently, and rose unexpectedly. This God scared us to death but also thrilled us to life. – William H. Willimon, Why Jesus?
…Christian thought and doctrine is never final, finished, and static. God is alive, in motion toward us, in a movement beyond us, not only two thousand years ago but now. Jesus is a journey. It’s probably a good thing for believers in Jesus to maintain a degree of modesty and tentativeness in what we claim to know about Jesus. If he is who the Scriptures say that he is, we’ll never completely grasp him, for he is bigger than our ability to hold fully on to him. He holds on to us. – William H. Willimon, Why Jesus?
The announcement, “Glory to God in the Highest and on earth peace,” is an almost direct quote from the prelude to Caesar’s royal proclamations that were read in the marketplace in the occupied territories whenever the emperor wanted something done. “Glory to Augustus Caesar, God in the Highest, and on earth, peace to those with whom he is well pleased,” (and presumably hell on earth to those with whom Caesar is not pleased). See what Luke is doing? The angels’ song is not only a birth announcement; it’s a war chant, a proclamation announcing a change of government. There is a new king in town, and Caesar’s rule is imperiled. – William H. Willimon, Why Jesus?
…Jesus appears to have had no interest in one of the world’s great, abiding illusions—justice. At various times, Jesus was dragged before the agents of justice—Caiaphas (the high priest), the Sanhedrin, Pontius Pilate (Jesus made little distinction between religious power brokers and secular ones). One of the most noble systems of justice ever devised responded to Jesus by torturing him to death. Worldly attempts at justice always involve the strong imposing their wills upon the weak. In crying for justice, the weak are usually demanding power to work their wills upon the strong. Perhaps that’s why, in world history, Jesus is usually on the losing side. After the world’s revolutions, it’s often difficult to tell the vanquished from the victors, morally speaking. People in power tend to act the same, despite why they get there. All of which explains why Jesus never got along well with potentates, religious or otherwise. – William H. Willimon, Why Jesus?
It’s a wonder that anybody looked at Jesus and the rather measly results of his ministry and exclaimed, “He’s a king!” Yet some did—a few women, ex-tax collectors, and former fisherfolk, the very yong and the very old, along with many untouchables and undesirables. Their comprehension of his reign was so against the way we think about things that their acclimation of Jesus was itself a wonder. Thus, the church has always regarded faith in Jesus, that is, trust that he is who says he is, as a gift of God. – William H. Willimon, Why Jesus?
Most great, world-changing revolutionaries talk about the end of the world. Jesus was no exception, though his talk of the world’s end had his own twist. In Jesus’ talk of a final cataclysm, Jesus wasn’t exactly saying that the world was coming to an end. Rather, he was claiming, with vivid speech and bold assertion, that Rome’s rule over the world was coming to an end (which would have no doubt seemed like the end of the world for many people who thought too highly of the empire). “Give up your agenda and take up mine” was his kingdom message. Or, as he put it, “repent and believe the good news.” It wasn’t escapist; it was revolutionary. “Repent” thus means to abandon your own allegiance and join up with us. Be more revolutionary than your hoped-for revolution… With Jesus’ welcome to the kingdom also came a warning: people must “repent,” that is, exchange their agenda for God’s. They must change their ways and sign on for the new kingdom or else. You knew you were part of the kingdom not because you felt differently in your heart but rather because you lived differently. People could see that the kingdom of God was not just “in you,” as a subjective attitude, but rather “among you,” as a recognizably changed allegiance. Sign up, sell off, and join Jesus on the road. – William H. Willimon, Why Jesus?
Not a new religion, a different moral code, some fuzzy spiritual experience, a set of new doctrines, or a plan for individual salvation, kingdom talk was about Israel at last coming to fruition, Israel at last becoming what God had always intended—the kingdom of God, though not in a way that people expected. A whole new world. That’s why Jesus spoke so often in the future tense: mourners will be comforted; the hungry will be filled. He spoke of a grand reality that was not yet fully present, not yet completely evident. Thus, he put us in the vulnerable position of having to follow him on the basis of promises, in the future tense rather than on the basis of hard and fast evidence. We have therefore got to be able to look for that which is not fully seen, to hope for that which is not fully present, if we are going to walk with him. – William H. Willimon, Why Jesus?
Some historians believe that Christianity triumphed because Jesus, God incarnate, gave birth to an organization that astounded the world with its acts of charity in his name. In the first centuries of the Christian era, when at least two plagues decimated the Roman population, and rich people and their priests fled the cities, the Christian stayed and cared for the suffering, no matter who they were. In just a century or so, this small sect became the dominant faith of the empire. These Christian put into practice a story and an ethic that was a rebuke and an alternative to the ways of the culture. Thus, the world took note of Jesus by noticing his followers. Jesus was first known, and is perhaps still best known, by the quality of lives that he is able to produce through his summons, “Follow me.” – William H. Willimon, Why Jesus?
I have to say that I really liked this book. Willimon’s no nonsense approach to the Gospel writings was great! I cried and laughed, a great read. Very different from most things I have read. He goes on to show us a real live breathing Jesus who new His mission as Servant King. I do recommend it. He really knows how to swing a spiritual punch right between the spiritual eyes. (you will recover) I have been suprised by Jesus! (read the book)
William H. Willimon does an excellent job on pointing out why we should dedicate our lives to giving ourselves away to the service of God and others. How does Mr. Willimon do that, by asking the question Why Jesus?. This book does an excellent job on pointing out what our Lord Jesus was about. From being a vagabond, peacemaker, party person, preacher, home wrecker to a delegator. Jesus no matter in what position you were in, be it of power or a bum on the side of the street, took the time to get to know you and educate you on the ways to meet Him in Heaven. The book points out we should do everything possible by Jesus, meaning not to make it about ourselves, hate country and honor and most of all be bold to stand up for His cause. So let us follow this so called Jesus and stand up for His cause, because if we do, Jesus will be the first one to meet us at the door, hug you, invite you in and throw you a big fantastic party! All this commotion because He loves you no matter what.
Loved it, this book assisted me in a few epic debates…. must read!
Academia Church © 2013