Towards a Vigil

Jesus was a nobody. Every modern university student should know this. He came from the equivalent of “flyover country” — in an insignificant (and colonized) backwater of the Middle East. His disciples were all nobodies, too. His earthly father was a working-class stiff; Joseph’s wife would have counted for less. He had no university or higher education: nothing even resembling a degree. He received no assistance from “experts.” So far as He did, in fact, have some expertise in Holy Scripture, he was self-taught. He had no standing in any of the elites of Palestine; no wealthy relations. He’d never been anywhere else (except Egypt, as a child). Nazareth and district were less visited than the Guadalupe Mountains, and Jerusalem was not an important provincial capital. Even within Jerusalem, Jesus was somewhere between unknown and disliked. There was little in the way of media in those days, even in Rome or Alexandria, but by what there were, He was ignored. His publicity was entirely word-of-mouth. The sensation briefly caused by His Crucifixion — one of millions of judicial murders through the ages — was well contained. All of his disciples (except one) abandoned him. A few loyal women still kicked around. But even after his death on Good Friday, and all the events after His death, the word spread slowly.

He was not one of the “smart people.” The only thing you could say, He was the Son of God.

This, however, is quite a lot, and helps to explain, if it does not entirely, his emergence as also the Son of Man — the most significant man in history. That it is a matter of frustration for those smart people, might go without saying. They insist on their intellectual monopoly.

Among His disciples we later count Paul. Now this was closer to a smart guy, with a few social connexions, as were displayed in his role as an early Christian persecutor. My own “road to Damascus” was across the old Hungerford footbridge in London, which is why I can begin to understand the event. Amateur psychologists can, if they want, provide a retrospective analysis of why anyone would reverse his attitudes on everything, when he had been enjoying worldly success; why he would court death by doing so; why, in the end, he’d be willing to die. Some have tried.

There is no arguing with such people.

In general, people believe what they want to believe, including the most astonishing things (ghosts, flying saucers, or the carbon threat). In my judgement, we are all half crazy. But the phenomenon of Faith does not reduce to belief. There are people of faith who believe almost nothing; there are people of belief who will believe anything. I hope to die a Christian.

But in the meantime, if any remains, I should like to oppose almost everything that is currently believed. One might begin by opposing the received views on Jesus Christ.

Tonight, it is my slight hope that all the bells on all the closed churches will ring out — say, from midnight to dawn. For I could not think of a plainer contradiction to these received views. The message would be simple:

He is risen.