Francis Spufford Needs Something Far Less Cautious Than Justice

We’ve said it a few times already but it bears repeating: Francis Spufford’s “Yeshua” chapter […]

David Zahl / 7.8.13

We’ve said it a few times already but it bears repeating: Francis Spufford’s “Yeshua” chapter in his book Unapologetic contains some of the most vivid and exciting writing about Jesus of Nazareth one is likely to find, this side of Robert Capon. Maybe it’s the tone (he’s clearly not writing with Christians in mind), maybe all the unexpected turns of phrase, or maybe something else, but this guy has an extremely rare knack for cutting through the dense cultural and religious fog surrounding Christ. It’s re-energizing, to say the least. Again, like the rest of the book, the “Yeshua” chapter is less a work of theology than a sustained character study in narrative form, one that integrates all aspects of the man’s person (the teaching, the miracles, the passion, etc). This first part comes on the heels of Spufford relating the parable of the lost sheep:

randy-hofman-sand-sculptureLost people arouse his particular tenderness. In all their varieties. People whose bodies or minds don’t work properly. People especially mangled by the HPtFtU. People who one way or another fall foul of purity rules, whether it’s their own doing or not. People who live beyond the usual bounds of sympathy, because they are ugly, or frightening, or boring, or incomprehensible, or dangerous. People who are not people like us, whoever ‘we’ happen to be; people who are not the right kind of people, whatever that is being defined as. In theory he has come to help the lost sheep among the God-fearers, the lost sheep of Israel–that’s what he says–but in practice, over and over again, he gives his whole attention to whoever he meets, including a multitude of foreigners, and members of the occupying army. The lack of limit in what he asks of people, the limitlessness of what he wants for people, washes away the difference between insiders and outsiders… Yeshua’s sense of people is not additive. More is not better. Each person in front of him is, for that moment, the one missing sheep.

And he is never disgusted. He never says that anything–anyone–is too dirty to be touched. That anyone is too lost to be found. Even in situations where there seem to be no grounds for human hope, he will not agree that hope is gone beyond recall. Wreckage may be written into the logic of the world, but he will not agree that it is all there is. He says, more can be mended than you fear. Far more can be mended than you know… (pg 127-139)


And this next part has to do with the parable of the prodigal son(s):

This [parable] is about something else, a love that deliberately does not protect itself, a love that is radically unprotected on purpose, and is never going to stop to ask whether the younger son, like many junkies briefly boomeranging back to the nest, will tomorrow steal the silver spoons and the digital camera and be off again to the fun-bucket. A love that does not come naturally in a world of finite farms, and real inheritances, and exhaustible parents; a love which therefore can only be like a father running across the fields to kiss his ruined child. But a love we might need anyway, if we’re to get beyond deserving. Yeshua tells the story with the bad boy’s viewpoint first, and then the brother’s, so that those who hear it must become both of them, so that we can recognise ourselves in both of them. Which we do, if we’re honest in the way Yeshua recommends. In every life, we have times when we play both parts. We ruin, and we build. We’re chaotic, and we’re the anxious maintainers of a little bit of order in the face of chaos. We could only join the older brother in asking for fairness, nothing but fairness, if we didn’t see ourselves at all in the lost boy. Since we find ourselves in him as well, we too will need, at times, something far less cautious than justice. We too will need to be met on the road by a love that never shudders at the state we’re in, never hesitates to check what if can bear, but only cries: this is my son, who was lost and is found. (pg. 131-2)