Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Shusaku Endo

Shusaku Endo was a Japanese Catholic. Do you call him an interstitial man? At any rate, he stood in a unique place as a remarkably eloquent novelist, straddling West and East. His novels often treat the question of how Christianity can or should translate into the foreign culture of the Japanese, and whether Christianity has emphasized the image of the powerful, risen Christ to the exclusion of the suffering, weak Jesus, in achingly beautiful language and stories. His stories are about the transgressors: the oathbreakers, the Christian priests who renounce their faith, the sinners, failures, and fools. He is my favorite author.

He wrote a book in 1973 called A Life of Jesus. It is certainly not evangelical and does not treat the Bible as factual in every detail or spiritually inspired. I would give it to my friends who are not Christians without fearing that they would find it offensive. Instead, from a somewhat skeptical point of view informed by the "higher criticism" and liberal Christian philosophers, Endo breathes life into the story of Jesus.

I really wish I could just type the whole book out here, but I can only advise you to, please, please read it. This is from the concluding chapter, "The Question":

If we grant, merely for the sake of discussion, that the incident of the empty sepulcher is fiction, when we then come to consider the questions I previously raised, we are forced to believe that what did hit the disciples was some other amazing event, some event different in kind yet of equal force in its electrifying intensity. At least, logic impels us to conclude that, whatever it was that might have happened, it was enough to change the "powerless" Jesus in the hearts of the disciples into the "all-powerful" image of Jesus. And then we are constrained to suppose that this other event, whatever its nature, was enough to also persuade the disciples that the resurrection of Jesus was a fact.

The carpenter who grew up in the back country of a weak nation was in his brief career an other-worldly sort of teacher whom in the end not even his own disciples could appreciate. Not until after his death were they able to grasp what kind of person he really was. For all I know, there may well be an analogy here between their inability to understand Jesus during his lifetime and our own inability to understand the whole mystery of human life. For Jesus represents all humanity. Furthermore, just as we, while we live in this world, cannot understand the ways of God, so Jesus himself was inscrutable for the disciples. His whole life embraced the simplicity of living only for love, and because he lived for love alone, in the eyes of his disciples he seemed to be ineffectual. His death was required before the disciples could raise the veil and see into what lay hidden behind the weakness.

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