Talk of “a better world” is today a commonplace. Elaborate programmes are put forward for social security, international defence, improved medical services and fuller educational opportunities. And all practical efforts to improve the lot of groping humanity are steps in the right direction. Yet none of these schemes is sufficient in itself. Neither freedom from anxiety and fear nor the most profound book learning will give mankind that sense of human worth and dignity proclaimed by the Carpenter of Nazareth. It is not until a man realises that he is in very fact a son of God, that he can attain to the grandeur and self-respect which that name implies.
One life, lived more than nineteen centuries ago, is the fulfilment of all human possibilities; more than this, it is the reflection of the nature of God, translated into human terms. Yet Jesus of Nazareth is misunderstood, and ignored. In the rush of modern civilisation, with its struggle for material comfort and amusement, its scramble for higher wages or higher dividends, we cut him dead in our streets or jostle him off our crowded pavements. Yet a working man from an obscure province of the early Roman Empire unjustly condemned to a criminal’s death by a second-rate government official, holds the key for the solution of all our modern problems, if we would only invite him into our council chambers. And, just as certainly, he can solve our individual difficulties, if we are ready to admit his claim upon our service.
Why have we pushed him into the background?
I do not think the answer to this question is hard to find. The average man in the street has no conception of the true character of the historical Jesus or of what he stood for. His true personality has been obscured under a welter of dogma, ritual and controversy, distorted by the well-meaning, but sickly, sentimentality of artists, hymn-writers and children’s teachers, with the result that “the friend of publicans and sinners” has become in the popular mind something halfway between a Pharisee and a weakling, and the most unconventional figure in history has come to be associated with conventional church or chapel services in conventional Sunday clothes.
I am inclined to think that too much emphasis has been laid on the phrase “A Man of Sorrows.” This description of Jesus is only a part of the truth; and to many minds it is repellent. He might equally well be called the Lord of Laughter or the King of Sociability. The fact is that all the qualities which we value most highly in our friends are to be found in full measure in Jesus of Nazareth. And the tragedy of Good Friday and the triumph of Easter can only be fully appreciated if we realise the true personality of the friend whom his followers supposed that they had lost and who was astoundingly restored to them.
Everyone who is familiar with our English translation of the Gospels must be impressed by the beauty of the language. But this very beauty of style and the restraint of the narrative may contribute to our misunderstanding of the central figure. He becomes etherialised in our minds into an unreal character of a poetic drama, instead of being a working man, probably speaking a dialect as homely as that of the dwellers in a Yorkshire or Dorset village. And for this very reason most of us can listen to the Gospel stories of the stilling of the tempest and the events in the Garden of Gethsemane without any feeling of excitement or profound stirring of our emotions.
This story was originally intended for boys. Parts of it were written many years ago for reading in a school Chapel instead of an address at the Sunday morning service. It has been rewritten as a connected narrative during a period of exile, when the school was evacuated to safer quarters. I have therefore had no access to books of reference; I have never been in the Holy Land, and have only the superficial knowledge of its geography and scenery which can be gained from a school atlas and a memory of illustrated books. Consequently there must be many inaccuracies, for which I shall make no further apology.
It is no part of my aim to present the truths of Christianity from any special doctrinal standpoint; and it is certainly not my intention to attempt to explain away the super-normal incidents in the Gospel story. I have merely taken the narrative of the four Gospels and retold the story in modern language, trying to bring out the character of the central figure and the effect of his personality on those with whom he came into contact, both friend and foe alike.
A subsidiary purpose has been to endow the twelve Apostles and the minor characters in the great drama with some individuality of their own. We are too apt to think of the Apostles as a row of figures in a stained-glass window, each clad in flowing garments and ornamented with the conventional halo—differing from one another only in the length and colour of their beards. And for this vagueness there is some real excuse; for the Gospels tell us little or nothing about most of them. Apart from the four fishermen what do we actually know of the Twelve? We read that Matthew had been a tax-collector; that Nathaniel was astonished because Jesus had seen him under a fig-tree; that Thomas doubted the fact of the Resurrection; one or two remarks are attributed to a few of the rest; but what manner of men they were, we are left to guess. Even of Judas Iscariot we know hardly anything until he betrayed his Master; of his motives for this treachery we are told nothing.
Yet it is obvious that each of the Apostles was chosen by Jesus for some definite reason, and all of them must have been men of distinctive personality. And it seems difficult to visualise the three years of Christ’s ministry without forming some mental picture of the people with whom he was most closely associated.
I am, of course, aware that Miss Dorothy Sayers has succeeded in bringing home the reality of the Gospel narrative in her brilliant series of broadcast stories, “the Man Born to be King.” These I have heard more than once on the wireless and have read in their published form. But this story owes nothing to Miss Sayers’ plays, either in its inception or execution. Parts of it were written many years ago; and the connected version was almost completed before I heard any of the broadcasts. It was intended to give to a small community of boys a fresh outlook on a familiar story. If it could also induce others to re-read the Gospels with minds freed from prejudice and with new interest, it would not have been written in vain.
Kenneth Tindall, Blair Castle, September, 1944.
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