Summary: THE MORE PERSPECTIVES WE TAKE THE MORE FULLY WE COME TO KNOW AND TO LOVE AND MORE CLOSELY TO FOLLOW OUR LORD
Comment: The more we study other perspectives, the better we form an idea of the presence of Jesus Christ within our own life and situation, and of how to bring His love, and peace, to where we see so very little.
Shusaku Endo is called one of Japan's greatest modern writers. Born in 1923, at an early age he converted to Christianity, a difficult step in Japan. See for instance his history of the early Portuguese mission in Japan, Silence as well as his other works. The back matter of this present volume, published thirty years ago by the noted Roman Catholic printing house Paulist Press, in an excellent English translation by the scholarly and Reverend Father Richard A. Schuchert, SJ, calls Endo's extensive body of work an "attempt to integrate his religious faith with Japanese culture." And so this beautiful, illuminating, challenging Life of Jesus.
We have seen several novelists try to present the life of Jesus Christ with greater or lesser fideilty and filters. Nikos Katzanzakis wrote The Last Temptation of Christ, filmed by Martin Scorcese as Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ (Director's Cut) [Import, All-region] (Dvd). We may read VIE DE JESUS by Francois Mauriac, etc., etc., yet I do not believe we can find so delicate, faithful and precise a portrait as we encounter here through Endo, except through the blessed hand of the evangelists themselves.
The conservative Catholic Review determined this a finely sketched presentation by a skilled draughtsman: "His description of the Judean countryside and the little towns that dot it, and of the incredibly bleak and empty desert, are among the most real and poetic I have ever read."
This is direct heart to heart Christology from a brilliant and sincere believer, well read and well written. We find Truth here untarnished. We find in full Isaiah 52, the description of the Suffering Servant which prophecy Jesus fulfills, and which begins: "He was despised, the lowest of men, a man of pains, familiar with disease, one from whom men turn their gaze - despised, and we reckoned him as nothing. But it was our disease that he bore, our pains that he carried . . ." and which ends " . . .He was given a tomb with the wicked, with the evildoers was his sepulcher, Although he did no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth (pp. 82-83)."
Endo writes of Jesus's ministry and preaching: "The God of Love, the love of God - the words come easy. The most difficult thing is to bear witness in some tangible way to the truth of these words (p. 71)."
Endo writes as directly, purely and truly as a well trained exegete. His meditation of the Sermon of the Mount is as edifying as any now avalable. After the Beatitudes, he copies faithfully this essential passage with commentary following:
" '. . .love your enemies, do good to those who hate you. Bless those who curse you. Pray for those who abuse you. To him who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also. From him who takes away your coat do not withold your cloak as well.'
They had never received any instruction that touched on this sort of love from either the doctors of the Law or the priests. None of the prophets, including John the Baptist, had ever delivered a discourse on love to match this one by Jesus. His principle of love was directly opposed to all causist commentaries regardig the letter of the Law. The teaching of Jesus demanded of men and women an impossible standard of sincerity in heart and soul, of purity, honesty, and self-denial."
' . . .Give to everyone who begs from you, and of him who takes away your goods do not ask them again. And as you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? . . .Is that the way to act for sons of the Most High?'"
The spirit of forgiveness . . .the spirit of sacrifice . . .this teaching was altogether in contrast to the prudential maxims concerning success in life which they had always heard read to them from the sapiential books, or had heard from the injunctions of the Pharisees. It was a summons to love which lies prehaps beyond the power of mere human earthlings to attempt (pp. 67-68)."
Read this book. Live this book. Love thy enemy.
Summary: Jesus and His life
Comment: A good book, especially towards the end when Endo helps us understand what the life of Jesus means for him. Throughout his book Endo comments on various scholarly interpretations of the life of Jesus.
Summary: Jesus for the Japanese
Comment: Endo's "take" on Jesus is unlike most western accounts. I have found it insightful and, insofar as I am a Catholic priest, expect that, while I don't agree with the author totally, his approach will translate itself into future sermon material.
Summary: Speculative (non)fiction or heartfelt plea?
Comment: Apparently Shusaku Endo wrote "A Life of Jesus" in an attempt to better communicate the Christian faith to his countrymen. In his view the Japanese have not embraced Christianity because of the highly judgmental "paternal" aspects found in the Bible. As a remedy to that he tries to paint a picture of Jesus Christ the man, a simple character that unconditionally loved all whom he encountered. For the most part he succeeds and presents a comprehensive narrative that vividly describes the world Jesus lived in.
It's unforunate then that he should spend so much time trying to downplay the supernatural aspects of Jesus' life and Christianity in general. In conclusion he states that "the human condition is not to be curcumscribed by tangible facts" - yet for much of the book he tries on a number of admitedly speculative theories in an effort to rationalize events recounted in the synoptic texts. Considering that many Japanese people are comfortable with Buddhist concepts such as transmigration or Shinto ideas concerning ancestors and spirit worship it's hard to imagine that they would need pages and pages of exposition to arrive at the simple message "love your neighbour as you love yourself". Western critics are quick to point out that the Japanese are not religious simply because they don't practice in a fashion comparable to those in the West. While this may be true their acceptance of a supernatural realm cannot be argued. Why then does Endo spend so much time on this issue?
It almost seems as if he's trying to rationalize his own faith and gets sidetracked with his intended goal. Issues like the virgin birth, stating that Jesus was John the Baptist's "disciple", the feeding of 5000, the account of Lazarus and countless other literal interpretations do little to serve his ultimate goal. The most baffling apology of all is Endo's account of the resurrection which states that the disciples merely concocted this story out of guilt for selling out Jesus to the Sandhedrin. Again he further dilutes his message to embolden his narrative.
Harsh criticism aside, this book is very well written and paints a unique picture of the man Jesus Christ. If nothing else it's thought provoking and well paced. Considering the miniscule impact it seems to have had on Japanese society, Endo would probably consider this work a failure. On the whole though it's another voice and another opinion. If Japan is to ever embrace Christianity they'll likely need more Endos delivering impassioned pleas such as that found in "A Life of Jesus".
Summary: The man - not the God
Comment: This is one of the best works ever published on the life of the Jewish rabbi named Jesus. Shusaku Endo brings him to us devoid of our usual inclinations and prejudices. Which of us, having been to church, can forget those pictures of Jesus in which he appears almost Scandinavian or a slightly rumpled European? With an Eastern perspective, Endo can - in many ways - render a more balanced and more authentic saga.
This book is NOT about Christ, the supernatural being who was developed in the decades and centuries afterward. This is, ultiamtely, a very human story of a man, his life and times. Endo himself asks the question that so many recent critics and observers have pondered. Consider, the various books in the New Testament were written decades after the death of Jesus by people who never saw him. They were composed not as historical documents but as religious aids for the faithful. Knowing all this, how can we ever know the historical Jesus?
Endo asks the question then goes on to give this remarkable story of a remarkable life. No deep theology or arguing about the nature of God or the mystery of the Trinity - just a simple moving story of a life.