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how to tell the biblical story in a way that makes a difference

The prayer of the good man Jesus for the church

In his disappointing and underachieving book The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, Philip Pullman has a disillusioned Jesus pray to the emptiness in Gethsemane. There are no miracles, no healings, no answers to prayer – he cannot keep making promises that God never fulfils. There will be no great coming of the Kingdom of God, no dramatic divine infraction in the lifetime of the people who had heard him teach. Maybe his brother Christ was right when he talked about ‘this great organisation, this church of his that was going to serve as the vehicle for the Kingdom on earth’ (197). Jesus’ whole being revolts against the prospect because he can see what will happen, how the devil will rub his hands with glee – the extravagant temples and palaces, the aggression, the exploitation of the poor and of the innocent and not least of the children…

But if there has to be a church, Jesus prays to a God who is not listening:

that any church set up in your name should remain poor, and powerless, and modest. That it should wield no authority except that of love. That it should never cast anyone out. That it should own no property and make no laws. That it should not condemn, but only forgive. That it should be not like a palace with marble walls and polished floors, and guards standing at the door, but like a tree with its roots deep in the soil, that shelters every kind of bird and beast and gives blossom in the spring and shade in the hot sun and fruit in the season, and in time gives up its good sound wood for the carpenter; but that sheds many thousands of seeds so that new trees can grow in its place. Does the tree say to the sparrow ‘‘Get out, you don’t belong here?” Does the tree say to the hungry man ‘‘This fruit is not for you?” Does the tree test the loyalty of the beasts before it allows them into the shade?