Cast a nation from its land and before long it will have sunk without trace. It is rare to find an exception, but the Jews are clearly one. They cling on to a memory of their uniqueness.
Since the Enlightenment the Western world has allowed its view to become restricted to reason and the material. Yet, we have been mislead. When Descartes said ‘I think, therefore I am’, he got it wrong. It reduced us to our thoughts, but we are more than that. When Andy Murray plays a great tennis shot, it is not because he has sat down to think through the various possibilities and come up with the best shot. By then it would be too late and the point lost. No, instead, he has trained himself to already know what to do. Years of training have embedded the knowledge into every fibre of his being. He sees his opponent, he hears the sound, and he knows where to go and how to place the ball without thinking. He has precious little time for anything else. He has trained himself in the story of tennis, and he remembers.
For over two thousand years empires have sought to assimilate or remove the Jews. Hitler’s attempt was just the latest, and perhaps the most horrific. I doubt if any other nation has survived so much. Yet the Jews continue to survive, because they remember who they are. They immerse themselves in their story. On a weekly basis they stop from all work and remember that it is their God who provides, not their own efforts. Over their festivals they have learned to retell their story. Not as observers of a story long ago to some ancient people, but as their story. Even if they don’t believe in God anymore, they still choose to participate in its remembrance. Instead of neatly parcelled theological packages collecting dust on a shelf, they have endless energetic debate. Their story remains alive, and they survive. Not through its retelling into some more relevant or sensitive form, but though allowing the original story to sink deep into their bones, until it finds its own expression and they remember afresh.
I have spent much of my energy into trying to re-think the Gospel for this generation. How do we allow the ‘dynamite’ of the Gospel to explode into peoples lives? It has proved a difficult task. Perhaps, it has been the wrong task. Rather than trying to become its modern interpreter, maybe I should have focussed more on becoming its participant and getting it deeply embedded in my bones. I have become too much an observer. I need to trust the story – as told by Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. A story in which I am a surprising part – even if it does not always feel like it. And as I trust myself to the story, then, just maybe, the gospel will have its affect, both on me and those around me.