Since Jesus was born long before the age of the in-depth interview, the brief conversations recorded in the Gospels often leave you wanting more. The disciples were too slow and overawed, and the religious experts were too hostile, to give Jesus the curious, intelligent grilling which would have been good for him and priceless for us.
But now Jesus has a new conversation partner in Simon Parke, a former Church of England priest who is an author and newspaper columnist. In this book, Parke sits with Jesus to talk, question, interrupt, joke, answer back and above all listen in frequent surprise to the astonishing things he says. Simon Parke notes: “While the conversations are imagined, the words of Jesus are not; they are authentically his, taken from the various records of his life in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Thomas.”
Turning monologue into dialogue and making it sound like it always was dialogue is a highly skilled task. There are moments in these conversations when Jesus seems to be looking into the middle distance and not specifically answering Simon Parke’s questions, but then Jesus in the Gospels could sometimes be like that.
But then there are passages when Jesus seems to snap into direct eye contact with his interviewer, which creates moments of genuine drama. Especially arresting are the points where the author contradicts Jesus, for example by telling him that forgiving your brother seventy times seven times is “a ridiculous amount of forgiveness”. When Jesus relates how he told the Pharisees they were choked with extortion and wickedness, Parke tartly responds, “You are a craftsman in the art of rudeness.”
The book moves purposefully through the life and teaching of Jesus, taking us towards his death and resurrection. Even readers who know the Gospels well will discover an unfamiliar and unsettling Jesus in these pages. As Simon Parke tells him, “You make things so simple and yet so hard; so attractive, yet so impossible.”
Making the extremely familiar unfamiliar again is a very special gift, and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth is a new kind of Gospel for readers today.
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Jesus has probably inspired more books and biographies than anyone else in human history. But which of them are worth reading if you’re exploring the life of Jesus for the first time – or even for the second or third times?
Written by Simon Jenkins
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