Most people met Jesus on the road. When John the Baptizer introduced Jesus to the world, he quoted the prophet Isaiah, "Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low … and all flesh shall see the salvation of God." In Jesus, God worked a highway construction project, making a road straight through the desert to enslaved humanity. Just as in the exodus, when God made a "way" out of Egyptian slavery to the Promised Land, so Jesus is the "way" to God. How ironic that while we clamored up to God through our intellect, our morality, our architecture, our art, and our institutions (both secular and religious), in Jesus Christ, God slipped in among us. The first name for the church was simply "The Way," not only our way to God but rather God's way to us.
All the Gospels present Jesus on a continual road trip—God in motion, urgently making a way to us in defeat of the desert in which we wander. Euthys, the Greek word for "immediately," occurs 42 times in Mark's Gospel. No sooner does Jesus do something than "immediately" he hits the road to elsewhere. Some of Jesus' best words were spoken on the run. Many have wanted to know more about the early childhood and adolescence of Jesus. Matthew and Luke tell us a little about the circumstances of Jesus' birth, and Luke has one story about his going to the Temple in Jerusalem when he was 12. In Mark, probably the earliest of the Gospels, Jesus just shows up out of nowhere, gets baptized by John, and then the Spirit shoos him out into the wilderness. It is as if the Gospels want to say that the action only really gets going when Jesus hits the road.
Jesus cannot be explained simply as the next chapter in the long, gradual, forward advance of humanity; his birth to a virgin named Mary signifies that Jesus is present as the miraculous gift of a gracious God, the God-given goal of all human history. The Gospels tell us that knowing where this gift came from, who his people were, isn't going to help us much. If you want to know about Jesus, if you want to know him, you've got to meet him on the road.
What the Gospels deem important about Jesus is not his family or his youth but rather his embarkation on his ministry, his forward movement, his mission. Breaking like a wave across dusty Galilee, he thunders forth into a captive land—God at highest momentum, God immediately. Anybody who wants to meet Jesus, to understand or be with Jesus, must be willing to relocate.
Reprinted by permission of Abingdon Press.
Copyright © 2010 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.
Among Christianity Today's articles by Willimon are:
Stay in Afghanistan? Let Jesus Call the Shots | We have capitulated to the nation that the qualifier 'American' is much more significant and determinative than the designation 'Christian.' (September 8, 2010)
Ambitious Like Jesus | If your ambitions aren't worth your life, they're not big enough. (October 12, 2010)
To the Church Called Mainline by William H. Willimon | Behold I make all things new! Even you. (October 25, 1999)
The Spirit Hasn't Left the Mainline | A forum on why and how we should save denominations. (Aug. 11, 1997)
See also our 2009 cover story on Christian travel, "He Talked to Us on the Road."
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