Thursday, April 21, 2011

Christ and Kundera (3 of 4)

The Unbearable Lightness of Being strikes me as a modern Ecclesiastes. Kundera, as far as I can tell, is saying what Solomon did: “Then I commended mirth, because a man hath no better thing under the sun, than to eat, and to drink, and to be merry” (Ecc 8:15). Kundera, like Solomon, makes clear the futility of life and chides all our grasping at the wind. And, in a certain context, this is absolutely true.

But Solomon’s greater context is the Bible. After Solomon has searched out this life and found the only comfort in lightness, we see the incredible heaviness of Isaiah’s prophecies, of a city which will bring about the heavy ideas of global peace and justice. After Isaiah, we see in the visions of Daniel a stone made without hands, plummeting to earth and ending the futile Grand March of humanity, only to grow into a mountain that fills the whole earth, the Kingdom of Heaven. And then, as these images slip away as vain dreams, we hear the cry of a virgin in labor, and then the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord!”

And then all our notions of purpose and peace, holiness and profanity, lightness and heaviness are all throw into disarray. For all our neat categories, the man who comes blows up all our neat categories into tiny bits, and then begins to piece them back together again. He wasn’t clean. Sometimes he didn’t even wash his hands. Yet the greatest prophet of his age felt unworthy to unloose his sandal strap. He ate with sinners, he cavorted with prostitutes, he broke the law; yet no one could accuse him, and at his trial, he was acquitted.

From the time of his maturity, he had an absolutely clear mission. He lived with an urgency and purpose, under the eyes of his Father in heaven. “For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten son, that whosoever should believe in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” To accomplish this mission, he suffered poverty, rejection and persecution. His work was not something that didn’t matter; he was perhaps the central figure of human history. From his lips came some of the heaviest sayings ever to be uttered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. The second is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commands hang all the law and the prophets.” Jesus was, in Kundera’s words, incredibly heavy.

But he didn’t seem to understand the contradiction between heaviness and lightness. Though he was undoubtedly among the most weighty characters in all of history, he was simultaneously also among the lightest. He proclaimed that, in his presence, his disciples ought to be joyful, like guests at a wedding. Unpleasant ritual would cease, and though all of that age fasted with downcast faces, his disciples never did. He spent a good deal of his time at parties, and at one, even provided the liquor. Though a prominent man and important mission-driven rabbi, he stopped teaching one day to play with some kids. It is not just furrow-browed churchmen who would quote him, but pot-smoking artists like Bob Marley. Like Bob later would, Jesus tells us “Don’t worry”: “Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day [is] the evil thereof” (Mat 6:24).

Table of Contents:
Introduction - Part 1 of 4
Review - Part 2 of 4
Conclusion - Part 4 of 4

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