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Ministerial way to Jesus

06 September 2013

DOES Jesus shape us, or do we shape Jesus? This recently became a political issue when David Cameron spoke about his faith recently in a question-and-answer session in Darwen, Lancashire.

Fearful of what voters might think, Alastair Campbell always advised Tony Blair not to "do God". But Mr Cameron, clearly, is doing him: "I'm a Christian, and an active member of the Church of England," he said. Then came the curve ball from the audience: "So what would your response to Jesus be on his instruction to sell all our possessions and give the proceeds to the poor?"

With the 17 millionaires in the Cabinet no doubt listening carefully, Mr Cameron was initially stuck for words: "I have never been asked that question before," he said with disarming honesty, and probably a little terror. He went on to admit that it is difficult to follow the scriptures to the letter; and then shrewdly broadened things out, moving into the less threatening air of generalities.

He liked Jesus's teachings, he said, because there was "a lot you could apply very directly to daily life and to bringing up your children. Simple things, like do unto others as you would be done by, love your neighbour as yourself, the Ten Commandments, and the Sermon on the Mount."

But returning to the difficult particulars, like selling our possessions, he said: "I find it a bit more difficult." But being a man who thinks quickly on his feet he could see how this might sound, and added: "I'm not saying religion is a pick-and-mix and you can pick the bits you like." Nevertheless, to the untutored ear, that would seem to be exactly what he was doing.

I write these things not to dismiss the faith that Mr Cameron holds. He is a brave man to speak of it at all, and which of us does not sound foolish when claiming some intimacy with Jesus?

The Church has never looked good against its master, and the Prime Minister is not the only one to pick and choose. We choose our favourite Bible bits, and our favourite Jesus bits, and somehow go to sleep at night imagining authenticity in our religious response. My eyes glaze over at some of Jesus's words when I hear a redactor's hand at work, with an agenda not hard to discern.

But then I would say that, wouldn't I? And why isn't the Gospel of Thomas at least on an equal footing with the Gospel of John? So much picking and choosing to be done before I get to bed.

We still our hearts, we do our best. And, sometimes, we may meet Jesus on the way.

Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth by Simon Parke is published by White Crow.

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