"The Christ of the Syrian Road"
Some thirty years ago Dr. E. Stanley Jones wrote an epoch-making book, "The Christ of the Indian Road." As a protest against the interpretation of Christianity as a "foreign" religion in India and against the accretions of the years, whereby the presentation of the Gospels had come to mean the defense not only of everything from Genesis to the Revelation but also of all of Church History, as well, the book met a deep-felt need.
In Syria, too, there is need for such a protest. Byzantine ritual, Latin theology, Oriental pomp and ecclesiastical machinery and Western ideas and sectarian distinctions have come in, layer by layer, to cover over the faith and practice of the primitive church. The services today are too often said, or read, or sung in a dead language or a foreign one until the Church has come to be considered a relic out of the past.
What of a book, "The Christ of the Syrian Road"? How would it begin? What would it say? The thought stirs the imagination. After all, there was no other Christ. His birth was dated by the census taken "when Cyrenius was governor of Syria." All his days, after infancy, were spent in the various subdivisions of Roman Syria. The setting of his life was the familiar Syrian scene:-hills, fields, roads, inns, bridges (many of them still in use) and villages, much as they are today. Behind it all was the relatively unchanging pattern of Syrian life and thought. In 1916 Pastor Ibrahim Mitrie Rihbany, then living in America, wrote that he knew the Bible was true ". . . because whenever I open my Bible it reads like a letter from home."! (See The Syrian Christ, By Ibrahim Mitrie Rihbany, Houghton Mifllin Co., 1916, p.5.)
So here, if anywhere, it should be possible to slip back over the years, and visualize Jesus as walking once more the roads of Syria, as he did before the Byzantine or the Crusader, the Turk, the Frenchman, the Englishman, or the American came to influence the patterns of life in the land. One has but to sit at some historic spot and read the Gospels, blotting out from one's mind all the changes of the years. There was no Christian Church then, nor would Jesus even have recognized the name (though it is to be hoped that the Church has held on to many things from his teaching that he would recognize!). The traditional religious divisions now in the land would not have entered the discussion. _e was nota. good) ew, at lea_t by the standards of the Scrbes and the Pharisees - who were, after all, the good religious people of their time. Nor was there such a thing as a Muslim, though none in history ever more fully exemplified the root Idea of surrender to the will of God than did Jesus.
As he sits there by the well-curb, or on the corner of a Roman bridge, he wears simple village clothes. There is no book in his hands, nor hint of bookishness in his talk. He speaks to simple men, in simple language, of the simple relationships of life. He appeals to each man's conscience, with a deft reference to his particular problem against the background of faith in a loving God.'
He speaks to us, too, and we are pleased. We find in him the Pioneer of Life, leading men down the years. But there are many of the things we had thought to ask him about which we are now glad to leave unmentioned. Sectarian issues seem out of place. He is so unappreciative of the forms and rituals which we had meant to discuss. The very mention of national connotations of religious belief might be embarrassing - we do not want him to speak harshly to us! Proselytism seems to be connected in his mind with the narrow zeal of the Pharisees. When we think how he drove the money-changers out of the Temple, we decide to say nothing about the commercialism we fear has crept into our churches. Perhaps it is Just as well, after all, to let him do all the talking.
And so we listen, and think, and dream of new simplicity and new vigor in our approach to our problems. Little prayers form in the heart. And through it all there grows a loyalty to him who speaks to us so simply and so clearly.
If Jesus Christ is a man,
And only a man,-I say
That of all mankind I cleave to him,
And to him will I cleave always.
If Jesus Christ is a god,
And the only God,-I swear
I will follow him through heaven and hell,
The earth, the sea, and the air!