Reviewed by Katherine HANLEY, CSJ , St. Bernard's Institute, ALBANY, NY 12207
This book is at once both wide and deep. Stewart sets out to explore the notion of Holy Foolishness and Jesus the Holy Fool, the exact opposite of Jesus the King or Jesus the Mighty. Her exploration takes her through biblical literature, medieval and Renaissance drama, Russian fiction, the art of Georges Rouault, and contemporary psychology.
The central Scriptural reference for Stewart's thesis is Philippians 2: "Jesus emptied himself to assume the condition of a slave." It is echoed by dozens of other references from the Psalms to the Gospels, each reminding us that Jesus' commitment was foolhardy, reckless, and total. Stewart ably demonstrates Jesus' resistance to being hailed as Messiah or Lord, in fact rebuking those who would give him these titles.
The wide sweep of the book looks at court jesters, tricksters, clowns, prostitutes, and others who rebuke the status quo. Stewart makes good reference to Edward Hays' Holy Fools and Mad Hatters, John Saward's Perfect Fools, Henri Nouwen's Clowning in Rome and other classic studies of the fool.
Having established the validity of looking at Jesus as Holy Fool, Stewart moves to the more significant question of what such a way of naming Jesus would ask of us. Her answers are strong: let go of security, embrace the little people of the earth, live in trust. Jesus the Holy Fool, she argues, is the exact opposite of Jesus the Good Buddy, a comfortable and understanding good guy who reassures and approves. Jesus the Holy Fool goes to his death. Jesus the Good Buddy is a perfect example of Bonhoffer's cheap grace. Jesus the Holy Fool IS grace.
Although the book is highly readable, it bears the distinct mark of its birth as a doctoral disssertation. The first half, in particular, has the obligatory "no one has ever explored this territory before" tone. The bibligraphy, which in a dissertation is intended to convince one's committee that one has read every extant reference, could be wisely pruned to encourage rather than to discourage further reading on the part of the more ordinary reader. The work is, nonetheless, a fine gathering of treatments of an important theme, together with a profound reflection on the implications of that theme. It is enhanced by the art work of Ansgar Holmberg, CSJ. The book will be useful for anyone teaching Christology, companioning others who are coming to know Christ Jesus, or exploring the call to Christian adulthood in a world which seeks comfort rather than commitment.