Francois Nguyen Van Thuan and the “Defects” of Jesus

I recently read that the Diocese of Rome has formally opened the sainthood process for Cardinal Francois Nguyen Van Thuan. In 1975, Van Thuan, then a bishop, was imprisoned by the Vietnamese government. He remained in prison for 13 years before being released to house arrest and ultimately, being expelled from Vietnam.

Van Thuan’s was not a name I knew until about ten years ago when a friend gave me a copy of his book, Testimony of Hope: The Spiritual Exercises of John Paul II. Each year, Pope John Paul II chose a preacher to give a course of Spiritual Exericises for himself and the Roman Curia. Van Than was his selection in 2000 and the book is the complete text of those exercises.

One of his early talks addressed how he answered a question frequently put to him when he was in prison. People always asked him the reason for his hope in Jesus Christ. He described the necessity of finding a way to explain his faith in a way that could be understood by his interlocutors. His explanation (which he admitted might sound heretical to the Roman Curia) was this: “I left everything to follow Jesus, because I love the defects of Jesus.”

Van Thuan lists five defects of Jesus and his evidence for each:

First, Jesus had a terrible memory. Citing as evidence Jesus promise to the thief crucified with Him that he will be in paradise, his pardon of the sinful woman who anointed his feet and the parable of the prodigal sun, Van Thuan concludes, “Jesus does not have a memory like mine. He not only pardons, and pardons every person, he even forgets that he has pardoned.”

Second, Jesus didn’t know math, as evidenced by the parable of the lost sheep, in which a shephard leaves 99 sheep in the wilderness to go off and search for the one who becomes lost. “For Jesus, one is equal to ninety-nine – and perhaps more! Who could ever accept this? But his mercy reaches from generation to generation.”

Third, Jesus doesn’t know logic. Van Thuan’s evidence for this defect is the story of the woman who loses one of her ten silver pieces and who, upon finding it calls all her friends to celebrate with her. The celebration, he reasons, must have cost more than the one silver piece, perhaps even more than ten silver pieces. This, Van Thuan suggests is completely illogical, except to the strange logic of Jesus’ heart.

Fourth, Jesus is a risk-taker, a man with a publicity campaign that to human eyes is “doomed to failure.” A promise of trials and persecutions for those who follow him. No guarantee of food or lodging, only a share of his own way of life. “Jesus the risk-taker for the love of the Father and of humanity, is a paradox from beginning to end, even for us who have become used to hearing it.”

Finally, Jesus doesn’t understand finance or economics, as evidenced by the story of the parable of the workers in the vineyard. Von Thuan points out that “[i]f Jesus were named the administrator of a community or the director of a business, the instutitons would surely fail and go bankrupt. How can anyone pay someone who began working at 5:00 P.M. the very same wages paid ot thep erson who has been working since early morning? Yet Jesus does.

You gotta love the defects of Jesus!