Endo was a Japanese Christian, born in the 1923 and died in 1996. All his books explored Christian themes, his non-fiction tended to focus on the life of Jesus, and on his own experiences of life and his deepest longings. His fiction often explored Christian themes of suffering, the human condition and the interaction of Christianity with Japanese culture.
At the age of 10 he was baptised as a Christian within the Catholic Church. He did so to please his mother who had divorced his father to get away from a bad marriage, a great scandal in 1930’s Japan, His mother found solace in Christianity and converted to Catholicism.
Many years later Endo wrote: “I became a Catholic against my will; it was like an arranged marriage, a forced union with a wife chosen by my mother. I tried to leave my wife, but every attempt to break away failed. I could not live with my arranged wife, but could not live without her. She just kept loving me and to my surprise I grew to love her in return.”
Endo’s life was one of rejection. As a child in Manchuria he lived as a despised Japanese occupier. He returned to Japan with his mother as she tried to get away from his father. In Japan they were despised firstly because of divorce, and then for converting to Christianity. He was bullied at school because he was a Christian and things got worse for him during the 2nd WW, and intensified his feelings of rejection.
In 1950 he travelled to France to study, he was the first Japanese exchange student after the war, and studied in Lyon, where he was spurned because of his race and nationality. He was often the target of racial abuse, from as he saw it, fellow Christians. He came to the conclusion that Christians deny their faith in different ways, some renounce it, while others live in ways that contradict it. In France in 1952 he contracted TB, spent many months in hospital and had a lung removed. His experiences caused him to have a crisis of faith.
But before returning to Japan he travelled to Palestine to research the life of Jesus. While there he made a transforming discovery: Jesus knew rejection, in fact his life was full of rejection. His neighbours through him out of town, his family questioned his sanity, some of his followers rejected his teaching and walked away when it got too difficult. His fellow citizens chose a notorious terrorist to be freed and Jesus to be executed. His closest friends either betrayed him or denied him. Matthew 26:69-75
It seemed to Endo that Jesus chose to engage with the poor, the despised, the marginalised, the failure, the broken, the disabled, and the rejected; he touched lepers, dined and partied with sinners and tax collectors, blessed children, taught women, chatted with divorcees and forgave adulterers and prostitutes. Matthew 9:9-13
In Jesus, Endo had met someone whose message centred on the rejects; Jesus told stories about lost sheep and prodigal sons, about beggars received into paradise, and about banquets where only the poor and the sick bother to turn up. Luke 14:15-24
This was a revelation to Endo. From Japan he had viewed Christianity as very triumphalistic, a faith for Roman Emperors. He saw that many Western depictions of Jesus were projections of Roman images of glory and power. But surely Jesus himself came as the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53:2-3.
As Endo studied the gospels, it seemed to him that the more ungodly and undesirable the person, the more they felt attracted to Jesus. The more righteous and self-assured the person, the more they felt threatened by Jesus. Just think who Jesus mixed with: tax collectors, prostitutes, lepers, the disabled, divorcees, a Roman centurion, a terrorist. The Pharisees and Sadducees – upright moral citizens, pillars of society, constantly saw Jesus as a threat.
In Jesus, Endo found someone who is always for you, and will never desert you or reject you. You could say he had experienced the very real love of Jesus and wonder of God’s grace. Endo returned to Japan with his faith revitalised, and decided to become a writer in order to present this Jesus that he had encountered to Japanese society.
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