by Margaret Antonio
Recently, the School of Theology and Ministry and the Church in the 21st Century sponsored an event where James Martin S.J. spoke about his latest book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Fr. Martin commonly appears as a commentator on popular news outlets, including CNN, National Public Radio, and The Colbert Report, among others. However, he is most notably known as an author and as the editor at large of America magazine.
On September 23, before an audience of nearly 600 at Robsham Theater, Fr. Martin gave a glimpse into his book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage, which has gained national attention, reaching #9 on The New York Times Bestseller List. He was inspired to write Jesus: A Pilgrimage after visiting Jerusalem, specifically the “Bay of Parables,” where Jesus is said to have preached the parable of the seed that fell on rocky, fertile, and thorny ground.
Fr. Martin told the story of how, when he finally discovered the bay, he was surprised to find himself in “a naturally occurring amphitheater.”
“People had likely stood here and listened to Jesus preach from the boat,” Fr. Marin said, “…All around us was rocky ground, fertile ground, and thorns. It dawned on me that when Jesus was using objects of nature to convey his message…he was probably not talking in generalities but about these things right here.”
Through explorations of the human and divine aspects of Jesus in scriptures, Fr. Martin stressed that, “Fully human and fully divine means that the Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t just a great guy, an inspiring teacher, and a holy person. He was God.”
He said that many people seek a Jesus who is “tame.” They “scissor out” everything that makes them feel uncomfortable, so that all is left is the Jesus of ethics, the Jesus of history, or the Jesus of faith.
Fr. Martin, however, underlined that the historical and even archaeological studies of Jesus’ time on earth are necessary in understanding the context of Jesus’ life and teaching. However, they must not be separated from the study of Jesus as a whole, one who is both human and divine.
From the story of the raising of Lazarus, Fr. Martin suggested that there are multiple ways to look at the story, from the historical and theological viewpoints. “Both sets of questions are important. If we lose sight of either perspective, the Jesus of history or the Jesus of faith, we risk turning Jesus either into God pretending to be human or a human being pretending to be God.”
Spiritual books often omit Jesus’ “hidden life” in Nazareth, while historical books have a tendency to waiver from portraying spiritual things, such as miracles in their full veracity. “To fully meet Jesus Christ,” he emphasized, “the believer needs to understand both the Jesus who walked the earth and to encounter the Christ of faith, the one who rose from the dead.”
Further exemplifying this message, James Martin, S.J. recreated the scene of Nazareth a town of half the size of the audience in Robsham Theater. Jesus probably visited growing cities nearby to work as a carpenter. There, he probably saw the disparity between the rich and the poor. His preaching on social issues in scripture can also be derived from his human experiences.
“The Jesus of history is the Christ of faith. They are the same person. .…he is fully divine when working in the carpentry shop in Nazareth and he is fully human when he is calmed the storm.”
Linda Colozzi, an alumna of the School of Theology and Ministry, said, that Jesus: A Pilgrimage, gave her the opportunity to explore both of these aspects of Jesus and helped her immensely in her own interpretation of the Scriptures and in her prayer life. “Reading [Jesus: A Pilgrimage] helped broaden my perspective of the stories in Scripture and allowed the words to come alive.”
Despite effectively enthralling the audience in laughter and enlightenment, Fr. Martin claimed that although we can study Scripture from so many perspectives, we could never expect to understand everything. He concluded that, “There are a lot of things we cannot know about Jesus…the questions must remain a mystery, but while Jesus’ identity as the fully human, fully divine Son of God is a mystery, it is a beautiful mystery, and one well worth pondering.”
A recording of Fr. James Martin’s talk will be available to the public at the end of October at bc.edu/encore.