iOS app Android app

Rev. James Martin, S.J.
GET UPDATES FROM Rev. James Martin, S.J.
 

Entries by Rev. James Martin, S.J.

The Five Lessons of Good Friday

(31) Comments | Posted April 17, 2014 | 10:16 PM

The sufferings and death of Jesus, which Christians commemorate on Good Friday, may seem far removed from our everyday lives. After all, it is almost impossible to imagine that anyone reading this essay will ever be crucified. (On the other hand, persecution of Christians continues in many parts of the...

Read Post

Did Jesus Have a Wife? No.

(47) Comments | Posted April 10, 2014 | 10:00 AM

Reports today of the authenticity of a fragment of the so-called "Gospel of Jesus's Wife," which was originally unveiled in 2012 by the Harvard Divinity School professor Karen L. King, are sure to cause a rash of news stories and opinion pieces on whether Jesus was married. So here's my...

Read Post

Who Is Jesus?

(310) Comments | Posted March 11, 2014 | 8:13 AM

"Jesus: A Pilgrimage," published today by HarperOne, is a retelling of the life of Christ by James Martin, SJ, a Jesuit priest, author of The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything and "Official Chaplain" of The Colbert Report. This excerpt, exclusive to Huffington Post Religion, is the beginning of his new book.

Jesus is walking with his friends to Caesarea Philippi, a town roughly 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee. The story comes midway through the Gospel of Mark. Out the blue Jesus asks, "Who do people say that I am?"

His friends seem caught off guard. Perhaps they are embarrassed, as when someone mentions a taboo topic. Perhaps they have been discussing that very question furtively, wondering who would be forthright enough to ask Jesus about his identity. Maybe Jesus had even overheard them arguing over who he was.

The disciples offer halting responses: "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah," they say, "and still others, one of the prophets." That's probably a fair summary of popular opinion at the time. Herod, the first-century ruler of Galilee, thought that Jesus might be John the Baptist come back to life. And the comparison to a prophet like, say, Jeremiah seemed sensible because of similarities between the prophet and Jesus. But the disciples are careful to avoid saying what they believe.

So Jesus asks them directly, "But who do you say that I am?"

Who is he? Why another book on this first-century Jewish man? Why have I spent years studying the life of an itinerant preacher from a backward town? Why did I spend two weeks traipsing around Israel under the broiling sun to see places where a former carpenter lived and sites that he may (or may not) have visited? Moreover, why have I committed my life to Jesus? The answers turn on the question of who I believe Jesus is, so it's fair to tell you before we begin our pilgrimage.

My starting point is a classic theological statement: Jesus Christ is fully human and fully divine. This is one of the first things that Christians learn about their faith.

But what does it mean? To begin with, Jesus of Nazareth, the person who walked the landscape of first-century Palestine, wasn't God pretending to be human. He was a flesh-and-blood, real-life, honest-to-God man who experienced everything that human beings do.

Jesus was born and lived and died, like any human being. The child called Yeshua entered the world as helpless as any newborn, and just as dependent on his parents. He needed to be nursed, held, fed, burped, and changed. As a boy growing up in the minuscule town of Nazareth, Jesus skinned his knees on the rocky ground, bumped his head on doorways, and pricked his fingers on thorns. He watched the sun rise and set over the Galilean countryside, wondered how far away the moon was and asked why the stars twinkled.

Jesus had a body like yours and mine, which means that he ate, drank and slept. He experienced sexual longings and urges. The adult Jesus felt joy and sadness, laughing at things that struck him as funny and weeping during times of loss. As a fully human being with fully human emotions, he felt both frustration and enthusiasm. He grew weary at the end of a long day and fell ill from time to time. He pulled muscles, he felt sick to his stomach, and maybe sprained an ankle or two. Like all of us, he sweated and sneezed and scratched.

Everything proper to the human being--except sin--Jesus experienced.

Jesus's humanity is a stumbling block for many people, including a few Christians. Incidents in the Gospels that show Jesus displaying intense and even unattractive human emotions can unsettle those who prefer to focus on his divinity. At one point in the Gospel of Mark, he speaks sharply to a woman who asks him to heal her daughter. The woman is not Jewish and, as a result, Jesus seems to dismiss her with a callous comment: "It is not fair to take children's food and throw it to the dogs."

That is a stinging rebuke no matter what the context. When the woman responds that even the dogs get crumbs from the table, Jesus softens. And he heals her daughter.

Why did Jesus speak so sharply? Was it because he was visiting what Mark calls "the region of Tyre," a non-Jewish area, where he was presumably not expected to perform any miracles? If so, why didn't he respond to the woman more gently, rather than using a term that was seen in his day as highly insulting? Was Jesus testing her faith, challenging her to believe? If so, it's a harsh way of doing so, at odds with the compassionate Jesus that many of us expect to meet in the Gospels.

Perhaps, however, Jesus needed to learn something from the woman's persistence: his ministry extended to everyone, not just Jews. Or maybe he was just tired. A few lines earlier in the Gospel, Mark tells us, "He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there." Perhaps his curt remark indicates physical weariness. Whatever the case (and we'll never know for sure) both possibilities--he is learning; he is tired--show Jesus's humanity on full display.

But there is another part of the story: a healing. Jesus says to the woman, "For saying that, you may go--the demon has left your daughter." She returns home, says Mark, and finds her child lying on the bed, "the demon gone."

"Fully human and fully divine" means that Jesus of Nazareth wasn't just a great guy, an inspiring teacher and a holy man. Moreover, the charismatic carpenter wasn't merely a clever storyteller, a compassionate healer or a courageous prophet.

In response to Jesus's question "Who do you say that I am?" Peter finally answers, "You are the Messiah." But Jesus is divine--far more than Peter could comprehend even while identifying him as the Messiah.

Jesus performed astonishing deeds, which the Gospel writers called either "works of power" or "signs." Today we call them miracles--healing the sick, calming storms, raising people from the dead. Time and again the Gospels report that Jesus's followers, no matter how long they have been with him, are "amazed" and "astonished" by what he does. "We have never seen anything like this!" says the crowd after Jesus heals a paralyzed man in Mark's Gospel. After he stills a storm on the Sea of Galilee, Matthew writes, "They were amazed, saying, 'What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?'"

Even his detractors took note of his miracles, as when they castigate him for healing a man on the Sabbath. The miracles are an essential part of the story of Jesus as are the other signs of his divinity. So is the Resurrection.

If Jesus's humanity is a stumbling block for many, his divinity is even more so. For a rational, modern mind, talk of the supernatural can be disturbing--an embarrassment. Many contemporary men and women admire Jesus, but stop short of believing him to be divine. Despite the proportion of the Gospels that focus on his "works of power," many want to confine his identity to that of a wise teacher.

Thomas Jefferson went so far as to create his own Gospel, by focusing on Jesus's ethical teachings and (literally) scissoring out the miracles and other indications of his divinity. Jefferson preferred his own version of Jesus, not the one he found in the Gospels. Like many of us, he felt uncomfortable with certain parts of the man's life. He wanted a Jesus who didn't threaten or discomfort, a Jesus he could tame. After studying Jefferson's edited version of the Gospels, the New Testament scholar E.P. Sanders noted in his book The Historical Figure of Jesus that the Sage of Monticello created a Jesus who was, in the end, "very much like Jefferson."

But humanity and divinity are both part of Jesus's story. Omit one or the other, scissor out the uncomfortable parts, and it's not Jesus we're talking about any longer. It's our own creation.

From Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin,...

Read Post

Turn the Other Tweet: Social Media Resolutions for 2014

(3) Comments | Posted December 31, 2013 | 10:23 AM

As a user of (pick one) Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Tumblr, Pinterest or whatever has been invented as I'm typing these words, I make the following resolutions for the New Year:

1.) I will treat everyone with charity and give everyone the benefit of the doubt. No matter how rude...

Read Post

Why the Church Needs Business

(3) Comments | Posted December 19, 2013 | 2:21 PM

Not long after I left a job at GE Capital to enter the Jesuits, I was living in a Jesuit community where one night we were discussing our community finances. The person in charge of the bank account--a bright and highly educated priest--said that we had $25,000 in our checking...

Read Post

I Love This Guy: Pope Francis and the Future of The Catholic Church

(390) Comments | Posted July 28, 2013 | 6:44 PM

Last week was one of the most exciting weeks in my life--not a small admission from someone who has been on this earth for 52 years.

For the last few days, I could hardly tear myself away from the television, the computer screen and the newspapers. (Yes, I still...

Read Post

Saints John Paul II and John XXIII

(192) Comments | Posted July 5, 2013 | 11:05 AM

This piece first ran in America Magazine.

Today's announcement by Pope Francis of the canonization of Blessed John Paul II was not a surprise. From the time of his death in 2005, when crowds shouted "Santo Subito!" in St. Peter's Square, to Pope Benedict XVI's waiving of...

Read Post

Remembering The Saintly Pope John XXIII (VIDEO)

(21) Comments | Posted June 3, 2013 | 10:41 AM

Remembering the joyful and saintly, Pope John XXIII from "Who Cares About The Saints?" with Fr. James Martin, S.J.

Read Post

Praying for the Dead, for Peace and for Our Persecutors

(221) Comments | Posted April 20, 2013 | 5:03 PM

In the wake of yesterday's dramatic, frightening, shocking, inspiring and violent events in Boston, which gripped the nation, there is a great deal for us to pray for. In fact, after so much fear, violence and tension yesterday, especially in Boston, and especially in Watertown, today is probably a good...

Read Post

Good Friday on Boylston Street

(7) Comments | Posted April 16, 2013 | 6:19 PM

Those of us who love Boston, those who were born there, those who live there, and especially those who were in Back Bay yesterday, are still taking in the appalling scenes from yesterday's massacre. Not only on the most enjoyable day of the year in Boston, but also in the...

Read Post

Pope Francis and the Ongoing Reform of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious

(14) Comments | Posted April 15, 2013 | 1:24 PM

Today, the Vatican's Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issued a statement about the ongoing oversight and "reform" (to use their word) of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, the main umbrella organization of women religious in the United States, which represents roughly 80 percent of American...

Read Post

12 Pretty Good Reasons Why I Should Be Pope

(117) Comments | Posted February 21, 2013 | 4:19 PM

Dear Cardinals:

Eminences, I know you've got a tough job coming up in the conclave. You have to do the impossible: elect a guy who is super holy, wicked smart, speaks about a dozen languages and can run an international conglomerate. And if I can be a little blunt, chances...

Read Post

The Pope's Legacy

(19) Comments | Posted February 14, 2013 | 4:44 PM

The Holy Father's resignation is a selfless and noble act done for the good of the church that he has loved and served for decades. The resignation, announced this morning and set to take effect on Feb. 25, while surprising to almost everyone, is not completely unprecedented. Several popes have...

Read Post

Jeanne Manford, Founder of PFLAG, Loved Prophetically

(56) Comments | Posted January 9, 2013 | 9:35 AM

Here is one of those strange confluences in the spiritual life.

Last night, I read that Jeanne Manford, the founder of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays), died at the age of 92. In 1972, after her son was beaten at a gay demonstration and the police...

Read Post

Five Easy Things You (Really) Can Do for a Happier Year

(70) Comments | Posted December 31, 2012 | 12:34 PM

Okay, we all like making lists of New Year's Resolutions. And most of the time--well, much of the time--we have a really hard time keeping them because they're so difficult. Lose 20 pounds. Read a new book a month. Never get drunk again. Avoid all sodas. Don't eat any chocolate...

Read Post

More Parables For Our Times: Not Your Grandma's Prince of Peace

(446) Comments | Posted December 22, 2012 | 10:34 AM

The Smart Samaritan

1. Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. "Teacher," he said, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?" 2. Jesus said to him, "What is written in the Law? What do you read there?" He answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with...

Read Post

Where Were You, God? A Prayer for Newtown

(208) Comments | Posted December 15, 2012 | 8:26 AM

Where were you, God?

We are crushed with grief, God.
We cannot bear to think of so many people killed.
We cannot bear to think of children being killed.
It is unthinkable to us, the worst tragedy.

Children.

Where were you, God?
How could you let...

Read Post

Advent Is About Desire

(22) Comments | Posted November 29, 2012 | 2:57 PM

"Advent is all about desire," an elderly Jesuit in our community used to say every year as November drew to a close. And whenever he said it, I would say, "Huh?"

But gradually it dawned on me. Christians who celebrate Advent, the liturgical season that precedes Christmas, desire the...

Read Post

I'm Grateful, God: A Thanksgiving Prayer for Everyone

(20) Comments | Posted November 21, 2012 | 12:55 PM

I'm grateful, God, for so many things. Now, I know I'm not the most grateful person you know, God, so let me take some time to tell you what I'm thankful for.

I'm grateful, God, for the gift of life. Without you I wouldn't be here. Without you nothing would...

Read Post

The Saints Were, Yes, Funny

(73) Comments | Posted November 1, 2012 | 12:22 PM

Today is the Feast of All Saints. To which many non-believers, and believers, may say: Big deal. Who would want to be anything like those gloomy, morose, unsmiling people that we see portrayed in Christian art?

But here's a surprise: even the briefest glance at their...

Read Post