By EUGENE J. FISHER, Catholic News Service | Published July 10, 2014
Jesuit Father James Martin, a noted author and media commentator, in “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” takes the reader on a remarkable journey of discovering what he calls “his” Jesus, concluding with an invitation that we undertake a similar pilgrimage to find our own Jesus.
The book is organized around a trip he took with a fellow Jesuit to the Holy Land, visiting the holy sites where Jesus lived, preached, died and rose in roughly the order of the events presented in the Gospels. At each stop he narrates his personal reaction to being in the places where Jesus was, and comments on the scriptural depictions of those events along with the meditations and thoughts of major Catholic theologians and spiritual thinkers.
Father Martin is well versed in contemporary biblical scholarship, Jewish as well as Catholic, and makes excellent use of the best of them. He interweaves scholarship into a popular-level narrative which will at once introduce many readers to their work and at the same time challenge readers to understand the Gospel narratives in new ways which, meditated upon, can deepen our faith as it enlarges our vision and deepens our understanding.
One fascinating aspect that emerges throughout Father Martin’s book is his encounter with Jesus’ humanity, as he walks in his steps, sees the stones, hills, valleys and farmlands that provided the setting for so many of Jesus’ sayings and parables, which we can understand anew through a sense of being in Jesus’ presence as he pointed to these mundane realities while challenging his Jewish hearers to a new understanding of their faith in the Father, the Abba of the Jewish people and of all humanity.
At the same time Father Martin grapples in a variety of ways with how this humble yet assertive Jew, fully human, could also be fully divine, a son of the people of Israel and, in a radically different way, of the God of Israel. Again, the weaving together of the best of biblical scholarship and doctrinal reflections from across the centuries renders the book a pilgrimage both temporal, set within a distinct time and place, and eternal, a spiritual meditation following Ignatian spirituality.
Father Martin does well pointing out both major themes of the Gospels and the historical setting of many of its details.
He notes that students of the rabbis, for example, were advised to tend to the physical needs of their masters, washing their hands, as prescribed before meals for all Jews, but also washing their feet. When Jesus washes the feet of his followers, he is reversing the role of master-teacher, or rabbi, and student, showing the respect that each of us must have for all of our fellow humans, not just those with high positions.
Father Martin also is careful, throughout, to make clear that the large majority of the Jews who knew of Jesus were positive about him, with only a small minority involved in the plot against his life. Jesus died at the hands of the Romans, a human killed by sinners for the sins of all humans.