10 Things to know
– Fr. James Martin
Jesus’s occupation as a tekton, a Greek word usually
translated as “carpenter.” But it can also mean “woodworker,” “craftsman” or
even “day laborer.” It’s important to note that in the social and economic
scheme of things, carpenters ranked below the peasantry, because they did not
have the benefit of a plot of land.
Jesus knew what it meant to eke out a living in a poor town.
2. Jesus saw income
disparities firsthand, and he condemned them.
In the Parable of Lazarus and Dives in Luke’s Gospel (in
which a rich man refuses to care for a poor one), we often think of his words
as divinely inspired. And they were: Jesus was fully divine. But they also were
informed by his human experience, and that experience included seeing great
disparities of wealth in his own life.
3. Jesus had close
We tend to think of Jesus as interacting with his apostles,
disciples, and followers. But he also had friends. The Gospels describe, for
example, Jesus’s relaxing at the house of his good friends Mary and Martha, who
lived in Bethany, just outside of Jerusalem. The Gospel of John says, quite
plainly, “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister.”
It’s a window into the deep relationships and intimate
friendships that Jesus enjoyed. He was not simply Messiah; he was a good
4. Jesus instructed
his disciples not to judge.
For some reason, this is often difficult for people to
accept. Whenever I mention Jesus’s injunction not to judge — “Judge not, lest
you be judged” — some people bristle. We are called to live moral lives, and
invite others to lead moral lives, but we do so primarily through our own
example and by gentle persuasion — not by judging and condemning them. Judgment
is left, as Jesus reminds us, to God.
5. Jesus didn’t say
anything about gays and lesbians.
In all his many utterances about many social situations and
human conditions, Jesus never said one word about homosexual persons. In any event, Jesus himself spoke a great deal about helping
the poor, forgiving one’s enemies, and even divorce (which he condemned), but
nothing about, and certainly nothing against, gay and lesbian men and women.
6. Jesus always
reached out to those on the margins.
If a Gospel narrative introduces a marginalized person, it
is a sure bet that Jesus will reach out to him or her. The examples are too
numerous to mention. He meets a Roman centurion, and rather than forcing him to
convert to Judaism, he heals the man’s servant. He meets a Samaritan woman
(someone viewed as a foreigner or even an enemy for Jews of Judea and Galilee),
and rather than condemning her, engages in a friendly conversation. He meets
Zacchaeus, the “chief tax collector” in Jericho and therefore the “chief
sinner” of the area, and even before Zacchaeus offers to repent, Jesus offers
to dine with him, a sign of acceptance. Jesus is continually reaching out to people on the margins,
and he asked his disciples to do the same.
Thomas Jefferson went so far as to construct his own
“Gospel” by (literally) scissoring out the miracles and other traces of his
divinity. Like many of us, Jefferson felt uncomfortable with parts of Jesus’s
story. He wanted a Jesus who didn’t threaten, a Jesus he could tame. But Jesus cannot be tamed. The people of his
time could not do this, and neither can we. Scissor out the uncomfortable parts
and it’s not Jesus were talking about — it is our own creation. Thomas Jefferson’s Jesus was . . . Thomas
8. Jesus really did
Many people are uncomfortable with Jesus’s supernatural
power and other signs of his divinity. But an immense part of the Gospels is
taken up with what are called “works of power” and “signs” — that is, miracles.
Jesus’ ability to perform miracles was never in doubt in the Gospels. Even his
detractors take note of his miracles, as when they critique him for healing on
the Sabbath. The question posed by people of his time is not whether Jesus can
do miracles, but rather the source of his power. The statement that Jesus was
seen as a miracle worker in his time has as much reliability as almost any
other statement we can make about him.
9. Jesus struggled,
even in prayer.
Jesus was fully divine. But he was also fully human. That’s
a basic Christian belief. It’s also a mystery, that is, something not to be
fully understood, but pondered. And one of the most telling windows into his
humanity comes in the Garden of Gethsemane, when he is confronted with his
impending crucifixion. Jesus asks God the Father to “remove this cup.” He is
saying, in essence: “If it’s possible, I don’t want to die.” Eventually, Jesus
accepts that his coming death is his Father’s will — but not before struggle
and prayer. Later, when hanging on the cross, he cries out, “My God, my
God, why have you abandoned me?” This is not a person who does not struggle:
Christians do not relate to a person who cannot understand our own human
10. Jesus rose from
Not everyone believes this about Jesus, because to believe
this is to be a Christian, and not everyone reading this is Christian. The
Gospels portray the apostles as abject cowards during the crucifixion: most of
them abandon Jesus; one of them, Peter, denies knowing him; and after his death
they are depicted as cowering behind closed doors. That’s hardly something that
the Gospel writers would make up. But
after the Resurrection, they are utterly transformed. The disciples move from
being terrified victims to men and women ready to die for what they believe.
Only something dramatic, something visible, something tangible, something real,
could affect this kind of change.
Jesus really and truly rose to the dead. For me, that’s the
most important thing to know about Jesus