Jesus of Nazareth
Following up on the pope’s remarks about the blurred picture of Jesus we have today, here are some reflections on what we know about Jesus today. I’m offering these reflections at our parish mission:
“Tell me the landscape where you live and I’ll tell you who you are.” (Ortega y Gasset)
Thanks to recent archeological discoveries and historical studies we know more about the land where Jesus lived and the ancient texts of the bible than has been known for centuries. These new resources help us know Jesus Christ.
New editions of the bible like the New American Bible Revised Edition and the New Jerusalem Bible Revised Edition (both Catholic sponsored) make use of these resources.
We know more about Galilee, the northern part of Palestine where Jesus lived most of his life, than we knew before. He grew up and was raised by Mary and Joseph in the Galilean hill town of Nazareth, the gospels say. Extensive excavations have gone on in Nazareth, today the busy capital city of modern Galilee.
After his baptism by John in the Jordan River Jesus made his home in the Galilean town of Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee–also extensively excavated in recent times. From there, he visited the small Jewish towns scattered nearby in the fertile plains and mountains, teaching in their synagogues, healing and performing extraordinary signs. New historical studies tell us much about Jewish life in these places.
In Galilee Jesus proclaimed the good news that God’s kingdom was at hand. He used images from this land, like the seed and the sower, in his preaching as well as the scriptures he knew so well. Today Galilee still offers a picture of the land as he knew it.
“After John had been arrested,
Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the gospel of God:
‘This is the time of fulfillment.
The kingdom of God is at hand.
Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” Mark 1
Under the rule of Herod Antipas, Galilee during Jesus’ public ministry was dotted with important cities like Tiberias, Bethshan, Sepphoris, and the seaport of Caesarea Maritima, all with large gentile populations. Matthew’s gospel calls it the “Galilee of the gentiles.” Hardly the backwater land once thought, the region was an important provider of food for the Roman world.
The gospels suggest that Jesus avoided these important Galilean cities. Instead, he saw himself sent first to the “children of Israel,” although he occasionally performed cures for some gentiles, like the Syro-Phoenician woman who sought him out and the Roman centurion whose servant was sick in Capernaum.
The arrest and execution of John the Baptist by Herod may have been a practical warning about the danger of places where the powerful lived.
After his baptism in the Jordan River by John, Satan told Jesus to reveal himself in a spectacular way in the temple of Jerusalem, the religious center of Judaism; some disciples urged him to go there too. However, Jesus made Peter’s simple home in Capernaum his home and from there brought his message to Jews and some non-Jews who lived on Galilee’s farmlands and fished in the Sea of Galilee.
Jesus grew up in Nazareth and his ministry was mainly in Galilee, but he customarily celebrated Jewish feasts, like the Passover, in Jerusalem. Visiting the Holy City, he likely camped among the olive groves that surrounded Bethany, where other pilgrims from Galilee stayed. He had friends in Bethany– Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, and also some friends in the city itself.
His visits to the temple at Jerusalem became more significant as the years passed. Even at twelve, he began to dialogue in the temple courtyard with the rabbis who marveled at his questions and answers; he spoke of the temple as “my Father’s house.” (cf. Luke ) After his baptism in the Jordan his dialogue with the rabbis sharpened and the claims he makes about his relationship with his Father increased.
John’s gospel, which we read extensively in the last weeks of Lent, offers some of his exchanges in the temple courtyard about his relationship with his Father. The scriptures and the prophets testify to him, he says. (John 5,31-47 Thursday 4th wk) “I am from him, he sent me.” (John 7,1-30 Friday, 5th wk) “ Just as the Father raises the dead and gives life, so also does the Son give life to whomever he wishes.” ( John 5,17-30 Wednesday, 4th wk) “When you lift up the Son of Man, then you will realize I AM.” (John 8,21-30Tuesday, 5th wk ) His divine claims were violently opposed by the Jewish leadership in Jerusalem.
The gospels, especially Luke’s, emphasize Jesus’ love of people. He reached out to those in need; he welcomed women as well as men to his company. His acceptance of outcasts like tax collectors and sinners brought him criticism from others. When John’s disciples asked him “Are you the one who is to come?” he replies, “Tell John what you see and hear: the blind see, the lame walk, the deaf hear, the dead rise, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. “
“Come to me all you who are weary and I will refresh you, for I am meek and humble of heart,” he said, and he urged his followers to also welcome the weary: the sick, the prisoner, the homeless, the naked, the hungry needing refreshment.
He taught that God should be loved above all and we should love our neighbor as ourselves. He said we should forgive those who have offended us, because God forgives our offenses. He told us to pray to God thankfully and ask for what we need.
People listened to his teaching and knew that he lived what he taught himself.
After his resurrection, he appeared on a mountain in Galilee to his disciples and told them to go out to all the nations and preach the gospel, “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” From the “Galilee of the gentiles,” he sent his disciples out to farthest corners of the earth.
Become like children, he said, because those with the spirit of the child belong in the kingdom of heaven.
According to St. Leo the Great, Jesus does not ask us to return to our play pens. We can’t do that. The spiritual child is
- free from crippling anxieties
- forgetful of injuries
- wonders at all things.