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Jesuit Father James Martin illuminates Jesus’ life


Before a crowd of approximately 400 at Loyola University New Orleans, Jesuit Father James Martin spoke about the humanity and divinity of Jesus, both which he said are essential to Jesus’ story.


“Omit one or the other and it’s not Jesus you are talking about but your own creation,” he said, mentioning how Thomas Jefferson’s “Bible” portrayed a Jesus who is not troubling to his intellect, but someone he could tame.

Father Martin demonstrated with an animated sense of humor how, sometimes, it could take years to comprehend parts of the Gospel. He recounted his own two-decades-long journey. His fascination was piqued by reading a book about the “Bay of Parables,” where Jesus was believed to have spoken to the crowds at the Sea of Galilee; by understanding how sounds amplify over water; and by taking a Holy Land pilgrimage.

“It grounded Jesus and the Gospels in a way that I could have never imagined, and it reminded me, once again, that Jesus Christ – the fully divine Son of God – is also fully human,” he said of his Holy Land pilgrimage.

Father Martin said Jesus of Nazareth experienced everything that human beings do. He was born and lived and died like any human being, except he was without sin and imbued with the divine that allowed him to perform miracles.

“Being fully human and fully divine means that Jesus of Nazareth wasn’t just a great guy, an inspiring teacher and a holy man, or that the charismatic carpenter of Nazareth was a clever storyteller, a compassionate person or a courageous prophet,” he said. “He was God.”

Jesus dazzled the crowds
Father Martin said one of his favorite lines in the Gospel of Mark is when the crowd reacts after Jesus heals a paralyzed man: “We have never seen anything like this.” Father Martin added, to much laughter, “Yeah, no kidding. ... The miracles are an essential part of the story as are other signs of his divinity.”

Father Martin talked about two schools of scholarly study that try to better explain Jesus. One focuses on the Jesus of history, explaining the life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, which is considered a Christology study from below. The second focuses on the Christ of faith, a Christology from above, with Jesus as the son of God, and studying his place in the Christian faith.

“Both sets of questions are important, and if we lose sight of either perspective, we risk turning Jesus as God pretending to be a human being or a human being pretending to be God,” he said. Just using one or other type of scholarship study is incomplete.

To understand the Jesus of history – the man who walked the earth – and to encounter the Christ of faith – the one who rose from the dead – both approaches answer the question that the disciples grappled with: ‘Who is Jesus?’”

Father Martin said in every instance of his life Jesus is always fully human and fully divine.

“It’s the center part of our faith,” he said.

He said Jesus’ teachings combined his human experiences with his divine nature.

“There are a lot of questions that we can’t answer about Jesus as a fully human, fully divine son of God, about what was going on in his mind and to what extent was he conscious of his divinity,” Father Martin said. “These questions, like so much about Jesus Christ, must remain a mystery. But it is a beautiful mystery – the most beautiful mystery I know – and one well worth pondering.”

Well-known scholar
Father Martin, who is a frequent religion and spirituality speaker on radio and television, is editor at large of the Catholic magazine America and has written several books, including “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.” He has made guest appearances on the late-night “The Colbert Report,” and he is popular on social media with 44,000 Twitter followers and an active “Father James Martin” Facebook account, which an audience member thanked him for posting on regularly.

At the end of the talk, he answered a wide range of audience questions, including the recent Synod of Bishops on family and evangelization.

As for the church’s ministry to young people and what brings him hope, he said the church needs to listen and be where the young people are on social media and use events to reach them such as Theology on Tap. He said young people give him the most hope about the church’s future.

He talked about the sainthood cause of Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe and about what message he would send to high school sophomores: “We are all sons and daughters of God. Just be yourself.”
He also autographed his latest work, “Jesus: A Pilgrimage,” a combination of his pilgrimage to the Holy Land, Scripture study and his own reflection, some of which he shared during the talk, available online on Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.

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