Book Review on James Martin’s “Jesus–A Pilgrimage”

By Janet Hauter                    June 20, 2016

I just completed this captivating 468-page book that is very well written by the gifted storyteller, Fr. James Martin, SJ.  We learn more about Jesus, the man, from Martin as he is on pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  He connects the Gospels to his adventures, he speculates on the Gospel writers’ versions of incidents we are all familiar with.  He deals with some surprise narratives that have had little previous attention.

Martin mixes stories of his life in this travel adventure, which is more like a conversation with mixed agendas.  Of particular interest are his musings about key biblical events by looking carefully at the words and the history of the times and often we are given interpretive options.  One such interpretation was his views of Mary and the absolute freedom with which she exercised her decision in saying “Yes” in patriarchal times with no permission from Joseph or her father.  Now there is a perception that I’d never considered.

Martin demonstrates how Jesus’ human life influenced his ministry and I found this segment fascinating though pretty obvious.  He states “Jesus understood the lives of those on the margins from firsthand experience.”  I never thought of Jesus’ life as coming from a “backwater town” where the poor lived.  If I ever really thought about that, it would have been beyond clear.

Jesus understood human life with all the messiness we experience, which gave him perspective on the lives we lead.  He understood family life from the inside out as well as the value of work since he and Joseph had to sell their carpentry wares in surrounding villages.  So Jesus was an itinerant carpenter as a very young man who became an itinerant prophet.  He moved about often and in this movement he was present to friends and strangers alike.  Receiving the Eucharist is like that as well because we are asked to be Christ for others in our lives.

Of particular importance is the following Marin statement:

“God calls us…to be the people we were meant to be.  God creates us as unique individuals with our own gifts.  And so we are already the people God made us to be.  At the same time, God continually invites us to greater and greater freedom, asking us to drop the nets that entangle us in our old ways of doing things, ways that no longer are healthy for us, ways that keep us from being more loving.”

I found Martin’s musings on the Beatitudes was profoundly interesting.  He asks the question what it was like for the people to hear the Beatitudes for the first time?  Martin believes that they must have experienced surprise with an inverted pyramidal society that could become a full transformation of society.  In many ways, that’s what Pope Francis is preaching within the Catholic Church—food for thought.  Since the Beatitudes call us to discipleship, what application does it have for us?

Martin never minces his words and especially when he asks “What is preventing you from greater closeness to God?”

It’s clear that Martin is a spiritual director as he asks pointed questions that make the mind sit up and take notice.  He speaks in the vernacular and his style is not intimidating.  I highly recommend the book.

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