A consideration of Christ, human and divine, from an on-native-ground perspective.
Many people have difficulty wrapping their heads around Jesus’ humanity, writes Jesuit priest and scholar Martin (Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life, 2011, etc.). “Beyond academic studies,” he writes, “I have come to know Jesus in three other ways: prayer, experience, and pilgrimage.” All those forms of knowing came into play when the author left New York and headed for the Middle East. “Traveling through the Holy Land,” he writes cheerfully, “is like visiting the family home of a good friend. No matter how well you know the person, you’ll understand your friend better afterward.” Martin guides readers on a tour of the geographical places from Jesus’ life, sometimes threatening to be overcome by sentimentality as he realizes that Jesus ate here and walked there (“Jesus was here, I kept thinking. Jesus was here”). The theological and ethical lessons that Martin draws from the biblical landscape are illuminating and unobjectionable even though he allows that some of that geography is suspect—e.g., the Via Dolorosa has become commodified and overly touristy. Still, the author’s enthusiasm at realizing that he may have arrived at the very spots where Jesus had his last supper makes for meaningful reading. Better still are his gentle commentaries on scenes in Christ’s life: the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, to which he supplies a close reading of the Greek to determine the root meaning of too easily misread terms such as “meek,” “poor,” “merciful” and “peacemaker”—terms that, properly understood, might make the 1 percent among us a bit uneasy.
An intelligent, lively travelogue, well-timed to arrive for the Easter season, and a welcome complement to a direct reading of the Gospels.