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November 23, 2015 | Volume 91 Number 2


photo: Father David Stanfill, standing, greets Father James Martin after his talk at St. Mary’s Church on November 7.

Father David Stanfill, standing, greets Father James Martin after his talk at St. Mary’s Church on November 7.

Jesus said human like us, and fully divine

In presenting a picture of the historical Jesus who was both human and divine, Father James Martin makes sure that his listeners know that Jesus lived on earth much like all of us do today.

“Jesus skinned his knees on rocky ground, he felt sadness and even wept at the death of his friend, Lazarus,” Father Martin said Nov. 7 in a talk at St. Mary Catholic Church, Richmond, part of the parish’s Monsignor Charles Kelly Faith Formation Program.

The Jesuit priest, author of four books and editor of the Jesuits’ America magazine, also spoke the previous night, Nov. 6 in Hampton at the invitation of the Bishop Keane Institute, a lecture series sponsored by Immaculate Conception Parish in Hampton which invites Catholic leading voices to share their insights and viewpoints.

Father Martin began by making a reference to the “Bay of Parables” which he wanted to see when he visited the Holy Lands as a Jesuit novice. He had previously read a book which mentioned this site and it had played a part in his understanding of the Gospel of Luke.

In that Gospel, Jesus was in Galilee and wanted to preach from a boat with his message being heard by crowds on the shore. He wondered about why Jesus would not have spoken to the crowd standing among them on the shore.

“His casual insight fascinated me,” Father Martin told his audience.

In what he called the second chapter of this experience, Father Martin was on vacation near the Atlantic Ocean in Cohasset, MA. and while overlooking the harbor, he heard a commotion from a group of young people who he learned were students at a sailing school. Although he was a distance from the group, he could clearly hear their conversation.

“I can’t fix this, what am I supposed to do?,” one youth asked.

In remarking how clearly he could hear what the youths were saying, another Jesuit told him that sound travels quickly over water.

That comment reminded him of Jesus speaking to the crowd in Galilee from a boat so his message could be better heard.

The “third chapter” occurred 10 years later when he was in the Holy Lands. He was asked what did he most want to see while in Galilee. He answered “the Bay of Parables.”

The superior of the Jesuit community said he had never heard of it.

The same thing happened again when he told a Franciscan sister that he wanted to see the Bay of Parables. She, too, had never heard of it.

Later that day he and Father George had traveled to the site of the miracle of the Multiplication of the Loaves and the Fishes. Father Martin asked a man on the way if he could point them in the direction of the Bay of Parables. “He told us it was very close,” he recalled.

He and Father George followed the directions under blistering heat and arrived at a natural amphitheater where he said he could envision Jesus speaking to the crowd from a boat.

But he also found rocky gound and fertile ground and a thorn bush. The sight reminded him of the Parable of the Sower whose seed fell on different kinds of ground with different results. The fertile ground represented those who heard Jesus’ message and accepted it.

“Jesus is fully divine and fully human,” Father Martin asserted, pointing out Jesus of Nazareth was not God pretending to be human.

Jesus performed other miracles such as healing the sick and raising people from the dead as he did with Lazarus.

“Even his detractors took notice of his miracles,” Father Martin said.

In the parable about Lazarus being raised from the dead, Lazarus’s sisters, Mary and Martha, in a sense chided him by saying to Jesus “Lord, if you had been here, our brother would not have died.”

But this illustrates the insight into the love Jesus had for others, Father Martin contends. “These are real people with real emotions who speak to Jesus honestly,” Father Martin said.

Often historical scholars on Jesus have questions like where did these tombs go? What was the role of Jewish women at burial sites?

“The point is both approaches — historical and the divinity of Jesus — are complementary,” Father Martin said. “He is fully human and fully divine at the same time.

“In the history of Jesus, books focus on Jewish customs in first century Palestine,” Father Martin said, adding that other scholars focus on the Christ of faith with Jesus as the son of God. Both are important, he insisted.

“Jesus’ preaching was divinely inspired,” Father Martin said, “but it was also affected by his human experiences he shared with us.”

Interest in Jesus’ divinity and humanity will always be an issue others take interest in.

“It is well worth pondering,” Father Martin concluded.

Following his presentation, the priest answered questions from audience members who had written their questions that were collected in a basket. One question asked about how he had been inspired to enter the religious life after working in the corporate world with General Electric.

Father Martin replied that he grew up in Plymouth Meeting, PA, a suburb northwest of Philadelphia in a Catholic family. He described his early religious experience as “fairly lukewarm” and said he did not attend Catholic schools.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, he took a job with GE which he found was not fulfilling.

“It just wasn’t for me,” he said. “It took me a long time to figure it out.”

He read a book by Thomas Merton which influenced him about exploring the possibility of the priesthood and went so far as to talk about it with his parish priest in Connecticut where he was living.

“I got more and more miserable and stressed about my job,” Father Martin said.

Then he talked with a Jesuit priest in Boston; the end result was entering formation with the Jesuits. He called it “the best decision I ever made.”

The Jesuit uses Facebook, Twitter and Instagram as a means of evangelization and expresses his views on Church teaching which some do not like. He said people on blogs have commented that “you’re stupid” or that “you’re a bad Catholic.”

“It’s not helpful for our Church,” Father Martin replied. “It’s not Christian.”

Even some bloggers are critical to the point of being uncharitable and hostile.

“Some of us have become so Catholic that we forget to be Christian,” he said.

While some find all Church teachings not to their liking, there are certain beliefs that Catholics need to accept, Father Martin said. Among them would be belief in the Trinity and Jesus’ resurrection.

One question asked “What made you love Jesus more?”

“I think being at the Sea of Galilee meant so much to me,” Father Martin answered. “When I first saw it, I almost cried.”

Walking along the Sea of Galilee, that looked the same as when Jesus walked the same path, had a tremendous affect on him.

“It made me love Jesus more,” Father Martin said.

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