University of Alabama
Tuscaloosa, AL 35487
Icon from St. Catherine's Monastery in Sinai.
Who Was Jesus?
We know little about the personal life of Jesus.
The three synoptic gospelsMark, Matthew and Lukeprovide the
most details, but they are not biographies. Their authors purpose
was to share the Good News that God Incarnate had walked the earth and
sacrificed himself that we might have everlasting life.
For example, as the Pulitzer Prize winning author Jack
Miles notes in his new book, we do not see Jesus engaged in everyday conversation,
even with his disciples. Nor does Jesus ever ask a question that he does
not already know the answer. As Miles writes, since the New Testament
leaves out everything that is insignificant about Jesus, then we can safely
assume that everything its books do tell us about him is significant.
In these Gospels, we glimpse only a few shreds of Jesus
family life. They indicate that in the beginning, at least, his mother
and siblings had grave misgivings about what he was doing. In the third
chapter of Mark, we read that his relatives had heard rumors that Jesus
had gone out of his mind. Some scribes had even charged that Satan was
the inspiration behind Jesus healing and teachings. The family members
go to restrain Jesus, but they cannot get close enough because the crowd
is so dense.Meanwhile, Jesus will not come out and
join them. Instead, he simply looks around at his listeners and declares,
Here are my mother and my brothers.
Jesus often spoke in such oblique fashion, especially
when he taught in parables. Once his disciples asked
about his method of teaching. He responded in Mark , To you has been given the secret of the Kingdom
of God, but for those outside,
everything comes in parables He then patiently walked them
through the story of the man who sowed his seeds. In fact, Mark says that
he explained everything in private to his disciples.
One must remember that Jesus lived in dangerous times
in a country occupied by a Roman army. Whatever he said could be held
against him. Yet his parables come down to us today as remarkably clear
in their meaning, provided that, as Jesus said, we have ears to listen.
We certainly do not know what Jesus looked like. But
I think it is safe to say that he did not resemble the blonde-haired,
blue-eyed portrait that must have graced every white Protestant church
in the South when I was a boy. The real Jesus could not have had such
features, for he was born into the Semitic branch of mankind. Had he looked
different from others of his race, then I think the Gospels would have
made note of it. That feature would have been significant.
Thus if so many details are missing that would flesh
out Jesus the man, how is it that he has come down to us through two millennia
as the most powerful personage of human history? Why are we gathered here
tonight in his name, eager to go forward and proclaim him as our savior?
The answer, I think, is that the sum of what we know
about Jesus is greater than the parts. We may wish for more information,
but we dont really need it. He lives within us as Christians, helping
us grow more like him everyday, if only we will listen to his words.
My favorite detail about Jesus comes from Matthew 7:28.Jesus had just finished telling the parable
about the man who built his house upon a foundation of sand, with disastrous
results. Matthew writes, Now when Jesus had finished saying these
things, the crowds were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them
as one having authority, and not as their scribes.
Thats it, all right. Jesus had authority. He didnt
get it from any book or any other teacher. Instead, he got it straight
from God, his father.
Many people, including his earthly family members, had
difficulty at times understanding why Jesus did or said certain things.
Indeed, his actions and teachings often remain difficult for us today.
But throughout his ministry, Jesus showed an inner light that drew people
to him like moths to a flame. And when he spoke, no one could forget what
he said or how he said it.Those
teachings resonate today with all the power and clarity in our language
as they did in the original Aramaic, Jesus native tongue.
Yes, Jesus spoke with authority. And because he had this
miraculous quality, he is whole for us as our Savior. We understand the
story of his life and what it means for us and the generations to follow.
I have come as light into the world, Jesus
says in John , so
that everyone who believes in me should not remain in the darkness.
 Jack Miles, Christ: A Crisis in the
Life of God, Alfred A. Knopf, 2001, pp. 40-42.