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Copyright © 2001 Jeanie C. Crain
Last modified: March, 2002

See Back to Galilee (2012)


Jesus of Galilee


Who is Jesus of Galilee?  By placing Jesus in Galilee, what I want to do is look at the man and  the man he considered himself to be. To look at Jesus, one, of course, must look through the lenses provided by time; in this case, I will look at the New Testament canon as it has come down to us and admit, at the outset, to trust what the writers have told us about Jesus and what he has said about himself, according to these writers. This approach lends itself, not to a historical Jesus, but rather to the Jesus of Christianity. Quotations will be taken throughout from the New Revised Standard Bible, Oxford Annotated. Further, in looking at the Gospels, we will look at primarily at the Galilee mission. 

Of all the truths that could be stated about the person Jesus revealed himself to be, three will be uncontested. First and foremost, Jesus revealed himself to be passionately committed to his mission.  What was that mission?  Jesus came proclaiming that the kingdom of God could be entered into spiritually without constraint to the past, present, or future: Godís kingdom comes to the individual who repents and chooses to enter that kingdom.  Second, Jesus concentrated his lifeís energies into realizing Godís kingdom in his life and geographical sphere of circumscribed activities. As a result, he was a man out of step with his time and with his people; in short, he broke significantly with the past and ushered in a new age and new way of seeking and finding the kingdom of God. He remains an example par excellence of God existing within the human heart: God with us.  He remains, too, again par excellence, the individual who sacrifices himself to achieve this kingdom of God within his own body. Was he right in insisting that Godís eternal kingdom could be realized here and now, that it was not confined to the temple and its ritual, nor confined to some future new Davidic age, or if so, this Davidic age was spiritual rather than temporal? Third, History attests to Jesusí being right: his example founded an entirely new religionÖ at its best, universal in scope, exclusive to no age, no people, and no place. His proclamation of the kingdom of God has been taken up and recounted in the lives of people everywhere.

Albert Schweitzer is recognized as a pioneer in studies of the historical Jesus in his The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1910), and his conclusion speaks eloquently to a Jesus who ultimately transcends history:

It [study of the life of Jesus] set out in quest of the historical Jesus, believing that when it had found Him it could bring Him straight into our time as a Teacher and Saviour. It loosed the bands by which He had been riveted for centuries to the stony rocks of ecclesiastical doctrine, and rejoiced to see life and movement coming into the figure once more, and the historical Jesus advancing, as it seemed, to meet it. But He does not stay; He passes by our time and returns to His own. What surprised and dismayed the theology of the last forty years was that, despite all forced and arbitrary interpretations, it could not keep Him in our time, but had to let Him go. He returned to His own time, not owing to the application of any historical ingenuity, but by the same inevitable necessity by which the liberated pendulum returns to its original position.

He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew Him not. He speaks to us the same word: "Follow thou me!" and sets us to the tasks which He has to fulfil for our time. He commands. And to those who obey Him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal Himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience Who He is.

Perhaps a word of caution needs to attend any attempt to look at the man Jesus and the man he considered himself to be. The Cambridge Companion to Jesus, edited by Markus Bockmuehl (Cambridge Press, 2001) contains an essay by Rowan Williams, "A history of faith in Jesus." I found Williams' summary succinct and informative. For today's age, he also describes with poignancy the Western Christianity of the Middle Ages, an age in which "there is an increasing interest in the human vulnerability of Jesus, shown in increasingly realistic depictions of the crucifixion" (225).  This was an age evidencing a "general 'humanistic' interest in the specific psychology of Jesus." It's an age, too, in which human experience is diverse and a piety informs the believer's sense of indebtedness and gratitude for the sacrifice of Jesus. He goes on to describe a phenomenon characteristic of our own age:

The intensifying of a sort of grotesque hyper-realism in the artistic portrayal of the effects of the scourging, beating, crowning with thorns and crucifixion, the appearance by the fifteenth century of a specific 'Man of Sorrows' image in art, the production of meditative texts designed to stir the imagination to the point of some sort of empathetic identification with these extreme physical tortures and the proliferation of lyrics of lament or complaint--all this serves to intensify the believer's grief and shame for sin." (225)

Williams continues by saying that Western Christianity has focused on the "tangible 'there-ness' of Christ's identity," leading it to a blatant pathos of devotion to Christ and a "sense of individual reproach, the covertly resentful guilt provoked by accusations of ingratitude and unresponsiveness" (227). He concludes that the tradition eroticizes and moves us into the dangerous territory where "pain is close to orgiastic delight."

Today, we seem, once again, on the threshold of such eroticizing of the extreme physical torture of the man Jesus. Is it, perhaps, that, once again, we find ourselves threatened by diversity, alienated and alone, yearning for an encounter that will restore our agonizing loss, the interrupted life of our souls? Do we deeply yearn for a "renewed sense of God that constitutes the distinctive news Christianity brings?" Can we be reminded it comes through his "life and death and resurrection as an historical individual" with whom "change occurs in our standing in relation to God"? (230)  Jesus, committed to a kingdom that can be entered into presently, that calls for individuals to concentrate their lives and activities into realizing this kingdom, that admits all people universally who seek the Lord's own prayer, "Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,"  calls all of us into changed behavior and responsibility for each other. We have to care about each other, for  without the other, we are nothing. Jesus conducted himself by two commandments--"love God and your neighbor as yourself." Jesus asks today, as he did in Galilee, "Who do you say I am?" The question invokes choice and decision: a response for many, as Thomas, has always been, "My Lord and my God!"


See Kingdom.