Book Review: “Jesus: a Pilgrimage,” by James Martin

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Today, I FINALLY finished one of the best Christian books I’ve ever read: “Jesus: a Pilgrimage,” by Jesuit priest James Martin. At it’s most basic, it’s a travel guide: Martin and a fellow priest visit Holy Land sites from Jesus’ life, and Martin writes about them. Most chapters have three parts: he tells the biblical story that happened there, he relates his own visit, and he shares insights about the story. He also includes the actual Scriptural text at the end of each chapter. Seems simple. But he delivers such wonderfully rich stuff. The trip isn’t about tourism and taking selfies. It’s a true spiritual pilgrimage.
 
Maybe it’s especially interesting to me because he’s a Jesuit priest. He’s sharing things from angles outside of my own religious tradition. If an evangelical minister did the same thing, I’d probably hear the same stuff I’ve heard in a zillion sermons since childhood. But it was made more interesting (to me) because I learned so much about the Jesuit lifestyle and the many intentional spiritual practices built into being a Jesuit. I learned to greatly admire that lifestyle and how they pursue God.
 
Martin is quite traditional in his view of Scripture, no different from me. Many chapters dealt with miracles performed by Jesus. He often mentioned ways scholars, even evangelical ones, have dismissed the miracle with a natural explanation. But Martin will have none of it. It’s a miracle, and he’s not budging.
 
Martin says in the intro, “Humanity and divinity are both part of Jesus’ story. Omit one or the other, scissor out the uncomfortable parts, and it’s not Jesus we’re talking about any longer. It’s our own creation.” His trip was to better understand the real Jesus by visiting what he calls “The Fifth Gospel,” the Holy Land itself where Jesus lived and walked.
 
He writes, “I would like to invite you to meet the Jesus you already may know, but in a new way. Of, if you don’t know much about Jesus, I would like to introduce him to you. Overall, I would like to introduce you to the Jesus I know, and love, the person at the center of my life. Getting to know Jesus, like getting to know anyone, has been a pilgrimmage. Part of that pilgrimage was a trip to Israel, one that changed my life.”
 
It’s a long book, 500 pages with 25 chapters. I read it slowly, savoring it over a period of two years. I’m glad I did.
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