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The Real Jesus of Scripture Might Surprise You

November 22, 2016

nov22-blogIf we could travel back in time to 30 A.D. and meet the Lord Jesus as He carried forth His public ministry, we might be quite surprised by what we saw. I say this because many of us are heirs to a rather filtered description of Him that is both Western and modern.

Most picture Jesus as fair-skinned and slender, with long, straight hair and a gentle beard. This physical reimagining of Him began rather early, gathered steam during the Renaissance, and has come to our day. I will not dwell here on His physical traits in this post, as I have written in detail on them elsewhere: What Did Jesus Look Like?.

As for His mannerisms, most imagine Jesus as gentle, kind, soft-spoken (except to mean people like the Pharisees), and “loving” in the modern sense. Images of him welcoming children, being the Good Shepherd, speaking of the lilies of the field, and forgiving the woman caught in adultery (but not the part when He tells her to stop sinning), predominate. Many modern people default to or strongly emphasize these images (rather than consulting the fuller text of Scripture) in interpreting Jesus. For many, the preferred images overrule the Sacred text, no matter how voluminous those balancing texts might be.

And thus if the Church, or a priest, or any Christian says anything that seems “hard” to modern ears, many will retort that Jesus is love and would never talk like this. Some years ago, after preaching a sermon on Hell and the need to be prepared for judgment, a woman in the parish I was visiting said this to me: “I didn’t hear the Jesus I know in your words today.” I replied that I was quoting Jesus Himself (the gospel of that Sunday was about the narrow road to salvation and the wide road to Hell). She was not fazed, and simply replied, “I know He never said that.” Her personal image of Jesus overruled even the sacred text. This is common today.

This is why I think the real Jesus, as described in Scripture, would surprise many modern people.

Surprise #1: His physical vigor and stamina

A mere consultation of the map reveals an enormous and diverse terrain where Jesus, His family, and His apostles routinely walked. Each year, Jesus journeyed on foot approximately 70 miles south to Jerusalem and then back again. His daily journeys took Him throughout the whole of Galilee and as far as 35 miles to the north (Tyre, Sidon, Caesarea Philippi). The terrain in the area was difficult, hilly (even mountainous) areas alternating between fertile lands and deserts within mere miles.

Jesus climbed the hills around the Sea of Galilee and mountains as high as Tabor. He, His family, and His followers often trod long journeys of many days. Travels could be dangerous because brigands and thieves lay in wait for opportune moments. The availability of lodging was unpredictable and many nights had to be spent out in the elements.

In His final journey to Jerusalem, Jesus took the desert route that went through Jericho. It is a howling desert that descends more than 800 feet below sea level. His climb to Jerusalem (more than 2500 feet above sea level) was more than 3000 feet up. Despite this difficult journey, He was the guest that very evening at the house of Martha and Mary, where He was anointed by Mary with costly nard.

Most moderns know little of such vigor and stamina. Many of us become winded by a mere hill; the thought of walking 70 miles would seem almost impossible to us. Those who go to the Holy Land today and follow the paths of Jesus usually do so in air-conditioned buses and complain of the steep hills that must be climbed on foot in Nazareth, Ein Karem, and Jerusalem.

These were hardy people, not the slight figures that modern artists often depict. It does not mean that they were extremely muscular, but they were used to hard physical work, long walks, and the sorts of hardships that would discourage many of us.

Surprise #2: His loud and challenging preaching

In those days there were no microphones or amplification of any kind. Preachers of that time did not (could not) use a gentle, suggestive tone. They had to shout out their message. Town criers were called such for a reason. Even indoors an elevated tone was required because crowded rooms muffle sound.

Jesus often preached outdoors, sometimes to crowds of thousands. Consider again His stamina and that such sermons were more of a shout than a mere discourse or exhortation. This would likely be challenging to us who are used to the more discussion-like quality of the preaching in the last hundred years.

A number of years ago I gave a talk on the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony to a large church gathering. For some reason the public address system was not working. Now I have a loud voice, but projecting it in such a large venue required a near shout. I tried to mitigate that by interspersing humor and other disarming methods, but about half of the audience indicated (on the evaluation forms they filled out) that I seemed angry or harsh. I was certainly not angry, and although the message of traditional marriage is challenging to modern notions, the emphasis was that grace assists fidelity and the forgiveness that is necessary for lifelong love.

A further surprising note on Jesus’ preaching is that he preached while seated. The sacred text affirms this tradition in many places. All the ancient rabbis preached while seated, it was a sign of authority.

Surprise #3: His uncompromising stance

Jesus was in the mode of the prophets, and the prophets were never ones to soft-pedal, compromise, or be vague. Any analysis of Jesus’ true message (not the selective and filtered modern version) shows that He made expansive, uncompromising demands on any who would be His disciples. We must repent and believe His Gospel. We must clearly accept that He is the only light, the only truth, and the only Son to the Father. We are to love no one and nothing more than we love Him. This includes our very family as well as the things most essential to our physical survival, such as career and livelihood. If we do not do this, then we are not worthy of Him. We must take up our cross daily. We must be willing to suffer even unto death for Him and what He teaches. It is not enough to love our neighbor; we must love our enemy. It is not enough to avoid adultery; we must have a comprehensive sexual purity that excludes all forms of sexual activity outside of biblical marriage, even impure thoughts. We must forgive others who have hurt us or else the Father will not forgive us.

Time and time again, the real Jesus warned of Hell and the necessity to be sober and serious about judgment. Jesus was not some angry preacher. Jesus, who loves us, warned that many would be unable and unwilling to enter Heaven on its terms; few would take the narrow road of the cross. Not all who say, “Lord! Lord!” will enter heaven, but only those who do the will of the Father. Many will hear from Him, “I know you not. I know not from whence you come. Depart from me.”

There is no compromise, no third way. We cannot serve two masters, God and mammon. A friend of the world is an enemy to God. He would say that no one who sets his hand to the plow and keeps looking back is fit for the reign of God. To our excuses and pleas for time in “getting our act together,” He might say, “Let the dead bury their dead, but you go and proclaim the Kingdom!”

There is little we can call gentle or soft in the mainstream of Jesus’ preaching. Though He invited His disciples to discover Him as the true shepherd, the true lover of our souls, who can give us the true Bread for which we hunger and lasting water to quench our thirst, He wants us carrying our cross, not reclining on our couch. Jesus healed many, but He insisted on faith being operative prior to performing miracles.

Jesus’ plan for us involves deep paradox; He challenges our every expectation. He does not apologize for offending our notions. He declared that if anyone was ashamed of Him and His teachings, then He would be ashamed of that person on the Day of Judgment. There is to be no compromise with the wisdom of the world.

All of this, though recorded clearly and consistently in the biblical record, is conveniently forgotten by. Most modern people prefer nuance and/or euphemisms; they prefer a suggestive and inviting tone. But Jesus, like the prophets of the day, combined a searing judgment on worldly ways with an uncompromising insistence that we choose sides.

Surprise #4: His urgency

Jesus had a determination that a lot of us would interpret as a kind of inflexibility. We like to discuss things; we celebrate collaboration and team work.

Jesus doesn’t fit in this box at all. He knew exactly what He wanted to do. He sent missionaries ahead of Him into every town and village. He accepted no correction from those objected to His course or to the fact that He ate with sinners. When the crowds objected to Jesus’ teachings (such as His teaching on the Eucharist at Capernaum), He did not reconsider His words or go out and hire a public relations firm to improve His image. He did not conduct focus groups to test out His words and ideas. No, Jesus doubled down on disputed teachings and then asked His disciples if they were going to desert Him. He had an urgent mission to convey the truth, not debate it at length with detractors.

Jesus was on the move and urgently pursued His task. He told His disciples that He must work while it was still day because the darkness was coming when work would cease. In his final journey to Jerusalem, it was said that Jesus “set His face like flint,” an expression that conveys firm resolve. He set out on the journey, fully knowing (and announcing) that He would suffer at the hands of men, die, and rise.

Jesus’ own apostles balked and resisted, wondering why He would go there knowing that the leaders sought to kill Him. When Peter tried to dissuade Him, Jesus turned to him angrily, challenged his worldly thinking, and called him Satan.

No, Jesus would not turn back. At one point, He rebuked the weak faith of the Apostles, saying, “How much longer must I tolerate you?!” He also warned, “He who does not gather with me scatters.”

So Jesus was urgent and unstoppable. Meanwhile, His apostles vacillated between resistance to the looming danger, denial, and avoidance. More than once, the sacred text indicates that they were afraid to ask Him any more questions.

Nothing would stop Jesus. Even at the Last Supper, as He arose to go forth to His Passion, Jesus said, “The world must know that I love the Father and that He sent me. Arise. Let us go hence.”

Only briefly (in the garden) did Jesus express even the slightest doubt. Quickly it was resolved: whatever the Father wanted would receive His assent. We are saved by the human decision of a divine person.

Why this urgency? It was to save us! “What should I say? ‘Father save me from this hour?’ No, it was for this hour that I came into the world” (John 12:27).

I am convinced that all of this urgency would surprise us. We are more comfortable with a Jesus who wandered about blessing people, telling stories, and who only at the very end fell into trouble. Nothing could be further from the recorded history of the sacred text. Knowing everything that would take place, Jesus set out manfully to His goal and would allow nothing to stop or sidetrack Him. This was His Father’s will and He was urgent.

Yes, I suspect that most of us would be surprised if we encountered Jesus back around the year 30 A.D. For those who have not internalized the biblical texts and have substituted a modern image far removed from the recorded truth, Jesus might seem overbearing and even impatient. They would see Jesus speaking broadly—even bluntly—in the mode of the prophets. Would there be nothing of the gentle Jesus that so many prefer? Of course there would, but not in the exclusive amount that many moderns prefer.

Perhaps I do well to finish with the words of Ross Douthat, who in his book Bad Religion, summarizes this well:

Christianity is a paradoxical religion because the Jew of Nazareth is a paradoxical character. No figure in history or fiction contains as many multitudes as the New Testament’s Jesus. He’s a celibate ascetic who enjoys dining with publicans and changing water into wine at weddings. He’s an apocalyptic prophet one moment, a [careful and] wise ethicist the next. … He promises to set [spouses against one another and] parents against children, and then disallows divorce; he consorts with prostitutes while denouncing even lustful thoughts. … He can be egalitarian and hierarchical, gentle and impatient, extraordinarily charitable and extraordinarily judgmental. He sets impossible standards and then forgives the worst of sinners. He blesses the peacemakers and then promises that he’s brought not peace but the sword. He’s superhuman one moment; the next he’s weeping.

The boast of Christian orthodoxy, as codified by the councils of the early Church and expounded in the Creeds, has always been its fidelity to the whole of Jesus. … [Where heresy says which one] Both, says orthodoxy …. The goal of the great heresies, on the other hand, has often been to extract from the tensions of the gospel narratives a more consistent, streamlined, and noncontradictory Jesus [1].

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Comments (23)

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  1. Todd says:

    Amen.

  2. Thank you father and praise the Lord for this story. Amen. (By the way, on your facebook page people who follow you cannot comment, I was wondering if it’s possible to allow the FB feature that allows people who follow you to comment too). Thank you and God bless you.

  3. Beth says:

    This post is awesome. I love fierce Jesus. Who would want to give up everything and risk their lives serving a squishy pushover God?

    God bless you Msgr Pope, and all that you do.
    Thank you for speaking truth 🙂

  4. Rita says:

    What a timely article! I had just been reflecting on the first time I read the Bible from beginning to end. I was a lapsed Catholic intent on proving an evangelical Catholic sibling wrong regarding homosexuality (I insisted it couldn’t possibly be a sin). In both the Old and New Testament, the God I met was passionate, purposeful and precise. The Gospels didn’t present the soft, cuddly, stuffed animal Jesus I was sure I knew, but the polar opposite and He was profoundly clear about sin.
    I praise and thank the Holy Spirit for my eventual reversion and, to this day, still have to chuckle that it all began with a liberal arrogance (and the boldness and prayers of a great big brother).

  5. Alan says:

    It is alarming that so many project a corrupted version of the Incarnate Son of God back into the Scriptures. We are all deep down crying out for the real Christ to be manifest in the lives of our loved ones and most importantly in the lives of our pastors. Thank you Msgr. Pope for this challenging post.

  6. Israel Heinz says:

    Thank you for the stark reminder. Our Faith has been purposefully watered down to such an extent that Jesus true message is foreign and disquieting to our ears. A false idol now adorns the great Temple.

  7. Chris says:

    A wonderful summary – thanks Msgr. You have hit the nail on the head. There are so many modernist priests & parishioners now believe “mercy” means there is no sin and no hell, everything is *always* and automatically forgiven. I believe that’s why many confessionals are empty; last month I went to a different church (timing) and there was nobody there, the priest came back out of office when I knocked. The 2 exceptions I see are churches run by either Opus Dei or TLM priests (you know, those “rigid inflexible” people with something to hide). There, you find a *queue* for confession, before *every* Mass.

  8. Michael Pakaluk says:

    St. Athanasius, “For here He manifests a double will. One indeed human, which is of the flesh, the other divine. For our human nature, because of the weakness of the flesh, refuses the Passion, but His divine will eagerly embraced it, for that it was not possible that He should be holden of death.” This seems more like abhorrence than doubt.

  9. Antonia says:

    Wonderful article, a must-read for our culture of softness and self-indulgence. I’ll be reading this to my kids. Thank you!

  10. The titles (Or the three Names) of Jesus Christ: The Morning Star, The Hidden Manna and The Tree of Life.

    FIRST NAME CLUE GIVEN BY JESUS HIMSELF:

    “I Jesus have sent my angel, to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the root and stock of David, the bright and morning star.” – Revelation 22:16

    As I also have received of my Father: and I will give him the morning star. [29] He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches. – Revelation 2:28-29

    SECOND NAME GIVEN BY THE SPIRIT TO GOD THE SON:

    “He, that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: To him that overcometh, I will give the hidden manna, and will give him a white counter, and in the counter, a new name written, which no man knoweth, but he that receiveth it.” – Revelation 2:17

    THIRD NAME GIVEN BY THE SPIRIT TO GOD THE SON:

    “He, that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith to the churches: To him, that overcometh, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of my God.” – Revelation 2:7

    WATCH THE VIDEO TO UNDERSTAND THIS INTERPRETATION:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t0dQ0OYMkZOo

  11. Jim Peet says:

    Helpful & challenging. Thank you

  12. Robertlifelongcatholic says:

    This video should be titled The Hallelujah Hallucination. My stomach gets queezy everytime I watch it.

  13. Nick says:

    A fifth surprise is Jesus’ Jewishness. Sometimes, we may think Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, piracy, ordination, abortion, and other such topics, because we find no explicit mention of them, yet an understanding of Judaism of Jesus’ time shows otherwise – just as it shows Jesus was not a socialist, feminist, conservative, liberal, progressive, modernist, or other such mistaken identity:

    – His Doctrine against divorce is rooted in Jewish beliefs on sexuality: marriage is between one man and one woman for pleasure and procreation, whereby fornication, adultery, homosexuality, transgenderism, bisexuality, bestiality, child sex, and other sexual immoralities are sins – indeed, forbidden by the Holiness Code as sinful gentile practices, which the Messiah is prophecised to clean Israel of while He brings gentiles into the Temple

    – His Doctrine against greed is rooted in Jewish beliefs on justice: every man has the right to his property and the duty to help the less fortunate, whereby theft, cheating, negligence, greed, gluttony, lust, oppression, and kidnapping are sins – forbidden as such by the Covenant Code, which the Messiah is prophecised to perfect and fulfill when He redeems Israel

    – His Doctrine against breaking an iota of the Law is rooted in Jewish beliefs on the Law, which forbids priestesses (or women priests) as a sinful gentile practice – the same Law that proscribes such good gentile practices as almsgiving, respect for parents, care for the blind and deaf, and impartiality in judgments

    – His Doctrine against anger and on children and childlikeness are rooted in Jewish beliefs on life: every man is sacred and equal as a creature made in God’s Image, whereby murder of any kind (abortion, suicide, genocide, assassination, etc.) is a sin – which Judaism further teaches is an unforgivable sin if the victim dies before forgiving the murderer

    – His Doctrine against grudges corrects that last point, however, explaining that God does forgive sins we do against our neighbor and not only against Himself: for if we do not forgive our offenders, than neither will God forgive us. Far from being special treatment or a convenience, as if Christ adheres to the whole Law except on forgiveness, this Doctrine is both in line with and perfects the Law, for forgiving one’s offender is both gratuitous and obligatory in Judaism.

    A lot of objections are often raised against this point: “Why aren’t we circumcised if Jesus obeyed the Law?” “Why don’t we kill adulterers and homosexuals if the Law demands it?” “Why do we love our neighbor if that is part of the Law?” “Why do we offer Mass if offering sacrifices is part of the Law?” “Why should we care about the Law if we aren’t Jews?” Such objections are already answered by Judaism:
    – Circumcision is only for Jews
    – Death penalty is rarely applied among Jews
    – Like the Decalogue, the Noahide Law abridges the Natural Moral Law that forbids murder, adultery, theft, etc.
    – the Messiah will perpetuate the Todah, and so Christ instituted the Eucharist
    – the Messiah’s followers will keep the Torah and the Decalogue in their hearts

    This, of course, does not get into the Magisterium’s teachings on the aforementioned matters, but it is good to be surprised by Jesus’ Jewishness!

    • JT says:

      This is indeed a fifth surprise and compliments the wonderful post well. Thank you for edifying us and with references and direction to the Holy Magesterium of the Church. Your contribution fits well, I think, with the general audience of this blog, which appears to be those striving for truth, perfection and beauty and pukrity and mature their faith. Thank you.

  14. Ken Kannady says:

    Our Lord’s appearance while here . . . Jacob’s son Esau had red hair as did David, and Jesus is the son of David ! Ken

  15. RAY - PORTSMOUTH - UK says:

    Oh Yes! Thanks again, Mgr Charles.
    And once again I am reminded of a quote; this one is attributed to Dorothy L Sayers, the great author and Christian Humanist –
    “I believe it to be a great mistake to present Christianity as something charming and popular with no offence in it . . . We cannot blink at the fact that ‘gentle Jesus meek and mild’ was so stiff in his opinions and so inflammatory in his language that he was thrown out of church, stoned, hunted from place to place, and finally gibbeted as a firebrand and a public danger. Whatever his peace was, it was not the peace of an amiable indifference.”
    Thanks be to Our Heavenly Father for that!! THAT’S the kind of Jesus I want! How about you?
    God bless all.

  16. Tim Allen says:

    Msgr. Pope, you are a good writer; You often offer a needed word of challenge, as you do here. But I am uncomfortable with your isogetic approach here. Teaching Christ through the prism of logic drawn from what Jesus must have been and done because of his times and geography does not give as sound a basis of doctrine as presenting Him through the lens of doctrine. Also, it may perhaps be better to present the Living God through a selective reading of scripture rather than none at all.

    Instead, you seem to employ here the same gnostic hermeneutic relied upon by so-called liberal re-readings of a Christ of Faith based on limited historical data. It is easy to extrapolate that if Jesus preached a certain way because of geography and limited technology that we might easily wonder whether He would preach differently today if done so by means of blogs and twitter from the comfort of an office chair. And if geography, history, or technology might have a bearing on manner and content of preaching, then why not culture?

    God forbid the limited needs of people be suggested as a basis of contemporary preaching rather than timeless doctrine.

    Honestly, Monsignor, I struggle to understand where you really intended to go with this.

    • Msgr. Charles Pope says:

      isogetic?? Maybe you mean Eisegesis?? At any rate I think you also misapply the term Gnostic. Avoid the name calling and the “big word stuff.’ Most all my observations are drawn directly from scripture. Make your case rather than just attack mine. Honestly Tim, I struggle to understand where you really intend to go with your comment. Why not just disagree and make your own case? Most others here seem to understand quite fine what I am saying. Maybe this is because they are not burdened with notions of “isogetic, gnostic hermeneutics” I wonder how you would see Christ. Please reference a lot of Scripture as I did if you respond and do be “selective” as you charge me with.

    • Jerry says:

      Msgr. Pope’s observations here are very similar to those of Father Robert D. Smith in “The Other Side of Christ.” Father Smith wrote about this topic in his weekly column in The Wanderer, and later published the same material in book format. Not being constrained by the practical limitations of a single blog post, Fr. Smith explores the topic in far greater depth and provides many citations to Scripture to support his observations.

      The Other Side of Christ is available online at http://links.catholocity.net/other-side-of-Christ. Several copies of the book are listed for sale on Amazon, for those who would like a printed copy.

  17. Jason says:

    God bless you, Monsignor. I’m grateful that you continue to be voice in the howling wilderness. Where are the rest of our Church leaders? I know they’re there, but it often seems their voices are drowned out by the cacophony of dissent and heresy.
    I pray that our Lord will give us the grace to endure the trials that await us – personal trials and what we face as the Body of Christ. I sense that lately, the enemy has been hounding my own spirit, soul, and body. May the Lord have mercy on me and strengthen me as I bear the weight of my own cross.
    “Fear not the one who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, fear Him Who can cast both body and soul into gehenna.” Lord, please have mercy on us!

  18. George says:

    Excellent post, as always, Msgr. I suspect that Jesus, as we encounter him in the gospels, would not be much given to *dialogue* and *accompaninent*. With Jesus it’s yes or no, in or out, with me or against me.