Getting to know Jesus on his own turf

Imagine making a pilgrimage to the Holy Land with a masterful teacher and storyteller without leaving the comfort of home. “Jesus: A Pilgrimage,” by Jesuit Father James Martin, takes you on this journey and much more.

What sets this book apart is the seamless way in which Father Martin weaves together the place where Jesus lived with biblical study. The personal stories that are interspersed throughout each chapter act like leaven that make Scripture come alive. Also included in each chapter are spiritual reflections that challenge the reader to answer the question, “What does this mean for me?”

It is obvious that Father Martin has a deep love of Jesus that he’s eager to share with the ordinary person. Often when an author attempts to marry high-level biblical studies with all of the different elements of place, personal stories and spiritual reflection, the reader is lost in a sea of Church-speak. Not so with this book. What makes this such an outstanding book is the fact that it meets people where they are in their quest to know Jesus.

While, most of us would jump at the opportunity to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, that was not the case with Father Martin, who shares early in the book that he was very reluctant to make the trip for fear that it would ruin his mental images of the places mentioned in the Gospels. The outcome of his change of heart is quality writing that makes the world of first-century Nazareth come alive. In each chapter we discover more about the life and times of Jesus, leading to a deeper understanding of him.

This isn’t your usual tour of the Holy Land. In the chapter “Parables,” Father Martin recounts his quest to find the Bay of Parables. After following a path marked with violet stones, Father Martin and his traveling companion found themselves on the rim of a natural amphitheater. Amazingly, all around them was rocky ground, fertile ground, stony ground and even a thorn bush — just like what is described in the parable of the sower. This was a reality that Father Martin had never considered. Jesus wasn’t talking in generalities; he was talking about the things right around him.

Thankfully, there isn’t a strict sequential order to follow in reading the book. Each chapter stands alone. During Holy Week, I skipped ahead and read about Jesus’ death and resurrection. I’m glad I did.

In Chapter 22, “Risen,” Father Martin tells the story of the most powerful spiritual experience of his entire pilgrimage.

This experience at Jesus’ tomb in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem both affirms and confirms the risen Jesus.

The bottom line: “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” is a great tool to get to know Jesus better.

Lori Neumann is OSV’s associate parish acquisitions editor.

For more summer book reviews: Swing into summer reads