BOOK REVIEW – Jesus: A Pilgrimage

Jesus: A Pilgrimage
James Martin, New York, HarperOne, 2014.

“Traveling through the Holy Land is like visiting the family home of a good friend. No matter how well you know the person, you’ll understand your friend better afterward.” 

In Jesus: A Pilgrimage, the Rev. James Martin, S.J. guides readers on a tour through the places of Jesus’ life as a creative and illustrative way to answer the same question that Jesus asked his disciples so many years ago, “Who do you say that I am?” (Mk 8:29). The answer that Martin offers in the book is distinctive, a synthesis of sound biblical exegesis, theology, historical Jesus scholarship, and personal experience prayer. As Martin himself writes,

“It is a look at Jesus, as he appears in the Gospels through the lens of my education, experience, prayer, and most recently a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. And through the lens of faith.”

While sometimes threatening to be overly sentimental, Martin aptly draws theological, spiritual, and moral lessons from the biblical geography that are uplifting, humanizing, and enlightening.

It is an entertaining narrative written by a good storyteller that brings the reader through the significant places and events of Jesus’ life. The book unfolds in chronological order, with each chapter focusing on a particular event and gospel passage (or two). The book explores the biblical account with great acumen and the author cleverly draws readers in through personal, first-hand accounts of the sites where Jesus walked and ministered. But the book is more than anecdotal; it includes a tremendous amount of recent and relevant biblical, theological, and socio-anthropological scholarship. Jesus: A Pilgrimage is indeed impressive for careful research and equally impressive for the way in which the author puts it to use.

Ultimately, Martin’s greatest contribution is the way he is able to bring readers face-to-face with the person that Christians profess as teacher, savior, and God. A book such as this could only be written by one who has deliberately, honestly, and steadfastly walked with Jesus, prayed with the scriptures, and meditated deeply on his own journey. Martin arrays the fruit of such deliberation on the pages of this book, eloquently modeling how one sustains a relationship with Jesus. In hearing the witness and stories of Martin’s own spiritual life in connection to the life of Jesus (tied as they were to the biblical accounts and the Christian theological tradition), I was challenged to reflect on my own story and how it likewise connects to the life of Jesus. Jesus: A Pilgrimage and the witness therein can be an occasion for many to do the same and to grow in knowledge and love of Jesus, the person around whom the author has built his life.

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