5 things you may not know about Jesus
Believer or sceptic, we think we know the story, but here are some surprises.
1. People have no idea how huge a field the study of Jesus is, even among people who don’t believe. We’re not studying The Hobbit here; this is not The History of Santa Claus. The discipline is so big you could walk into a university library and you’ll find more books on the historical Jesus than you will on Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar combined, which means, you know, it’s pretty hard to just rad one book or one article or watch one SBS documentary and think you know what scholars think about Jesus. It’s a massive field.
2. Women were huge in Jesus life. One woman in particular – Mary, his mum. But a little-known fact is that women bankrolled the whole mission of Jesus. Tucked away in Luke chapter 8 is the extraordinary statement that a few high-born Galilean women actually bankrolled the entire mission of Jesus and the 12 apostles. That would have cost a bomb. At the end of the story, women are still there. They’re there at the cross; the guys have fled. At the resurrection, women are there.
3. Jesus grew up in a pretty big family, by modern standards anyway. Obviously, mum and dad, Mary and Joseph, but he had four brothers who are named in the gospels. There’s James, there’s Judas, there’s Simon and there’s Joseph Jr and then the text says “and then his sisters.” And unfortunately, they’re not named – but at least two sisters – so that’s a pretty big family. The extraordinary thing is the brothers of Jesus didn’t believe in him during his earthly ministry, but we end up discovering that James led the Jerusalem church for 30 years until he was executed for his faith in the year 62.
4. Jesus was something like a refugee. At the very beginning of the story his family is under great peril and threat from Herod the Great, who was a serious crazy ancient ruler, who went to wipe out the children in Bethlehem; and the family, we’re told, had to go off to Egypt. So I don’t think it’s invalid to say that Jesus as a baby – certainly Jesus’ parents – experienced what it is like to be an asylum-seeker, to need the refuge of others in far-away lands.
5. For me, the most extraordinary statement about ethics ever made is from Jesus’ lips where he says “Love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you. Be merciful just as your Father is merciful.” For Jesus, love not just for your neighbour but for your enemy was absolutely core to the ethical life because it is core to his vision of God. Be merciful because God is merciful. We love even the enemy not just because it’s a good thing to do but because that’s what God is like, Jesus thought. In fact, he believed that so much, he went to the cross and gave his life out of love for the enemy to bring them into God’s love.