So who on earth was Jesus and what was he like? He was from artisan stock, from the world of small farmers and independent craftsmen; a son of the Galilean countryside and never at home in the cities. He was also a man of supreme courage, prepared to take on the power structures of his day, in word and deed, whenever they threatened the principles of justice and mercy.
He did not spare opponents, calling Herod ‘a fox’ and the Pharisees, ‘whitewashed tombs.’ He could be physically violent, evicting salesmen from the temple using a whip. But he had an eye for those who needed help, those on the edge of society. His opponents regularly criticised him for mixing with the wrong people; Jesus, however, looked not at outward appearance or status but at the heart. He ridiculed much religious practice, but exalted children.
He told stories about the kingdom of God, reputedly healed many, fell out with his family and despaired of his followers. Amidst his busy life, he would withdraw into the hills early to pray; and when his opponents finally had him crucified, he shouted from the cross, ‘Forgive them, father, they don’t know what they’re doing.’
Palestine in the first century was a political time bomb and a place of hardening religious codes. It was in this setting that Jesus preached the kingdom of God, an inner state which began with trust in God and the openness of a child; for this he was killed. The twist in the tail is that his followers claimed he came back to life, that death couldn’t hold him. It’s a claim still made by Christians today.
In Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth, we meet the man behind the myth. The questions are imagined, but Jesus’ words are not; all of his words are taken from the records of his life in the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Thomas. Some called him the Messiah, others a blasphemer; but you will come to your own conclusions. As Jesus himself once asked Peter, ‘Who do you say that I am?’