Who was Jesus of Nazareth? Many admire his spiritual teachings; some go further and claim him as the messiah, while a few deny he ever existed at all. But everyone has an opinion about this obscure preacher who lived his brief life in one of the less significant regions of the Roman Empire; and who, in being crucified, died the traditional death for criminals and trouble-makers.
Jesus lived in turbulent times. Under Roman rule, Judea was a hotbed of nationalist, political and religious interests, all vying for power. Jesus was caught in the middle of these, allied to none and ultimately reviled by all. ‘My kingdom is not of this world,’ he said, though he agreed taxes should be paid to the Romans. ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.’
See the 10 promo trailers from the making of the Audiobook…
Jesus taught simply but challengingly, advocating love for our enemies, a spirit of forgiveness and respect for children. What else was new about Jesus? He spoke of a new way of being which he called ‘the kingdom of God.’ This was not a place but an inner state, and the doorway to this kingdom was trust in a heavenly father. As he would often say: ‘Have anxiety about nothing.’ It was a trust Jesus himself required in a life full of conflict; not least with his family who largely disowned him. ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’ he famously asked when they attempted to rein him in.
In Conversations with Jesus of Nazareth, the questions are imagined, but the words of Jesus are not; they are authentically his, taken from the various records of his life in the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Thomas. Jesus himself never wrote anything down, but in a culture of oral transmission, his words, deeds and stories were well-remembered, and it’s not hard to see why.
‘It’s the shape of our heart which Jesus is interested in,’ says Simon Parke. ‘This is what comes across when talking with him. It’s not what we do that matters, but who we are, and thats why he upset the religious people of his day: he didn’t give them anything to hide behind. He’s not always easy company, I agree, but his life and his words – they have the undoubted ring of truth.’
About the author
Simon Parke was a priest in the Church of England for twenty years, before leaving for fresh adventures. He worked for three years in a supermarket, stacking shelves and working on the till. He was also chair of the shop union. He has since left to go free lance, and now writes, leads retreats and offers consultancy.
He has written for The Independent and The Evening Standard, and is currently columnist with the Daily Mail. His weekly supermarket diary, ‘Shelf Life’, ran for 15 months in the Mail on Saturday, and he now contributes another weekly column called ‘One-Minute Mystic.’ The book version of ‘Shelf Life’ is published by Rider. The book version of ‘One-Minute Mystic’ was published by Hay House in Jan.2010.
Other books by Simon include ‘Forsaking the Family’ – a refreshingly real look at family life. Our families made us; yet we understand very little of how our experiences as children still affects us. The book starts by contemplating Jesus’ ambivalence towards his own family, particularly his parents; reflects on how our family settings can both help and harm us; and suggests paths for freedom and authenticity.
‘The Beautiful Life – ten new commandments because life could be better’ was published by Bloomsbury, and describes ten skilful attitudes for life. Simon leads retreats around this book, and talks about it on this site. It is now also available in audio form with White Crow books.
Simon has been a teacher of the Enneagram for twenty years. The enneagram is an ancient and remarkable path of self-understanding, and Simon’s book on the subject, published by Lion, is called ‘Enneagram – a private session with the world’s greatest psychologist.’
‘Another bloody retreat’ is Simon’s desert novel, describing events at the monastery of St James-the-Less set in the sands of Middle Egypt. It follows the fortunes of Abbot Peter and the rest of the community, when the stillness of their sacred setting is rudely and irrevocably shattered.
Whatever happened to family values?
Jesus is from artisan stock and his family setting is the world of small farmers and independent craftsmen. He isn’t one of the rich, but neither is he one of the poor. If he has embraced poverty, this has been his choice, voluntary suffering.
And though we now sit in a busy Jerusalem market, Jesus is still a country boy at heart. It’s well known that when preaching in Galilee, he didn’t visit the larger towns such as Sepphoris, Gabara or Tiberius. Jesus of Nazareth was both a son of his parents and the Galilean countryside.
SP: The temple incident, when you were twelve. I expect your mother has reminded you about it a few times. She’s certainly reminded everyone else! She tells the story with some pride though I suspect it wasn’t like that at the time.
JN: When I was twelve years old, we went up to Jerusalem according to the custom of the feast.
SP: Everyone had to go there for the three major festivals each year.
JN: Yes, and when were returning, I stayed behind here in Jerusalem.
SP: You were twelve and you stayed behind?
JN: My father and mother didn’t realise and imagining I was somewhere in the travelling party, travelled a day’s journey before asking for me among friends and relatives.
SP: Panic growing, I’d imagine.
JN: When they didn’t find me, they returned to Jerusalem, and after three days found me in the temple, sitting with the teachers, both listening to them and asking questions.
SP: I suspect you were always bright, Jesus, even then. And that’s why you give the Pharisees and scribes such a hard time today. You know what they know, but then you know more.
JN: When they saw me in the temple, my mother and father were astonished, and my mother said, ‘Son, why have you treated us this way? Your father and I have been worried out of our minds looking for you!’
SP: A natural reaction. So what did you say?
JN: Why have you been looking for me?
SP: That’s what you said?
JN: Didn’t you know that I must be in my Father’s house?
SP: A harsh response to your parents, teacher. But they took you home to Nazareth, with your mother wondering what kind of a son she had on her hands, and your father? Well, presumably he taught you carpentry and the building trade. You must have learned a lot from him.
JN: A son can do nothing on his own account, but only what he sees his father doing.
SP: Like father, like son.
JN: What the father does, the son copies.
SP: He was a good teacher?
JN: The father loves the son and shows him everything, all the secrets of his craft.
SP: And unsurprisingly, your stories are full of images taken from the building trade: the speck of sawdust in the eye; the dodgy builders skimping on foundations; oh, and the importance of drawing up a proper estimate before work begins!
JN: Well, would any one think of building a tower without first sitting down and calculating the cost, to see whether he can afford to finish it?
SP: Only a fool.
JN: Because if he does, when he’s laid a foundation and then clearly can’t finish, everyone will to mock him. ‘This man began the job,’ they’ll say, ‘but wasn’t able to finish!’
SP: You do get builders like that, but staying with your family, you have four brothers, of course - James, Judas, Joseph and Simon, and several sisters. But – and this isn’t easy to say - things started to turn a little sour between you all. We all want happy families but that isn’t how it was for you. They didn’t understand you, perhaps? And if the truth be told, you began to separate yourself from them. Your brothers, for instance: they say you deceived them over the Feast of Shelters. They wanted you to go with them to Jerusalem but you refused.
JN: I said the right time for me has not yet come.
SP: You told them you were going to stay in Galilee.
JN: You go to the festival, I said, but I am not going.
SP: And yet you did go, teacher, you did go. After your brothers had left, you went to the festival in secret, which some might see as devious. And John also told me about the incident at the wedding in Cana.
JN: My mother was there, as was I with my followers. The wine runs out and my mother turns to me and says, ‘They have no wine left.’
SP: That’s unfortunate at a wedding. So what did you do?
JN: I said, ‘Woman, what have I to do with you?’
SP: ‘What have I to do with you?’ She’s your mother and you say that? It’s like the temple story, only ruder still, for you’re no longer a precocious youth but an adult. Had you perhaps reached a new stage in your life, when you said goodbye to conventional human ties. John is clear about your brothers’ lack of support. In fact, word is that people were saying ‘He’s gone mad’ and that your family set out to take charge of you.
JN: It’s true that while I was speaking to a crowd of people, one of those there told me that my mother and brothers were waiting outside to speak with me.
SP: So presumably you went to see them?
JN: No. I said to him, ‘Who is my mother? Who are my brothers?’
SP: That’s a shocking question for a good Jewish boy to ask.
JN: I pointed towards my followers, and said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers!’
SP: You said that?
JN: Here are my mother and brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven, he is my brother and sister and mother.
SP: So you’re redefining family values; quite a challenge. The family is an important social structure, but you’re saying there’s something more important. From here on, blood loyalty and clan are secondary to commitment to the kingdom of God?
JN: So listen –
SP: - I’m all ears.
JN: When you arrange a dinner or a supper, don’t call your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your rich neighbours.
SP: Why not?
JN: Because they might return the favour and pay you back.
SP: But that’s the idea, isn’t it?
JN: No, when you make a feast, ask the poor, the maimed, the lame or the blind; and you will be blessed because they don’t have the resources to repay you.
SP: You don’t make it easy, do you? The thing is, friends and family are a security for us; but you’re saying that we must love without boundaries.
JN: And believe me when I say that whoever cannot free themselves from their father and their mother cannot be my follower.
JN: And whoever cannot free themselves from their brother and their sister and does not bear their cross as I do – well, they shall not be worthy of me either.
SP: You’re swimming against the tide, teacher, but I think I see what you’re saying. Our families take us back to our old conditioning, to the judgements and customs which formed us and therefore away from our original selves.
JN: One of my followers said, ‘I will follow – but allow me first to bury my father.’
SP: Fair enough.
JN: I said, follow me and leave the dead to bury their own dead.
SP: And the 5th commandment - the one that enjoins us to respect our father and mother?
JN: When a blind person leads another blind person, they both fall into a pit.
SP: We must acquire lives of our own?
Publisher: White Crow Books
Published September 13th 2010
Size: 216 x 140 mm
“A Case to Consider” by Paul Beard – What is it possible to discover about the experiences we shall meet with after we die - if indeed existence does continue - and about how we can best prepare for them? Read here