Pentecost 16B, 2000

Mark 8: 27-38

A Liturgy is also available


“He comes as yet unknown into a hamlet of Lower Galilee.

He is watched by the cold, hard eyes of peasants

living long enough at subsistence level

to know exactly where the line is drawn between poverty and destitution.

“He speaks about the rule of God,

and they listen as much from curiosity as anything else.”

(John D Crossan)

John Dominic Crossan

the author of those descriptive words about the one called Jesus,

is an Irishman,

a retired professor of biblical studies,

and a leader in the contemporary understanding of Christian thought

as expressed through The Jesus Seminar.

Those of you who were here at (St James)

when Dr David Millikan was the guest preacher,

will remember he referred to The Jesus Seminar.

He didn’t much like their findings.

I don’t agree with David Millikan.

I feel their work is refreshingly honest.

The words which I used to introduce this Contemporary Word...

are taken from Crossan’s 500+ page book:

The historical Jesus. The life of a mediterranean jewish peasant.

And as you may have guessed from its title

it offers a picture of this Jesus as a Jewish peasant.

Many have likened this study to a similar work on the historical Jesus

by Albert Schweitzer, published more than 80 years ago.

Now I haven’t read the whole book

but what I can say from my reading so far is, during the time of Jesus

there seems to have been two streams of thought within Judaism:

exclusive Judaism, and

inclusive Judaism.

• Exclusive Judaism sought to preserve the ancient traditions

as conservatively as possible.

• Inclusive Judaism sought to adapt the ancient traditions

through association, combination and collaboration.

I mention this because these two streams

act as background for Jesus’ ministry and belief about God.

And they act as foreground for the question Mark has Jesus asking his disciples

in today’s gospel story:

What are people saying about me?

Who do people say I am?


I, like all of you I'm sure, have my own picture of Jesus.

It is shaped by the stories in the gospels and

the thinking of several theologians.

It is a constructed picture - more as a painting than a photograph -

and I admit I have ignored those things I find questionable

as does any biblical student or Bible interpretation.

For instance:

I first became aware of the work of The Jesus Seminar in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

Initially it was comprised of a group of more than

75 internationally recognised theologians and biblical scholars

who met to share their thinking and research on the Bible.

In their first report, titled

The five gospels. The search for the authentic words of Jesus,

they voted on the authenticity of the stories of the New Testament...

• Jesus probably said those words (Red)

• Jesus probably said something like those words (Pink)

• Jesus didn’t say it but it contains his ideas (Grey)

• Jesus didn’t say it.  They have been put into his mouth by his followers or the early church (Black).

When I checked today’s gospel story

I found those scholars reckon it falls into the fourth category.

And somehow I agree.

It does suggest Jesus in an atypical situation.

Apart from John’s Gospel, maybe written

as much as 100 years after the life of Jesus,

Jesus does not initiate a dialogue with his own identity as the focus.

So does this conclusion from modern biblical scholarship

change my picture of Jesus?


In my picture of Jesus, I see him as a young man,

going to see his cousin John,

and being baptised by John.

What moves me is that Jesus began his ministry with a sense of inadequacy.

He went to the Jordan to be empowered,

for he knew his imperfection.

The next thing that strikes a vibrant chord in me,

is the story of the so-called ‘calling’ of his intimates.

He chose as those who would be close to him

humble folk



Then I am touched by his love of and compassion for, people.

Around him thronged

sick people

hopeless people

common people.

He gave a special place to those who society condemned:




mentally ill...

the lost sheep

and not the flock that was safely in the fold.

My picture of Jesus is of one who invites all to become people of ‘S-I-Z-E’ (Loomer):

to enlarge our picture of God to include humanity,

self to include neighbour

and to discover the sacred in ordinary life.


My picture of Jesus is also of one who taught ‘good humanism’...

turn the other cheek

walk the second mile

give to others more than they ask

love enemies

show endless patience.

It is in the ‘humanistic’ side of Jesus we find all are members

of one common natural family, no matter

what their other pretensions may be.


I look forward to finishing my read of Crossan’s book, all 500 + pages of it.

And discovering more of his wisdom 

about the wisdom of the Galilean of whom he writes.


Crossan, J. D. 1991. The historical Jesus. The life of a mediterranean jewish peasant. VIC: Nth Blackburn. CollinsDove.

Funk, R. W.; Hoover, R. W. (ed) 1993.  The five gospels. The search for the authentic words of Jesus. NY: New York. McMillan Publishing.

Loomer, B. M. 1976.  “S-I-Z-E is the measure” in  (ed) H James; B. Lee. Religious experience and process theology. The pastoral implications of a major modern movement. Paulist Press.