The accounts of Jesus’ life in the Bible focus mainly on what he did between the ages of about 30 and 33. During those years he travelled through the countryside of Galilee, and occasionally visited Jerusalem and nearby regions. He gathered a reputation as someone who could work miracles. Over thirty are described in detail, and many more alluded to. The way they are described treats them as having more meaning than just spectacular events.
Some show the control that Jesus had over disease and nature itself. For instance, a boy with epilepsy was healed, and five thousand hungry people were fed with only a few fish and loaves of bread. In keeping with the medical understanding of the day about mental illness, Jesus saw some of his miracles as casting evil spirits out of a person.
Some accounts of the miracles emphasise the awe of those who saw these things happen. For instance, when a storm threatened the lives of the travellers, Jesus calmed the sea. His followers gasped, ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’
Others are described as ‘signs’ which reveal unique things about Jesus. For example, Jesus restored the sight of a blind man. It was interpreted as a sign that Jesus had come to open the eyes of people who were spiritually blind to all that God was doing in the world.
There was controversy over the source of Jesus’ ability to perform miracles. There were accusations that he had done a deal with the devil in order to give him magical powers. However, Jesus claimed that absolutely the opposite was true. The reason miracles were taking place was that God was taking control of his world and evil was being repelled. In Jesus, God had begun to establish a Kingdom in which illness, hunger and poverty would come to an end once and for all. He inspired people that justice was achievable, and was worth striving for.
Jesus continually sought out marginalised people to befriend. An immense compassion drew him toward poor people, those with leprosy (who were regarded as outcasts) and tax collectors (who were loathed as traitors). Jesus had friends who would feel at home in a synagogue and others who would feel at home in a brothel. Women and children were treated with absolute respect, which was not expected in that culture. He had many female followers, and a group of wealthy women funded his mission.
Jesus remained single, which was unusual for a man of his status at the time. While he evidently loved a party, Jesus occasionally found himself exhausted, and would take himself to isolated places and pray alone.
What the Bible says about it
An extract from the Bible:
The man who had been mute spoke. The crowd was amazed and said, ‘Nothing like this has ever been seen in Israel.’ But the Pharisees said, ‘It is by the prince of demons that he drives out demons.’ Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
Where to find it:
About these words:
Matthew records varying reactions to Jesus healing a man who had been unable to speak. In accordance with the medical understanding of his day, he describes it as casting out a demon.
And they said…
Philip Seymour Hoffman, 1967-2014, actor and director:
My image of Jesus is someone who is exciting. Were he alive today, he would be causing havoc.
Michael Morpurgo, novelist:
I struggle with almost everything [about faith] except the words, and the life, of Jesus himself. What he told us was to love one another, and he showed us wonderful examples of that, like the Sermon on the Mount. I have never thought it necessary to wrap that extraordinary man in miracles. So I struggle with the book, I suppose … I want to believe in this man – this Son of God, whatever we want to call him – because of who he was, and what he said. I don’t want to be persuaded just because he created some miracle, and made someone walk. I’ve never understood what all that was about.
Nigel Benn, former world champion middleweight boxer (‘The Dark Destroyer’):
There were two places I was going to end up – a mental hospital or six feet under. And then I read the words of [Jesus]: ‘What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit your own soul?’
Patti Smith, singer:
Who was Jesus out to get? The thieves and the whores. He was looking to get the lowest of the low; he was looking to help the lepers to pray for themselves. They didn’t need to go to these fancy scribes and Pharisees, and, like, bring a lamb or a gold shekel and say, ‘Will you say a prayer for me?’ He was saying, ‘If you want to talk to God, you can talk for free: mention my name – you’re in.’
Albert Nolan, South African priest:
The most characteristic result of all Jesus’ activity amongst the poor and the oppressed was joy.