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Jesus: A Gospel Portrait

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Book Review Archive

“Jesus: A Gospel Portrait,”
by Donald Senior
(Paulist Press: New York, 1992, 161 pages)

 

If you are a regular reader of “First Impressions” and want to learn more about Jesus in the Gospels then this book will satisfy your hunger. Or more likely, urge you to do even more study of the Scriptures, especially further writings by Donald Senior, or one of the books he recommends for the general reader in his brief bibliography. Senior writes from the background of biblical research, but he says, “The purpose of this book is to bridge some of the most important results of biblical research for the nonprofessional reader.” (Introduction)

This book isn’t a line-by-line, or even story-by-story, account of Jesus’ life and teachings. Instead, in seven chapters Senior presents a portrait drawn from the consensus about Jesus found in the Gospels. He presumes his readers are not just curious about Jesus, but hunger to hear the word of God, the way hungry people look for bread. Which is what he does: help us hear God’s word in what the four evangelists reveal about Jesus.

Senior begins by analyzing what a gospel is, helping us to know the long process that formed the Gospels through the initial years of the church. He makes it clear from the beginning that “knowing about” Jesus is not the same as “knowing Jesus.” Christianity is based on knowing Jesus personally; growing in that relationship and being transformed by it. Senior hopes that his book will help us mature in our faith as we come to a better understanding of Jesus through the portrait that emerges about him in the Gospels. These sacred writings can free us from our own preconceptions of Jesus and enable us, both as individuals and a church, live the life of the Jesus we have come to know in the Gospels and then proclaim it to others in our world.

The Gospels are so convincing because they draw their content from the living witness of the early church. We do not have a documentary, or video about Jesus – we have a portrait. Senior leads us through the Gospels to show us the common features, the portrait, that emerge from them.

While this is not a book for biblical scholars Senior thinks it is important to deal with some “technical” questions, which he does in the first chapter (“Knowing Jesus”) and the last (“Jesus and His Church”). These “technical” chapters help the reader be familiar with the suppositions that under gird the middle chapters. Again, these “technical” chapters are readily accessible to the general reader. The middle chapters focus on: the first century world in which Jesus lived; his disciples; the kingdom of God; Jesus as teacher and his teachings; the miracles of healings; his death and resurrection and the church’s beginnings.

Accompanying each chapter are “Questions for Reflection and Discussion.” These invite the reader to pause and reflect on the implications the material has for his/her life. They also make the book useful for discussion groups.

I highly recommend this book. The revised edition was published in 1992, but it does what Senior promises, helps us “know Jesus” in 2021, under the cloud of a world-wide epidemic.

There is much quotable material in “Jesus: A Gospel Portrait.” One of my favorites gives a brief summary of the portrait of Jesus that emerges from the Gospels:
“But what we learn about Jesus himself is the element of the unexpected. It is unexpected that Jesus’ disciples should be so fallible. It is unexpected that he should be most comfortable with the poor and the marginalized. It is unexpected that he should associate so freely and so often with women. ‘Unexpected’ because neither the concerns of the early church nor the conditions of Jesus’ own time prepare us for these associations. It is this bracing quality of the unexpected that characterizes so much of what we are able to learn about Jesus from the gospels.” (Page 72)

That is just one of my favorite quotes from the book, I’m sure you’ll be able to find your own.


Jude Siciliano, OP

 


Book Review Archive

Just click on a book title below to read the review.
(The latest submissions are listed first.)

• Jesus: A Gospel Portrait •
• How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row •
• Christ and the Spirit: Catholic Perspectives Through the Ages •
• MAKING SENSE OF MYSTERY - A PRIMER ON THEOLOGICAL THINKING •
• PREACHING IN THE BLACK CHURCH •
• The Council and the Making of the Ultramontane Church •
• LONGING TO SEE YOUR FACE – PREACHING IN A SECULAR AGE •
• A Joint Review •
• St. Dominic: A Story of a Preaching Friar •
• JESUS and the PRODICAL SON •
• PREACHING MATTERS: A PRAXIS FOR PREACHERS •
• Moses in Pharaoh's House •
• ...and the Mountains Echoed •
• Behind the Beautiful Forevers •
• Preaching the Mystery of Faith: The Sunday Homily •
• The Rhythm of Being... •
• Remi De Roo - Chronicles of a Vatican II Bishop •
• Redeeming the Past •
• Abraham Joshua Heschel: Essential Writings •
• This Is Our Exile •
• Compassion: Loving Our Neighbor in and Age of Globalization •
• True and False Reform In the Church •
• Adult Faith •
• The Mystical Way In Everyday Life •
• Racial Justice and the Catholic Church •
• Let the Great World Spin •
• The Priesthood Of the Faithful •
• Living With Wisdom •
• Where the Pure Water Flows •
• LITURGY WITH STYLE AND GRACE •
• Best Advice For Preaching •
• We Speak the Word Of the Lord •
• KINGDOM, GRACE, JUDGEMENT... •
• Great World Religions: Islam •
• FULFILLED IN OUR HEARING: HISTORY AND METHOD OF CHRISTIAN PREACHING. •
• PARABLES FOR PREACHERS - YEAR C •
• Of Books and Preparation •
• After Sunday: A Theology of Work •
• A Captive Voice: The Liberation of Preaching •
• GOSPEL LIGHT: JESUS STORIES FOR SPIRITUAL CONSCIOUSNESS •
• Written Text Becomes Living Word... •
• Voicing the Vision: Imagination & Prophetic Preaching •
• The Death of Innocents •


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