By Drummey, James J.
The New American , Vol. 26, No. 24
Jesus Christ, whose birthday is celebrated throughout the world this month, has had a greater impact on human history than any person who ever lived. Though he died at the age of 33, the year in which we live is dated from his birth. Though he lived in an obscure corner of the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago, more than one billion people today call themselves followers of Christ. Though he never wrote a book, tens of thousands of books have been written about his life and teachings.
Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, a town in Roman-occupied Palestine. After a flight into Egypt to escape the murderous wrath of King Herod, Jesus returned to Palestine with Mary and Joseph and grew up in the village of Nazareth, where he worked in Joseph's carpenter shop.
At the age of 30 Jesus left Nazareth, gathered around him 12 men who became known as his apostles, and traveled throughout Palestine preaching love of God and love of neighbor and attracting followers by the thousands. He was a marvelous storyteller, illustrating his teachings with examples and parables about persons, places, and things that were familiar to his listeners. Christ's parables (e.g., The Good Samaritan, The Prodigal Son) are often cited even by non-Christians as literary and moral masterpieces for their simple yet profound messages.
The Way of the Cross
The core of Jesus' moral code was love, not only of God and neighbor, but even of enemies because "this will prove that you are sons of your heavenly Father, for his sun rises on the bad and the good." He adhered to this difficult standard himself on the cross by asking forgiveness for those who had crucified him.
Jesus urged his followers personally to help those in need--the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the imprisoned, saying that whatever they did "for one of my least brothers, you did it for me." He asked them to forgive the faults of others and laid down the Golden Rule: "Treat others the way you would have them treat you." He forbade murder and adultery, anger and hatred, and encouraged prayer and fasting and sacrifice, saying that "if a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and follow in my steps."
Thousands of people were drawn to Jesus by his tenderness and compassion for the sick and the suffering ("Come to me, all you who are weary and find life burdensome, and I will refresh you"), by his mercy and forgiveness toward sinners (When the Pharisees criticized him for associating with sinners, Jesus said, "People who are healthy do not need a doctor; sick people do"), and by his courage and fearlessness (He chased the moneychangers out of the temple and condemned the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, calling them "white-washed tombs--beautiful to look at on the outside but inside full of filth and dead men's bones").
The Pharisees, angry at Jesus' criticism of them and jealous of the crowds that followed him, sent clever men out to question Jesus while he was speaking, in the hope of tripping him up. …