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Jesus’s Divine Impatience

There’s so many moments in Jesus’ life and teaching – his impatience, his divine impatience, his dislike of his own family which is very strong in Mark for instance, which you can feel and, of course, we understand that there may very well be a doctrinal reason for that, that is, that the, the uh, the, the people writing or using that Gospel want to separate their faith from what remains of the Jesus family back in Jerusalem.  So we can see there may be a doctrinal reason for it, but it also is completely persuasive as a human trait; that is, somebody who has, sort of, outgrown his surroundings.  It’s in a little one-horse town.  He’s outgrown it, which you see that happens to gifted people all the time.  And His family is saying to Him, “What are You doing, what is all this?”  and He’s saying, “Ay, you just don’t get it.” and that sense of Jesus in Mark saying, to everybody, “You just don’t get it!” is a, is terribly uh, inspiring, I think;  and again, combines the quality which is the one that, I think, moves us most in all of the Gospels of someone who is simultaneously, immensely sharp, not just wise, there are a lot of wise men in spiritual literature, but sharp, smart, and at the same time, strangely serene.  All of those, all of those human traits of Jesus, I think, are endlessly captivating.

The Markan Jesus is so much like all of the great charismatic, political, religious figures we know.  He has exactly that same combination of patience and impatience, of eloquence, and sudden bursts of silence, of impatient bad temper, and endless saintliness that you see in a Gandhi, or a Nelson Mandela, or Martin Luther King.  That’s what such people are like, that’s part of their charisma, that ability to be simultaneously enormously benevolent and understanding and at the same time to be tough as nails.  Look at Mandela as a, as a Jesus-like figure in that way, and Mandela is this figure of saintly suffering and he’s also this revolutionary figure who’s about as hard and tough-minded a human being as you could imagine. And the portrait of Jesus who is both in Mark, is I think, completely persuasive as a, as an almost kind of platonic, archetype of what that kind of charismatic prophet is like.

  • Adam Gopnik

    Adam Gopnik is a staff writer for The New Yorker  magazine. His recent books of essays include Paris to the Moon (2000) and Through the Children’s Gate (2006).