Chapter 3: Bethlehem {Jesus: A Pilgrimage}


Welcome to our virtual book club! We’re reading Fr. James Martin’s bestseller, Jesus: A Pilgrimage. Each week we will tackle a chapter and look forward to a lively discussion together.

Jesus book conversation

For me, this chapter about Fr. Martin’s visit to Bethlehem was a good reminder of the importance of how Jesus came: as a human. He had a hometown, but he also had a birthplace, not so different from many of us.

God could have come to the world in any way that God desired. We may be so conditioned to the story of the birth of Jesus in humble circumstances that we forget that this was a choice. God could have come to us as a powerful ruler, born into a family of wealth and privilege. To push the theological envelope further, God could have come as a disembodied voice speaking from the heavens.

But God wanted to meet us where we are. So God came, first of all, as a human being, as something—someone—other men and women could approach. God is not only a flaming bush, a pillar of fire, or even a mysterious cloud, as God is described in various places in the Old Testament. God is one of us.

Second, God came in the least threatening of human states: a baby. God entered our world screaming and crying, dependent on someone to change him, feed him, nurse him, and care for his bodily needs. God came helplessly into the world to help us.

Finally, Jesus came from a remarkable background. The Son of God was nothing special by outward appearance or by human standards. One might be awed by a great ruler or a learned scholar, but not by a simple craftsman. When Jesus began preaching, people in his hometown said, “Is this not the carpenter?” In other words, “Who, him?”

God comes to the world as a human being, at the risk of confusing Mary and Joseph, so that the rest of us will not be confused. Confused about God? Look at Jesus. See what he does. Listen to his words.

When’s the last time I did really stop and listen to Jesus’ words? How have I taken this story—so familiar, like a well-worn pair of jeans—for granted? What makes it new, gets my attention, makes me consider it as the remarkable thing it is?

God meets me where I am all. the. time. As I struggle with my vocation as mother, as I juggle different responsibilities, as I wonder why I bother…there’s God. Meeting me in the moment of frustration, in the triumph of success, in the sorrow of loss. Whether it’s the large hurdle of lifetime changes or the equally challenging barricade of my own hang-ups and sinfulness, there’s God. Right beside me. Often carrying me.

I didn’t always see him. (I still don’t.) He’s a gentleman and quite content to not get the credit for all he does for me. And yet, I can look back over the years and see evidence of him. In that Mass where I first realized the pain I was carrying and it started seeping out of me in a mess of tears and snot and sobbing. In that moment, holding my first child, when I had a sense of how very much I must be loved. In the confessional, realizing that what I was dealing with was bigger than my very strong will.

For humility is the gateway to faith. Without it, we rely simply on our own efforts, without recognizing our dependence on God. Without it, we rely simply on our own reason, without opening ourselves up to the possibility of the miraculous. Without it, we cannot fully enter into the world that God has in store for us.

He doesn’t meet us empty-handed. Like the gentleman he is, he comes with flowers: grace and blessings galore, though sometimes they’re a bit different than the bouquet we had picked out for ourselves.

I look at the life I have, and I smile. Just like the baby in the manger, the unlikely King with a manger for a bed, my life is far different than what I had planned. And, in being different, it’s far better.

To Ponder, Reflect, and Discuss:

  1. When has God met you where you are? Take a few moments and journal about that experience and reflect on how it’s impacting you now.
  2. How have you grown in humility? What’s one thing you can do in the coming weeks to reach out and accept God’s help to grow in humility?
  3. What’s an obstacle blocking your growth in holiness? Take it to baby Jesus. Ask him to help you to be humble and accept help for that obstacle.

Feel free to comment on your own thoughts from this week’s reading, your impressions and reflections, and/or your answers to these questions.

Next week, we’ll cover Chapter 4: Nazareth. For the complete reading schedule and information about our Book Club, visit the Jesus Book Club page.

Copyright 2014 Sarah Reinhard


About Author

When she’s not chasing kids, chugging coffee, or juggling work, Sarah Reinhard’s usually trying to stay up read just one…more…chapter. She writes and works in the midst of rural farm life with little ones underfoot. She is part of the team for the award-winning Catholic Mom’s Prayer Companion, as well as the author of a number of books. You can join her for a weekday take on Catholic life by subscribing to Triple Take, from Our Sunday Visitor.


  1. Sandi Belleque on

    One thing I wish the book had was a map that you could follow as Fr. Martin talks about the cities.

    Great reflection questions. Wow they hit home this week. I have a hard time letting go of control. Need to pray for humility. Thanks.

    • I would have liked a map too….I think Fr. Martin. Indicated one would be included In future printings…

  2. Sandi, Jim has two useful maps at the opening pages. Great questions for us all. I’m imagining the effect if I can ask others’ forgiveness for our trespasses. We began a parish book club this past Saturday here on the Cape; great response to Jim’s work all around the table. Thanks for doing this virtual club.

    • Sandi Belleque on

      Oh my word. I was so absorbed with reading a chapter at a time and following the discussion that I didn’t even see them. Geez. Embarrassed!

  3. Beautiful reflection.
    We always recognize God’s presence in the past because we cannot see God’s face. So it might be a second ago or a week ago or 20 years ago when we see God’s presence in our life. That’s why it’s a good idea to look back from time to time. And even do a spiritual autobiography.
    God often humbles me. Every time I forget to let go and trust! Which is too often.

  4. One of the best definitions of humility I’ve ever encountered is that God is the author of all good. All good comes from him, not us. He is the source and the summit, as we describe the Eucharist. He is the Creator, we are the creature. We very often get that turned around.

  5. Wow, I need to read this book! But life is getting crazy, so I may just end up relying on your good reflections here!

    I remember distinctly going through a period in my life where I really struggled with the idea of being normal and with being human–I wanted (and still often want) so much to stand out and felt a need to ignore those things that were truly essential to the human experience to which God calls us but for some reason don’t seem holy or God-like. *sigh* It’s always a good reminder that Jesus was content for at least 30 years to remain looking just like any other face in the crowd, and after that, he never forced his “fame.” He just did what he was supposed to do.

    • Brittany, read Father Martins book “Becoming Who You Are: Insights on the True Self from Thomas Merton and Other Saints” it is wonderful. Actually, anything he has written is a “learning” experience.

  6. I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for most of my life and while it is a truly painful experience, I find each time I’ve gone through a particularly low time, I end up with new and powerful insights and greater compassion for those around me. It didn’t take me long to realize that this was clearly God’s way of helping me through these tough times and now when I feel a strong depression or anxiety attack come at me, I remind myself that I’m not alone and that God is watching and will help me find my way through. And the only way I can do this is through humility.

  7. I believe that I have grown in humility through experiencing the hardships of life. After suffering emotional pain from a dark time in my life (i.e. betrayal), I become confused and very hurt, and eventually learn that no matter how hard I try to control it or reverse it, I cannot. It is at this point in my life that I try let go of it all and let God in. I leave it all in God’s hands. I see life through a different lens now. I am not so quick to react when mind boggling situations arise but I try to “listen, trust, and love” as Fr. Jim so eloquently described Mary and Joseph’s three essential things in Chapter 3.

  8. My struggles with humility and my growth are fully intertwined. I want to be right with God, with myself, and with others so badly that I keep trying to do it on my own. Most recently, my job and career are the key stumbling areas. I am in a situation with a bit of uncertainty regarding the future due to a change in roles. I have had to learn a lot and try to gain expertise but am a long ways from being the expert the role requires; thus, I am concerned about my future with the company. Instead of working hard and letting God take care of the rest, my tendency is to attempt to control the situation. I need to be more humble and accept that God will be with my family and me no matter what happens. Jesus suffered (the stable was unlikely a comfortable nursery). He will be with us if we suffer. He has been in the past when a terrible betrayal nearly broke me.

    One comment on the chapter: Fr. Martin, it is too bad that you found the Church of the Nativity to not be spiritually uplifting. My experience there was incredibly uplifting. The pilgrimage group I was with was there in January 2005 during the election of Mahmoud Abbas as the president of the Palestinian Authority. As a gesture of good will during the election, the Israeli government reduced travel restrictions and many Palestinian Christians were at the church the same day we were. It was a pleasure to hear the laughter and joy of Christian children who grew up less than 50 miles away within the church; to me it felt more like an active parish than almost any other church we visited in the Holy Land.

  9. God meets us where we are. Those words are so refreshing, full of Love and compassion.
    I recall a conversation I was having with my daughter. She recalled a previous conversation we had that was important to her and part of who she is. In which is against what I believe and practice in my faith so my reply was I believed it could only be phase she is going through. She then said that hurt me mom why couldn’t you just of left it alone rather try to make up an excuse for it. Instead of me telling her I’m sorry I hurt you. I told her I hear what you are saying BUT it’s not something I believe is ok and practice. Right then my son jumped into the conversation and said; mom why can’t you just say sorry I hurt you. She’s not asking you to agree with her, you had to say BUT again! Why can’t you just acknowledge you hurt her and say sorry? Jesus came and died for us and He accepts us and meets us where we are. He doesn’t question us why we did this or that. He says you are forgiven with this Raw Love, no questions asked He takes us in. Why can’t you accept the way you answered her was wrong because you hurt her.
    That was a very humbling moment. I looked over to my daughter and said; I’m sorry I hurt you, I love you with all my heart and gave her a kiss and a hug. She accepted and said I understand why you did what you did.

    The way Jesus meets us where we are, we too should prepare to meet others where they are in order to bring that same love and compassion to them.

  10. Ruth Hoerig on

    My best recollection of God meeting me where I am came during a Jesuit directed retreat in 2009. I came to grips with “Who I am” in the eyes of God – no more, no less. I was so overwhelmed by the fact that God actually loved me AS I AM, that I’ve been enabled to accept and love myself as I am; there is no need to pretend I’m better than I am. My retreat director added these words which has made all the difference for me: “Trust in the truth of who you are, no matter how beautiful it may be.”

    One of the best definitions of humility I’ve ever heard is this: “Humility does not mean to think less of yourself – but rather to think of yourself less.” Knowing who I am helps me to be humble – knowing that I am God’s creature; everything I have and have become has been entrusted to me by God. That’s the perspective that keeps reminding me that everything is gift.

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