Fr. James Martin, S.J., is a good-natured liberal Catholic commentator whom everyone tries to like, but many find wanting after reading his work. Count me among the many. In a new piece for the Washington Post intended to explode myths of Christmas, he includes several brow-furrowers.
When trying to explain the superiority of Easter to Christmas, he concludes, “The overriding importance of Easter is simple: Anyone can be born, but not everyone can rise from the dead.” But Jesus isn’t “anyone,” He’s the Second Person of the Trinity(!). The Incarnation should hardly be given short shrift this way, especially on Christmas. Fr. Martin should have quit while he was ahead and ended this section without his gratuitous and off-putting closer.
He also includes a section on the lack of a “consensus” on the story of Jesus’ birth, claiming Luke and Matthew “differ on some significant details.” His example? “Matthew seems to describe Mary and Joseph as living in Bethlehem, fleeing to Egypt and then moving to Nazareth. The Gospel of Luke, on the other hand, has the two originally living in Nazareth, traveling to Bethlehem in time for the birth and then returning home.” That seems like a rather peevish, trivial criticism. Indeed, Fr. Martin himself concludes, “Both Gospels, though, place Jesus’s birthplace in Bethlehem.”
Likewise, in the section about whether Jesus was an “only child,” Fr. Martin claims many Catholics try to “explain away” references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters in the Gospel by “saying that these are Jesus’s friends, relatives, half-brothers or, most often, cousins” even though there is “a perfectly good word for ‘cousins’ in Greek, which Mark and Luke could have used instead of ‘adelphoi,’ meaning ‘brothers.’” This assumes that Luke and Mark would have been willing to place words, specifically Greek words, in other peoples’ mouths. Holy Land Jews of Jesus’ time most likely spoke Aramaic, which has no precise word for cousins and uses its word for “brother,” “aha,” broadly to include cousins and close relations.
It seems to me Fr. Martin has sown confusion rather than debunked myths.