We're having a national conversation about Jesus, thanks to a few books and a movie. One of the books is Richard Fox's Jesus in America: A History (HarperSanFrancisco). The movie, of course, is The Passion of the Christ. This conversation is a good thing—much better than talk about exactly what got exposed at the last Super Bowl.

Unfortunately, some pundits wax eloquent about this director's or that writer's interpretation of Jesus, whether it makes sense to moderns or brings much solace.

But the biblical Jesus sometimes made little sense to those in his day and didn't always leave people uplifted. In the Gospel of Mark alone, for example, we find a Jesus who speaks openly of a Last Judgment that entails the rejection of many people. He also speaks of a sin that God will never forgive (3:29), of horrific consequences for misleading children (9:42), and of God being ashamed of, or even severely displeased with, some at the judgment (8:38, 13:36).

This Jesus rebukes Peter as being in league with Satan (8:33); he is "indignant" with the disciples (10:13-14); he says the Sadducees are biblically and spiritually ignorant (12:24); and he describes his entire generation as "faithless."

He says that following him will entail suffering and death (9:35-37; 9:43-50). The end times, he says, will come sooner than anyone thinks and will be so severe that even the faithful will beg for death (12:5-37).

His teachings and miracles elicit not love and peace but shock and awe. Onlookers are "amazed" at his first healing (1:27), "overcome with amazement" after he raises the dead girl (5:42), alternately "amazed" and "astonished" at his teaching on wealth.

Even worse, the disciples are frightened after Jesus stills the storm (4:35-41) and "terrified" ...

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