J.C.'s Greatest Hits
May 14, 2011 4:52 PM   Subscribe

What are the most memorable or significant stories about Jesus?

I'm working on a play based on the gospels, and I'm trying to find out what stories about Jesus most stand out to people, and why. Excluding the nativity, crucifixion, and resurrection, which episodes of the story strike you as having special significance? I'm very much interested in the answers of both Christians and non-Christians.
posted by EarBucket to Religion & Philosophy (27 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not Christian and haven't been to church since I was seven. The only Jesus story I remember is the fishes and loaves, though that may only be because I was always hungry and antsy for lunch during sermons.
posted by phunniemee at 5:03 PM on May 14, 2011

Sermon on the Mount. Though possibly only because I'm interested in pacifism.
posted by hoyland at 5:03 PM on May 14, 2011

I like the stories where he seems especially human.
- At a party, helping the celebration continue by turning water to wine.
- Being outraged and clearing the temple of those who would turn it into a marketplace.
- Defending the imperfect, by demanding that those without sin cast the first stone.
- Doubting and being afraid at the garden of Gethsemane.
posted by Houstonian at 5:09 PM on May 14, 2011 [6 favorites]

Other than the Last Supper and crucifixion, the one story that appears in all four gospel is the feeding of the 5000. Outside of that, I'd say some of the greatest hits are: Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7), the tempting in the desert (Matt/Luke 4), the parables of Luke 15, forgiving the adultress woman (John 8), meeting the woman at the well (John 4), and calming the storm, walking on water...I forget the exact references off hand. Oh, and the baptism and the mount of transfiguration.

One note about walking on water: when it says he intended to "pass by" the disciples, that is often misread as an intention to just nonchalantly stroll past the boat. Buy the phrase alludes to when God passes by Moses on the mountain. (It's very clear in Greek.) The passage is a very interesting mini-theodicy. Notice how the disciples quickly move to worship. That story would make my top 5 list.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:20 PM on May 14, 2011 [4 favorites]

If you want to depart at all from the standard gospels, there are a number of very memorable stories about Jesus in the apocryphal gospels (and, through them, in folk culture). The Cherry Tree Carol (based on a story from the Gospel of Pseudo-Matthew, according to Cecil Sharp's notes) is a well-known example. The Bitter Withy is another good one. There's also this from one of the Grimm Bros. collections.
posted by bubukaba at 5:27 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

I liked the "cast the first stone" story, especially as it was retold in Arthur C. Clarke's The Light of Other Days through the eyes of a "time tourist." As Houstonian said, it really humanizes him:
At the center of the town there was a market square, already crowded. Suppressing a shudder, David forced himself to push through the people.

At the center of the crowd a soldier, crudely uniformed, was holding a woman by one arm. She looked wretched, her robe torn, her hair matted and filthy, her plump, once-pretty face streaked by crying. Beside her were two men in fine, clean religious garb. Perhaps they were priests, or Pharisees. They were pointing to the woman, gesticulating angrily, and arguing with a figure before them, who -- hidden by the crowd -- was squatting in the dust.

David wondered if this incident had left any trace in the Gospels. Perhaps this was the woman who had been condemned for adultery, and the Pharisees were confronting Jesus with another of their trick questions, trying to expose His blasphemy.

The man in the dust had a phalanx of friends. They were sturdy-looking men, perhaps fishermen; gently but firmly they were keeping the crushing crowds away. But still some of the people were coming near, reaching out a tentative hand to touch a robe, even stroke a lock of hair.

The man in the dust was thin, His hair severely pulled back, prematurely greying at the temples. His robe was stained with dust and trailed in the dirt. His nose was prominent, proud and Roman, His eyes black, fierce, intelligent. He seemed angry, and was drawing in the dust with one finger.

This silent, brooding man had the measure of the Pharisees, without even the need to speak.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:27 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm not Christian, but I've read the gospel and I was always intrigued by the story of Jesus cursing the fig tree. It shows a very human side of Jesus, I think. I also found the garden of Gethsemane very touching.
posted by rabbitbookworm at 5:28 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

I particularly enjoy this interpretation of the cast-the-first-stone allegory.

Examine this entire interaction in context, because it's not about a single woman. It's about what Jesus had been preaching about old Jewish law -- laws that had been on the books for hundreds of years. Jesus is arguing for a line-item veto.

The Pharisees have brought the woman to Jesus, and have explained her crime. Moreover, they explain why they've brought the woman to him.

They want to trap Jesus with his own words.

8:5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?

As in, "A-ha! We tripped you up with your own turn-the-other-cheek logic. The book says we don't do that. Whaddya say to that?"

Jesus then does something extraordinary. He very deliberately rebukes the letter of the law. Go ahead. He that is without sin. Cast the first stone.

Then, when it's all over, what does he say to the woman?

And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.

Note the last part -- Go. And sin no more.

"Lady, I'm not here to help you. I know you're an adulterer. Everybody knows it. I just think this law, this punishment, is not appropriate, and I called those knuckleheads on their bluff. This eye-for-an-eye, law of Moses shit is just that -- shit. Now, beat it. And stop fucking around on your husband."

So, the next time someone tells you that the Bible says homosexuality is an abomination, remind them of this -- Jesus himself thought some of those same laws from Leviticus were bogus, and he said so, in both word and deed.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 5:47 PM on May 14, 2011 [10 favorites]

I always liked Jesus writing in the dust (before the "cast the first stone" line,) and the line "he stinketh" from when he revived Lazarus. Teaching in the temple when he was only 12 years old is another classic hit, as is telling Peter he'll reject him three times and healing the ear of the servant of the high priest who came to arrest him. Oh, and asking the disciples why they couldn't stay awake for him. And as a girl, it was always symbolic to me that after the resurrection, he was first seen by women, rather than the (kind of obnoxious) disciples.

This is also a song that's commonly sung in Sunday Schools, which might help you with perspective stuff.

(I'm a Mormon.)
posted by SMPA at 5:51 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's worth noting that the earliest manuscripts of the gospels didn't include the cast-the-first-stone story and most of the early manuscripts that did include it marked it as being an interpolation.
posted by empath at 5:51 PM on May 14, 2011

Response by poster: Pater Aletheias, do you have a suggestion for a better verb than "pass by"? Something that more clearly communicates the sense of the Greek word?
posted by EarBucket at 5:53 PM on May 14, 2011

The listing of the beatitudes during the sermon on the mount, since it seems to sum up the Christian ethic perfectly (the social justice aspect is especially appealing).
posted by matlock expressway at 6:00 PM on May 14, 2011

I, too, like the stories where Jesus seems human. Like the water-to-wine miracle. What tickles me most about that story is that his mother put him up to it. He didn't want to do it because he didn't want to start performing miracles yet: "My time has not yet come." But she goes ahead and tells the servants to do what Jesus tells them to do. I can imagine Jesus rolling his eyes at his mother who is always cast as selfless & virginal but at that moment wanted more wine and wanted to show off her "boy."

That and the story of the tax collector (Zacchaeus) who climbed a tree just to see Jesus. Jesus called him by name and ended up having dinner at his house. Tax collectors were pretty hated at the time, so it hammered home the story that Jesus didn't care if you were popular.
posted by ladygypsy at 6:07 PM on May 14, 2011 [2 favorites]

The healing of the blind in two stages, which is only found in the gospel of Mark. I find this story interesting on a lot of levels.. from my understanding, Mark didn't feel the other apostles understood the full nature of Jesus, the story itself leaves unanswered many questions - what is the significance of what the blind man saw after the first stage? what did he see after the second stage? how can Christians relate to the blind man? Why wasn't the blind man allowed to tell anyone what he saw? In my opinion, this is all really fascinating.
posted by phaedon at 6:30 PM on May 14, 2011

Calming the Sea of Gethsemane (Mt. 4), and Luke ch. 5 where He a) calls some of the apostles, in the process causing them to have a bountiful catch of fish, & in the same chapter, His statement about forgiveness when he heals the paralyzed man.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:50 PM on May 14, 2011

Jesus and Satan on the pinnacle.
posted by hortense at 6:55 PM on May 14, 2011

The story cool papa bell is talking about probably wasn't originally in the Bible though.

However, I think that helps emphasize how memorable it is. The explanation I've heard is that it probably first appeared several centuries ago when someone transcribing the bible left it as a note in the margin, and it wasn't actually a story about Jesus, if I remember correctly. Anyway, in subsequent transcriptions off of that one, and off of those and so on, it was included as a story about Jesus. Perhaps people just found it so "meaningful" that they thought it should be kept in as a story about Jesus, and subsequently was taken as originally in the Bible. You could say it had "truthiness" as Stephen Colbert would say, only, in a less jokey way.
posted by gauchodaspampas at 6:56 PM on May 14, 2011

My favorite story isn't significant in the sense of action, but what Jesus says here (Matthew 28:20) has really stuck with me.

Matthew 28 tells the story of Jesus meeting his disciples on a mountain in Galilee after the resurrection. He gives them one last command--to go forth and establish His Church--before ascending into heaven and leaving this world.

Here is the Great Commission Jesus gives his followers, to go out into all the nations of the world and make disciples of all people:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you."

"And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

The last verse brings tears to my eyes for some reason. It's the promise of Jesus' real though invisible presence, all the time, 24/7, wherever we are... even after we die. Whoah. The concept is hard to fathom, but it's endlessly comforting.
posted by sunnychef88 at 7:51 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

The cast-the-first-stone is a big hinge in interpretation of the New Testament. When you cite the mercy towards the moral sinners here, often someone mentions something like, oh, that part is just kinda apocryphal (like anything else translated into the New Testament?), so we should just ignore it. This doesn't always imply that it might be o-kay to stone adulterers now while we're at it..
posted by ovvl at 9:31 PM on May 14, 2011

Stories about women with Jesus are ones that I remember -- the woman at the well and the woman who's healed when she touches Jesus's garment. Memorable because Sam Cooke had songs about each: Jesus Gave Me Water and Touch the Hem of his Garment.
posted by pised at 9:50 PM on May 14, 2011 [1 favorite]

Hi, EarBucket. "Passed by" is a fine translation. The reason it's clearer on Greek is that it's easy to see that it uses the same exact wording as the LXX version of the earlier story...easier to see the allusion.

Re: adultress woman/ first stone. Everyone's right that it's not on the earliest manuscripts. When it does show up, it's not even in a consistent location. Sometimes in it's current spot, John 8, but often it's in a completely different book, Luke, and where exactly it is un Luke varies. (It actually fits the Lucas emphasis on women well.) But I wouldn't say that it "wasn't originally in the Bible." The whole Bible is a collection of smaller texts borrowed, shuffled, redacted and rearranged over time, and while John 8 is a particularly interesting example, it's as much an original part if the Bible as anything else.

The last time I preached on that text I titled the sermon "A Story Worth Saving." Pretty obvious that early scribes weren't sure where to put it, but they sure as hell wanted it in there *somewhere* for future generations. You might be able to find that on iTunes under my real name...I'm not sure.

I've got an hours-old daughter to hold now, so I'll likely miss further thread developments. Please feel free to email or memail and give me an excuse to further Bible geek out if I can help in any way.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 5:33 AM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: The whole Bible is a collection of smaller texts borrowed, shuffled, redacted and rearranged over time, and while John 8 is a particularly interesting example, it's as much an original part if the Bible as anything else.

This is a great point, and very close to the heart of what I'm trying to do with the script. The text is all taken from gospels, both canonical and apocryphal, interwoven with each other. I'm trying to explore the way in which we all pull different Jesuses out of what's presented to us, and the way that the idea of a historical rabbi teaching his followers to love each other interacts with the idea of God incarnated as a human being, casting out demons and raising people from the dead.

These are great answers, all! It's been very helpful seeing various perspectives; I'm trying to celebrate the kaleidoscopic nature of Jesus's story.
posted by EarBucket at 8:20 AM on May 15, 2011

Response by poster: Pretty obvious that early scribes weren't sure where to put it, but they sure as hell wanted it in there *somewhere* for future generations.

Also, I think it's kind of hilarious that people have no problem accepting the idea that a virgin got pregnant and gave birth to God, who then died and came back from the dead, but the idea that he forgave an adulteress? That's probably not a true story. Be suspicious of it.
posted by EarBucket at 8:21 AM on May 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Also, the healing of the "leper" in Mark:

A man with a skin disease (from what I've read, likely not what we call leprosy today, but something more like eczema or psoriasis) comes to Jesus and begs to be made clean--under the Law of Moses, he's not even allowed to go into town, let alone to synagogue to interact with God.

And Jesus, for the first time, perhaps, looks into the eyes of a fellow human being and understands what it truly means to live under the Law; not the understanding of an aloof Father handing out regulations from the sky, but as a brother likewise constrained by its rigidity.

And Jesus, Mark tells us, gets angry. He reaches out, touches the man, and says "You know what? That's crap. You're not unclean. You go to the temple, and you tell them you can come in. It's cool, I know the guy who lives there."

Maybe Jesus literally cured his disease, maybe he didn't. I'm not sure it matters. In much the same way, I think, we're called to look at Christians' rejection of gays and lesbians and illegal immigrants and Muslims and atheists and all the rest as unclean (it's the Sojourner's ad all over again!) and say, with Jesus, "You know what? That's crap. Come on in."
posted by EarBucket at 8:48 AM on May 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

It's not really a Jesus miracle, but I always loved the parable of the Prodigal Son. I think it's a very nice summary of what made Christianity, and the concept of Christian love, so revolutionary.
posted by j1950 at 9:04 PM on May 15, 2011

Mary and Martha has struck me for a few reasons, over the years; the two sisters (some say they were the sisters of Lazarus) who lived together, and Jesus gave them a visit. Martha bustled around in the kitchen cleaning up and getting food together, while Mary sat and listened to Jesus talk. At some point, Martha got cheesed off that she was doing all the work, and came out and complained -- "Jesus, can you tell my lazy-ass sister to get in here and help me?" But Jesus then chided Martha, saying in essence that listening to Him was the better way to spend time, so Mary wasn't lazy and back off.

When I first heard this, I was a kid and immediately thought about how super-spotless my mother always tried to keep the house, and I considered this all to be justification for my own laxer homemaking standards (really, why do you need to iron your bedsheets?). But now I feel like Martha's kind of gotten a bad rap.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:13 AM on May 16, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so much for your answers, everybody! I've got my text into a basic framework now and I'm polishing a first draft; if there's any interest, I can share it when it's done. All your answers were really helpful in shaping the arc of the story that I found.
posted by EarBucket at 9:45 AM on May 23, 2011

« Older Owmyleg   |   condescending names Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.