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Chapter 10 – Jesus Declares His Identity

In Chapter Ten of Jesus of Nazareth, Ratzinger examines how Christ Himself understood His own identity using as a starting point the titles that Jesus applied to Himself in the Gospels. The first such title is “Son of Man” and the second is “Son.” The Son of Man is the title Christ most uses to refer to Himself, a title applied exclusively to Him. Through this declaration, Christ no longer remains one individual, but rather “makes all of us one single person with Himself, a new humanity.” The title “Son of God” was a political title of the day, but Christ destroys that connection and reestablishes the title as one of special relationship with God the Father. The level of knowledge the Son has of the Father demonstrates their level of equality with each other. Ratzinger closes out the chapter with an examination of the many “I AM” statements found in the Gospels, noting that all of the terms that follow it receive their full meaning in Jesus.

 

I felt Ratzinger provided thoughtful insights into each of the declarations that Christ makes about His own identity. Linking the titles found in the Gospel to their connections in the Old Testament help aid in the understanding of Christ as the fulfillment of the prophecy, as the fullness of divine revelation.

THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

THE GOSPEL OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD

The chapter talks about the distinction between the kingdom of God and that of men. The understanding of the phrase ‘gospel of the kingdom’ and references to the ‘the kingdom of God and ‘the kingdom of heaven’ are often in connection with the Lord Jesus and his works of redemption. The word gospel simply denotes ‘good news’ and the term ‘kingdom’ is the Greek word for basileia, meaning the realm in which a sovereign king rules. At the beginning of Christ earthly ministry, he preached that the kingdom of God is near (Matt. 4:17). his incarnation becomes the fulfillment in time and the establishment of the kingdom of God. We can possibly find out from the text that the word kingdom as used in the New Testament always refers to the reign of Christ in the hearts of those who believe and as we learn, christ’s kingdom is not of this world (Jn. 18:36). The good news of the kingdom means therefore, the proclamation of the message of repentance, redemption and restoration offered by God to all who welcomes Christ. This good news when received brings freedom from our slavery to sin and leads one to eternal salvation. Christ as the word made flesh is both embodiment of the good news of salvation which ultimately when accepted leads one to the kingdom of God which Christ represents and is the prince of the kingdom.

Galilean Judiasm – Was Jesus a Jew?

The question of whether or not Jesus was a Jew is certainly relevant to understanding His words and actions. The author in this article attempts to look at whether or not Galilee was Jewish in order to determine if it is proper for us to describe Jesus as a follower of Judaism, that is, a “Jew”. The author looks at the historical evidence of 1st Century Galilee and concludes that there is quite a bit of archeological evidence which suggests that the inhabitants of Galilee were practicing Jews. Stone vessels for the practice of ritual purity, evidence of burial practices, and bones found without pork (adherence to dietary laws) are just some of the examples the author references. The author also proposes that the inhabitants of Galilee were familiar with and loyal to the Torah, saying that we need not look further than Jesus’ own knowledge of the Torah in order to prove this. How would Jesus know the Torah as well as He did if children of Galilee were not being taught it and people of Galilee were not practicing it?

The author entertains the possibility that Galilee was more of a Hellenized area but quickly disparages this idea. He points out that Galilee was relatively close to a few small “Hellenized” cities but that there is not enough evidence to prove that Galilee itself was not Jewish. Finally, the author looks at the historical evidence of Synagogues in Galilee. He points out that the historical evidence suggests that Jews in Galilee were meeting to hear the Torah and to pray, but the archeological evidence is not clear what sort of special building if any was being used. The author does seem to believe that Galilee was in fact “Jewish” and that Jesus was a Jew.

There are a few critiques that I have about this article. First, the article has an unbelievable amount of footnotes which makes reading it very difficult. Second, the author includes a section about Pharisees in Galilee and I just don’t believe that it is necessary to do so based upon all the other evidence that he points out in the rest of the article.   

Chapter Six: The Disciples

           In chapter 6 of Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI discusses “The Disciples.” This chapter provides a review of the most important texts that discuss the call and mission of the community of Christ’s closest associates.

            The Holy Father begins by emphasizing this call as the fruit of prayerful intimacy of Christ with the Father, in stark contrast to the hiring of employees for a particular task. Regarding the call of the Twelve, Benedict studies the language used by Christ and finds allusions to Old Testament texts that disclose the apostolic mission as both priestly and prophetic.

            The Apostles are given what Benedict calls a double assignment – to be with Jesus, so as to be prepared to preach and call others to Him. “The Apostles have to learn to be with him in a way that enables them, even when they go to the ends of the earth, to be with him still.” This apostolic mission involves a struggle with evil, which involves the use of reason that exorcises and liberates those held captive.

            After discussing the particular call of the Twelve, he turns to consideration of the second group of seventy disciples. Drawing upon Old Testament texts, he explains, “seventy was considered to be the number of the nations of the world.”  Thus, while the Twelve Apostles represent the restoration of the tribes of Israel, the seventy represent the universal nature of the kingdom formed by Christ.

            As with most texts by Joseph Ratzinger, I found this selection to be both clear and inspiring, leaving the reader intellectually and spiritually nourished.

Gospel

Whether it is a movie or a book, you take the time to find out what exactly it is you will be reading or watching. One of the most frequent questions we ask beforehand is, “what is it about?” In doing this we are basically asking for the genre. In this brief article, scholars have investigated what exactly a gospel is and what the four canonical Gospels aim to achieve in their own literary style. The many theories can be summed up into two categories, analogical (the gospels were written following the style of other documents of the time), and derivational (the gospels are a totally new and distinct literary style). With this in mind, I invite you to read this article and come up with your own opinion based on the research shared by Judith A. Diehl.   

Jesus of Nazareth – Chapter 9

           Pope Benedict had some very interesting points of reflection in this chapter. The first half of the chapter he puts the main focus on Peter and his confession to Jesus. Pope Benedict points out how Peter’s reaction to Jesus after catching the abundance of fish, when told to cast out into the deep, is really man’s reaction when coming into contact with the Divine. Peter realizes that this catch of fish is miraculous and he immediately realizes that the power of God had come in contact with him, a lowly fisherman. He does not know how to act in front of the Divine so he asks Jesus to depart from his presence.

       In the second half of this chapter, Pope Benedict reflects on the Transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. He makes a beautiful comparison of Moses receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai and Jesus being the Torah.

Matthew’s world: locating the text historically and socially

In Ian Boxall’s work, Matthew’s world: locating the text historically and socially, he goes to discover the various thoughts concerning the historical atmosphere and the social setting of Matthew’s audience. Considering that theories in the realm of Sacred Scripture are just that, Boxall provides the arguments and the “evidence” that support various scholars. Some claim the question of “status” in regards to the community to which Matthew is writing; whether or not the community is within the confines of the larger Jewish community, or outside the realm, classifying them as almost “reformers” in opposition. These particular scholars, to whom Boxall refers, point to the Sacred Text in order to derive plausible evidence for, let’s say, the “hostility” of the Blessed Lord toward the Pharisees. Conclusions, such as this, lead the reader to think that Matthew is “crafting” his work to fit the experience of these “outcast” Jews.

            I found the article rather static in it’s approach to the Gospel of Matthew. It seemed to place a excessive focus on the questions of time and place, but seemingly not taking into account that, as Hebrews 4:12 states, “the word of God is living and effective” today! (RSV) Are we seeking to be kerygmatic, or in our endeavors in academia, do we end up divesting the scriptures to the bare historical context, by which we begin to read the words on the page as a mere “letter” to first century Palestinians? Yes, the text was written at a particular time in a specific place, however Matthew’s Gospel is the proclaimed Word of God. What did the Word speak to them? What does the Word speak to us? That’s the question.

Parables of Jesus

Chapter 7 of Ratzinger’s Jesus of Nazareth highlights the timeless and multilayered nature of Jesus’ parables.  The depth of meaning in each parable is often elusive and cannot be definitively commented upon by any one method of biblical exegesis.  Many scholars have attempted to produce a definitive formula for reading Jesus’ parables, but the depth and multiplicity of senses in the parables continually breaks any artificial mold.  Ratzinger claims that the central purpose of the parables was to open up listeners to a “hidden and multilayered invitation to faith in Jesus as the ‘Kingdom of God in person.’”

 I enjoyed this chapter because Ratzinger successfully debunks several attempts among scholars to reduce Jesus’ parables to a one dimensional, innocuous interpretation.  He does this by revealing several dimensions of meaning found in the three parables in Luke.  First, he shows the complexity of the characters in each parable and what can be learned from each character.  Secondly, he demonstrates how each parable challenges and calls to conversion both his contemporaries as well as modern readers today.  Finally, he shows how purposefully Jesus transforms Jewish images and motifs to draw his hearers into an encounter with Him as the fulfillment of what they believe. Ratzinger’s exegesis demonstrates how Jesus’ parables prevent a reductionist approach because they all point to the mystery of Himself as their primary lesson.

Characters and Places in Matthew’s Story

            Seeing the Gospel of Matthew as narrative requires an understanding of the effects of setting and characters, starting from the ever-present main character, God, to the crowds and minor characters whose main significance is their interaction with the main protagonist who is Jesus Christ. Noteworthy, just as Jesus has two natures, so does his story. Looking at the supernatural elements of the Gospel of Matthew, Satan enters in order to tempt Jesus while the angels deliver messages throughout the stories from his birth to the Resurrection. Then, looking at the natural world, the political and religious leaders acted as mirror images of Satan with their collective evil as they accused Jesus of blasphemy and murdered other characters involved with Jesus’ mission, including John the Baptist and the holy innocents. The disciples, on the other hand, worked as extensions of Jesus’ mission as they preached and enjoyed the authority given to them, though they often struggled with their faith. Even the places where all this action took place connects the reader to a better understanding of Jesus’ mission, particularly the references to the stormy sea where the reader can notice how symbolically the sea represents chaos, and the shore is where we find peace, receiving the Word of the Lord.

            This selection brought to me a whole new light with which to read and understand the Gospel of Matthew, seeing how the characters work as literary tools telling the story of salvation. I can better see how the stories come together in order to communicate the faith and how we as readers may respond.  

The Sermon on the Mount (Benedict XVI, Chapter 4)

Great stories stay with people, and some may even find their way deep into the hearts of the hearers. The fifth chapter in the Gospel of Matthew focuses on the freedom and happiness found in living out the Beatitudes. Jesus teaches the very truths of discipleship that fulfill the precepts of the Old Testament as well as the longings of the human heart. This great teaching is known as the Sermon on the Mount.

There is a close connection between the Old Testament and the person of Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew. Here, He portrays Jesus as the New Moses, the intimate intermediary between God and His people, who speaks directly with God and for God. The mountain, like Mount Sinai, is the very place for encounter and union with the Father. The place of Christ’s personal prayer becomes the pulpit for this great teaching.

Even more wonderful, the prayer of Jesus before the Father involves each of us, for all of humanity is held within the heart of Christ. Pope Benedict writes, “The individual Beatitudes are the fruit of this looking upon the disciples… They are poor, hungry, weeping men; they are hated and persecuted.”[1] And this brings every Christian closer to Christ, for He becomes poor and persecuted. In this way, the Beatitudes allow mankind to see things through the eyes of God, who teaches that love is not self-seeking; but rather, it is an emptying and exodus out of oneself.

Although I found Pope Benedict’s presentation of the Beatitudes unsystematic, he does show how each one is interconnected with the other. They all converge in Christ. The kind of love called for in the Sermon on the Mount is costly, because it is the Cross of Jesus. It seems to me that such an astonishing lesson awakens the stubborn heart to its deepest desire, namely Christ Himself.    

[1] Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, 71.