A Review of “Two Milestones”

In this chapter of his book Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict attempts to present an in-depth analysis on the “Two Milestones” of Peter’s Confession and the Transfiguration. Before getting at Peter’s Confession itself, Pope Benedict looks at the question prior, “Who do people say that I am?” and the response of the apostles. Pope Benedict explains that the responses of the “people” are not necessarily false but are “inadequate”. The “people” see Jesus as a great prophet but not as the Son of God. Like “people” today, the “people” of Jesus’ time just measure Jesus up with what they already know and fail to see his uniqueness. He is not merely another prophet, who’s earthly wisdom “people” can adopt according to what they like and discard what they do not like. Immediately, Peter’s Confession of Jesus as the “Christ”, the “Messiah”, the “anointed one”, or “the Son of the living God”, depending on how it’s found in the Gospels, is in stark contrast to what the “people” have said. What did Peter mean in this confession? Some scholars like Pierre Grelot argue that Peter was misled by notions of a historical Messiah and does not really mean his confession of Jesus as the “Son of God” in the theological sense because that concept would be unknown to him. Pope Benedict counters by offering evidence that the disciples surely knew that Jesus was truly God incarnate in front of them. “At certain key moments” … (i.e. the sermon on the mount, the calming of the storm at sea, the large catch of fish) “…the disciples came to the astonishing realization: This is God himself” (304). In the next event, the Transfiguration, Peter and a couple other disciples see this in a more profound way and “personally experience the anticipation of the Parousia” (318).

Boxall: Matthews World

This article touches on several different topics including: What language did Matthew originally write in, did he write primarily for a Jewish audience, was the Christian community understood as essentially distinct from the Jewish community at the time the Gospel was written, was the author of Jewish or Gentile descent, how/why did the author have very specific knowledge of Roman language and culture, and where was the Gospel originally written.

            One consensus of the article’s different perspectives, backed by Patristic sources, is that the Gospel was not originally written in Greek, but in either Hebrew or Aramaic. Also, I agree with the more widely accepted belief that the Gospel was intended for an audience with a Jewish background (held by some of the Church Fathers), whether that is because they themselves are ethnically Jewish, or because they have a firm knowledge of the teachings of Judaism. The opinion that Matthew wrote the Gospel for a singular community (community theory) is far too narrow minded and un-probable. It seems to make more sense that Matthew surely knew of other Christian communities that were experiencing the same difficulties as the one (or ones) he was personally around, thus, he would have written the Gospel with the intention of being used by many Christian communities. Between the distinction of Jewish Christians (extra muros) or Christian Jews (intra muros) I lean towards the opinion of extra muros. Although his points on who is asking the question (e.g. a Pharisee or an Apostles) seems convincing, there does seem to be a very prevalent, essential difference between Jews and Jews who choose to follow Christ stretching throughout the Gospel (obviously not implying that Christ abolished the Law, but that He fulfills the Old Testament). Regarding the last topics, I think the best conclusion is that Matthew was a Christian of Jewish descent, who was well educated in both Jewish and Roman history and tradition, and who wrote the Gospel around the area of Syria, most likely in Antioch.

JMason – Marshall on Jesus’ prayer

Marshall claims to want to do “not simply a word-study but a study of the concept of prayer” in the gospels.

From the outset of his article Marshall assumes that St. Matthew based his writing on Mark and a Q source (which was also used by St. Luke). From this he makes a variety of suggestions about who wrote what in the gospel and whether Matthew was likely to have inserted his own thoughts about prayer into the work. He concludes the “there is…nothing in any of this to suggest an independent development of the topic of prayer in Matthew’s gospel.”

My thoughts on this initial discussion are that no serious Christian should care what Marshall concludes, since the questions he asks are at best irrelevant to the reception of the inspired text, and at worst they are destructive to the piety of the faithful and seek to cast doubt on the received tradition of the Holy Church. I don’t blame Marshall in particular for this, since it seems simply to be the stock and trade of the “Scripture scholar”. I also confess that from this point I am skeptical about the value of any conclusions which Marshall will draw since they will evidently rely on forcibly treating divine revelation as if it were the meandering thoughts of middle-eastern peasants.

The remainder of the commentary has value mostly as a catalogue. Marshall notes where prayer is mentioned and the barest details about its context. With regard to Mark 1:35 “And rising very early, going out, [Jesus] went into a desert place: and there he prayed,” Marshall notes that it suggests that Jesus got up earlier that morning than the other people…

Some of Marshall’s comments suggest that he considers the gospels to be basically inventions: “Here Jesus is portrayed,” “the actual words [are] taken from Psalm 22,” and “Jesus is depicted as…”

It seems to me that more fitting language would be: “we see Jesus,” “the gospel informs us that Jesus does,” or “Jesus quotes from Psalm 22…”

Marshall combines his confident trust in the fallibility of the gospel narrative with a confidence in his own (and his peers) interpretation of the real meaning of words and events as well as the moral import of what they contain. He knows, for example, that prayers for divine blessing are “petitions for God to do good to other people” including those who crucified Jesus (although he isn’t sure who inserted the part about Jesus praying for his persecutors into Luke’s gospel). He suggests from a reference to certain hypocritical prayers in Mark 12:40 that long prayer in general is a questionable practice. (So much for the monastic life.) In reference to a lack of distinctions made in Luke 18 he makes claims as to the worthlessness of casuistic reckonings about morality.

Marshall seems determined to read the gospels (and sections within them) in isolation from each other and from the Old Testament: He says, for instance that “there is nothing in Luke 11:5-8 that suggests that importunity, or continued and intense effort, is required for prayers to be heard by God…” and goes on to make a page of conclusions based on that understanding.

Marshall is not just confident in his interpretation of the text, but also in which parts are late scribal additions (as for instance Mark 9:28: “And he said to them: This kind can go out by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.”) It is somewhat curious, given his obvious certainty about its invalidity, that he spends a few paragraphs condemning this line as a “folk-memory” .

Marshall does not understand the perduring presence of Christ in the Eucharist, suggesting in reference to the Resurrection that Christ left his disciples from this point. He concludes based on this assumption that fasting does not have much value in relation to prayer. He also seems confused as to the implications of the Hypostatic Union (or at the least uses very imprecise language), claiming that at Gethsemane “Jesus had to be content that the Father’s will, rather than his own desires, would be fulfilled.”

In the end Marshall does draw some general points about Jesus’ prayer in contrast to traditional Jewish prayer: 1. Jesus shows, particularly in the exclusive company of his disciples, his special of relationship of Son to God the Father. 2. Jesus’ prayer revolves around the coming of the kingdom of God and its implications. 3. His prayer has to do with a transformation of the notion of the temple, the center of worship.
Marshall offers the conclusion that prayer is not solely about getting what we want or not, but that it involves coming into contact with the Divine will.

Resurrection in Jesus of Nazareth

In the chapter on the Resurrection in Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI focuses on the fact that the Resurrection is the foundation of the Christian message. It cannot be boiled down to an invention of the early Church nor is it a mystical experience of the Apostles. It is an event that is rooted in history, that is, it actually happened, yet it transcends history as we are confronted with an entirely new reality. He continues to examine this central theme through the use of two different types of testimony, the “confessional tradition” (which gives the essentials of the Easter faith in short phrases that establish the basics of what occurred) and the “narrative tradition” (which is the type of testimony used in the Gospels that gives content and shape to the faith through narrative).

The part of this chapter than I enjoyed reading the most was the section that talked about the historicity of Jesus’ Resurrection. Someone of faith can sometimes be intimidated by “scientific” arguments against the Resurrection, and this often causes doubt. It is important to know that there is plenty of evidence to the historicity of the Resurrection, and this evidence can be comforting to someone of faith who is currently questioning if what they believe was a human invention or factually based.  

Gethsemane

Gethsemane

The agony at Gethsemane is very singnificant for the salvation of humanity. It is in this moment when Jesus Christ freely accepts his Father’s will. Though, here we see, how the two natures of Jesus enter into a fight. In this chapter, Cardinal Ratzinger wants us to explore certain characteristics of the person of Jesus. 

First, Jesus experienced a deep need of prayer. As the second person of the holy Trinity, Jesus keeps communion with his Father. It is not unusual for Jesus to separate himself from the disciples to have this intimate communion with the Father. However, his need of prayer, is not only because he wanted to avoid the horrific moments that were about to happen, but this fear, also came from the human destiny that he was assuming.  Jesus freely assumes all the responsibility of human sin in order to bring humankind back into a relationship with the God.

Second, Jesus experience sorrow and distress. The agony of Jesus in the garden shows that the divinity of Christ suffers with his humanity. At first, Jesus prays “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me.” On the other hand, he prays “yet, not as I wil, but as you will.” Because of his humanity, Jesus felt tempted to avoid this moments of horror, he felt sad, and abandoned; but in his divinity God himself saved the entire humankind.

Jesus as the high priest. According to Ratzinger, by his auto-donation Jesus became the true priest. The word priest, means the one who mediates in religious service. Also it means one who is holy or set apart to perform those services. In his priesthood, Jesus is greater than any other priest because through him hour humanity is back into relationship with God the Father. He was the only one who could be the mediator between God and humankind.

I like it based on this reasons.

1- it clearly reflects both the human and divine nature of Jesus.

2- Gives a better sense of the suffering of the Cross. Without the Cross there is not resurrection.

3- The experience of the cross, shows how God brings good out of evil.

 

Chapter Seven- The Trial of Jesus

The Trial of Jesus, presented by Joseph Reisinger in his book Jesus of Nazareth, takes place in different scenarios: the first part is a meeting between Jewish leaders in Caiaphas’ house, the interrogation before the Sanhedrin, and the Trial of Jesus before Pilate. The aim of the Trail from the Sanhedrin’s standpoint is to kill Jesus and Pilate seeks to save Jesus; meanwhile, he wants social peace during the Jewish feasts. To each of the three scenarios, Ratzinger, provides reasons, misunderstandings, worries, and preferences from the Sanhedrin as well as from Pilate that led Jesus to the Cross. However, the third part, the Trial of Jesus before Pilate, has deep theological description behind the motives to what happened to Jesus. That is, Ratzinger describes the truth about Jesus’ kingship and his proclamation to be the Son of God, the two motives for Jesus’ condemnation and hidden theophanies to the eyes of Pilate and Jewish leaders. The Jewish expected the Messiah for centuries but when they had him in the fragile, tortured, and helpless person of Jesus their blindness to the truth unable them recognize him. For them, the truth is limited compared to the whole truth that is God, who is supreme and absolute truth.  Creation, for example, becomes what means to be as long as if it reflects God, the eternal Reason by which has emerged. Man, on the other hand, reaches his true nature when becomes according to God. That is, God is the measure of being for man. With it is understood that the truth is perceivable when God is known, an ability that Jewish leaders and Pilate did not possess.

 

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.

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.