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.
In Gathercole’s essay: What did the First Christian Think about Jesus? the author describes the likely Christology of early believers so as to show that the facts do not point a Jesus that gradually becomes God. Gathercole does so by contrasting the thought of Bart Ehrman, a novelist purporting Jesus as an “ugly duckling” arriving at divinity during different stages of his life, i.e. at birth in Luke and Matthew and the baptism in Mark. One of the responses is the “I have come” statements made by Christ which imply Jesus as pre-existing then come into the world to accomplish his mission. During the Tunnel Period, Erhman claims to have found a pre-literary formula or creed in Rom 1:3-4 which seems to imply Jesus being adopted at Son of God at the Resurrection. This claim is addressed as wildly speculative by Gathercole on many levels. Finally in the exaltation understanding of Jesus glorified, Gathercole highlights the different characteristics and actions of Jesus during his earthy mission and glorification in order to show where the adoptionists go wrong in their line of thought, namely seeing this transition as the moment Christ became God, which he posits, was not the orthodox position of early Christians.
I enjoyed the article however the author does assume the reader have an advanced understanding of theology, scripture and logic. I found myself re-reading sections just to understand his arguments. I did agree with his positions and especially enjoyed his reflection on Jesus’ exalted and earthly characteristics as a pitfall for some adoptionists who view this as the moment of divinization for Jesus. The work was a great counter argument and debunking of the claims of Ehrman positing the Jesus became God gradually in the thoughts of early Christians.
In this chapter, Ratzinger provides an excellent summary of scholarly thought on the events of the Last Supper. He harnesses the historical-critical method with finesse – deftly avoiding becoming bogged down in boring detail, and instead focusing on becoming more closely acquainted with the person of Jesus.
First, our Pope emeritus asks whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal, and gives a convincing “no”. He goes to lengths to show that John’s chronology, which places the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, is chronologically true to history, unlike the Synoptics. The Last Supper couldn’t have been a normal Passover meal, as it didn’t occur on Passover!
Benedict turns next to look at the words of institution. Words, he says, that militate against an image of “friendly Jewish rabbi” or “political revolutionary”. Rather, they include an anticipation of the cross and resurrection, of His death for the expiation of our sins. All Passover celebrations, all sacrificial lambs point to Him, and Benedict shows a beautiful sense of continuity in the relationship of God with His people before and after the events of Holy Week. In response to our sin Jesus gives himself freely, and the reality of evil is overcome, not ignored.
Benedict goes on to touch on many important nuances, like the “for all/for many” change we’ve seen in the new translation, and what the “this” of “do this in memory of me” refers to (more than the words of consecration, but not a whole Passover meal). Finally, he concludes with a section that deals with the importance of both the cross and the resurrection for our liturgy. All is useful knowledge for seminarian debates – and of course, for good liturgy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.” 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.
 Pope Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, 71.
In chapter 2 of Pope Benedict XIV’s Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict talks of the temptations that Jesus face and how they correspond with our own faith. He tells us how at the heart of it all, the concept of placing God as secondary in our lives is the central point of these and all temptations. He then goes on, telling how in the first temptation, the turning of stone into bread, is done in both the multiplication of loaves and the Last Supper because of the belief of the people who pined for God. He then discusses the importance of proper Scriptural interpretation via the second temptation, telling how misinterpretation of the Scripture misinterprets who God is, thus pushing him aside. Finally, by way of the last temptation, we see how all that the devil offers, no matter how glamorous it may be, it will fade away, as all earthly things do, and that the only thing that will last is the heavenly kingdom. I found it to be a fantastic read. Never before had I considered the premises that the temptations Jesus encountered could have so much meaning globally; rather, I had seen them being each person’s own struggle with faith. Yet, Pope Benedict XVI show they are both at the same. If you have the chance, I recommend that you read it too.