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).
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 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.
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.