WHO IS JESUS? Many modern scholars have tried to reinterpret him as a myth, a political revolutionary, a prophet whose teaching was distorted by his followers. In short, anything other than the traditional Christian understanding of him as the Messiah, the Son of God.
But Jesus of Nazareth truly is the Son of God, insists Benedict XVI. His theological studies, over many decades, have led this eminent scholar to conclude that proper historical scholarship certainly cannot disprove the Christian claim of Christs divinity.
Indeed, Benedict maintains that the evidence, fairly considered, brings us face-to-face with the challenge of Jesus - a real man who taught and acted with claims of divine authority, claims not so easily dismissed.
Benedict XVI presents this challenge in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth - Holy Week, the sequel to his widely acclaimed first volume which attracted praise from Catholic and non-Catholic Christians alike.
- Why was Jesus rejected by the religious leaders of his day?
- Who was responsible for his death?
- Did he establish a Church to carry on his work?
- How did Jesus view his suffering and death?
- How should we?
- And, most importantly, did Jesus really rise from the dead and what does his resurrection mean?
Pope Benedict XVI - Joseph Ratzinger
Pope Benedict XVI (Latin: Benedictus PP. XVI; Italian: Benedetto XVI; German: Benedikt XVI.; born Joseph Alois Ratzinger on 16 April 1927) is the 265th and reigning Pope, by virtue of his office of Bishop of Rome, the head of the Roman Catholic Church and, as such, Sovereign of the Vatican City State. He was elected on 19 April 2005 in a papal conclave, celebrated his Papal Inauguration Mass on 24 April 2005, and took possession of his cathedral, the Basilica of St. John Lateran, on 7 May 2005. Pope Benedict XVI has both German and Vatican citizenship. He succeeded Pope John Paul II. Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was for over two decades The Prefect for the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope John Paul II. He is the author of Spirit of the Liturgy, Salt of the Earth, Introduction to Christianity, God and the World, Milestones, Called to Communion, God Is Near Us.
In this masterful interweaving of history and theology, Pope Benedict takes us to the heart of the Holy Week story. He reveals how the truth about Jesus is best grasped, not by minimalist scholarly reconstructions, but by profound meditation upon the Christ of the Gospels. A whole Lenten retreat in one volume.
- Ian Boxall, St Stephens House, Oxford
"This second volume of Pope Benedicts search for the face of the Lord draws us ever deeper into the mysteries of Jesuss mission and life. At its heart glows a powerful meditation on the prayer of Jesus that draws into the mission of Christ the Saviour, and yet also toward the Saviour who lives among us still."
- Lewis Ayres, Bede Professor of Catholic Theology at Durham University
"Benedict XVI writes with the deft touch of a mature scholar and an experienced teacher. He explains his often brilliant insights with simple clarity and the masterly phrase which enlightens and convinces. His purpose is to give a reading which leads to a personal encounter with Christ. It is not just a historical study, but builds on the historico-critical method to arrive at a faith-hermeneutic. It does, of course, discuss historical problems, but the Popes primary aim is listening with Jesus disciples across the ages. It is a reading of the gospel not by a historian but by a historically alert theologian, writing from within the Church."
- Dom Henry Wansbrough, O.S.B., Ampleforth Abbey, Chairman of the Trustees of the Catholic Biblical Association
"This book takes the tools of historians and literary critics and puts them at the service of the Fathers and doctors of the Church. More widely, it puts those tools at the service of the faith of the Church - which is how Benedict is able to generate insights of his own that are, at times, almost heart-stoppingly moving."
- Aidan Nichols, O.P.
"This theological masterpiece courageously confronts head-on two centuries of historical exegesis and establishes a fresh way of reading the Gospels as both biography and theology in a coherent way. The author explains, I set out to discover the real Jesus, on the basis of whom something like a Christology from below would then become possible. The quest for the historical Jesus, as conducted in mainstream critical exegesis in accordance with its hermeneutical presuppositions, lacks sufficient content to exert any significant historical impact. It is focused too much on the past for it to make possible a personal relationship with Jesus.
"Here we find a compelling model for the presentation of the life of holy rabbi, Hillel or Aqiba, in the same context as we account for the life of Jesus."
- Jacob Neusner, Distinguished Service Professor of the History and Theology of Judaism; Senior Fellow, Institute of Advanced Theology, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, N.Y.
"On the Day of Pentecost, Peter sought to explain to the assembled multitude what God had done through Jesus of Nazareth, crucified and risen. Peters successor, Benedict XVI, here undertakes the same urgent task, in fruitful dialogue with the historical-critical biblical scholarship that dominates contemporary academic study of Jesus. Charting the path of the new evangelization, Pope Benedict XVI uncovers for us the living source of Peters evangelizing mission: Jesus, in whom God gives hope to the world."
- Matthew Levering, Ph.D., Co-Editor, Nova et Vetera, and Co-Director, Center for Catholic-Evangelical Dialogue
"The Jesus of Nazareth project will be Pope Benedicts great legacy, just as the Theology of the Body has become the Venerable Pope John Pauls. In this second volume he accomplishes many remarkable things, among them a positive and substantive contribution to the centuries-long Christian dialogue about expiation and atonement. This will be of great value to those who want to understand and share with others how our salvation is accomplished by Jesus passion, death and resurrection. In particular, Benedict shows how the institution of the Eucharist on Holy Thursday is what transformed Jesus death on Good Friday from being a Roman execution into the supreme sacrifice of Gods redemptive love. Benedicts writing is a feast for the soul that deserves to be read and savored.
- Scott Hahn, Ph.D., Founder and Director of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology
"Working from Scripture, the Church Fathers and contemporary scholarship, Benedict XVI deftly brings together the historical and theological dimensions of the gospel portraits of Jesus. This is a splendid, penetrating study of the central figure of Christian faith; a learned and spiritual illumination not only of who Jesus was, but who he is for us today."
- Charles J. Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., Archbishop of Denver
"What better guide could you find than Benedict XVI to lead you on the bracing adventure of exploring the historical Jesus and discovering, under the tutelage this most sage successor to Peter, the inner meaning of Jesus death and resurrection. Faith and reason are the two wings Benedict XVI takes up to lead us to astonishingly fresh spiritual perspectives and dizzying heights. This book often takes ones breath away, while infusing in the reader the God-breathed Word, which is the Gospel."
- Tim Gray, Ph.D., President , Augustine Institute, Denver, Colorado
"In his new book, Joseph Ratzinger - the professor who is now Pope - leads us to the Heart of Jesus, the
Pierced One, in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Here is the spiritual reading we need if we are to participate intelligently and prayerfully in the sacred liturgy of the Easter Triduum."
- Fr. John Saward, Oxford University
"As in his first volume of Jesus of Nazareth, so, once again, in his second volume, Pope Benedict XVI has authored a marvelous book, this time on the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. What makes this study so attractive is the depth of its biblical insight, its attention to historical issues, its keen theological acumen, and its lucid and precise expression. Moreover, as with the first volume, it is written in a serene and prayerful manner - a serenity and a prayerfulness that is conveyed to the heart and mind of the reader. This book fulfills Pope Benedicts ardent desire - that it would be helpful to all readers who seek to encounter Jesus and to believe in him. "
- Thomas G. Weinandy, O.F.M., Cap., Executive Director for the Secretariat for Doctrine, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
- THE MYSTERY OF THE BETRAYER
The account of the washing of the feet presents us with two different human responses to this gift, exemplified by Judas and Peter. Immediately after the exhortation to follow his example, Jesus begins to speak of Judas. John tells us in this regard that Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified: 'Truly, truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me' (13:21).
John speaks three times of Jesus being 'troubled': beside the grave of Lazarus (11:33, 38), on 'Palm Sunday' after the saying about the dying grain of wheat in a scene reminiscent of Gethsemane (12:24, 27), and finally here.
These are moments when Jesus encounters the majesty of death and rubs against the might of darkness, which it is his task to wrestle with and overcome. We shall return to this 'troubling' of Jesus spirit when we consider the night spent on the Mount of Olives.
Let us return to our text. Understandably, the prophecy of the betrayal produces agitation and curiosity among the disciples. 'One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved, was lying close to the breast of Jesus: so Simon Peter beckoned to him and said, Tell us who it is of whom he speaks. So lying thus, close to the breast of Jesus, he said to him: Lord, who is it? Jesus answered: It is he to whom I shall give this morsel when I have dipped it ' (13:23, 26).
In order to understand this text, it should be noted first of all that reclining at table was prescribed for the
Passover meal. Charles K. Barrett explains the verse just quoted as follows: 'Persons taking part in a meal reclined on the left side; the left arm was used to support the body, the right was free for use. The disciple to the right of Jesus would thus find his head immediately in front of Jesus and might accordingly be said to lie in his bosom. Evidently he would be in a position to speak intimately with Jesus, but his was not the place of greatest honor; this was to the left of the host. The place occupied by the beloved disciple was nevertheless the place of a trusted friend';
Barrett then makes reference to a passage from Pliny (The Gospel according to Saint John, p. 446). Jesus answer, as given here, is quite unambiguous. Yet the evangelist says that the disciples still did not understand whom he meant. So we must assume that John retrospectively attributed a clarity to the Lords answer that it lacked at the time for those present. John 13:18 brings us onto the right track. Here Jesus says, 'The Scripture must be fulfilled: He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me ' (cf. Ps 41:9; Ps 55:13). This is Jesus classic way of speaking: he alludes to his destiny using words from Scripture, thereby locating it directly within Gods logic, within the logic of salvation history.
At a later stage, these words become fully transparent; it is seen that Scripture really does describe the path he is to tread, but for now the enigma remains. All that can be deduced at this point is that one of those at table will betray Jesus; it is clear that the Lord will have to endure to the end and to the last detail the suffering of the just, for which the Psalms in particular provide many different expressions.
Jesus must experience the incomprehension and the infidelity even of those within his innermost circle of friends and, in this way, 'fulfill the Scripture'. He is revealed as the true subject of the Psalms, the 'David' from whom they come and through whom they acquire meaning. John gives a new depth to the psalm verse with which Jesus spoke prophetically of what lay ahead, since instead of the expression given in the Greek Bible for 'eating', he chooses the verb tro?»gein, the word used by Jesus in the great 'bread of life' discourse for 'eating' his flesh and blood, that is, receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist ( Jn 6:54, 58). So the psalm verse casts a prophetic shadow over the Church of the evangelists own day, in which the Eucharist was celebrated, and indeed over the Church of all times: Judas betrayal was not the last breach of fidelity that Jesus would suffer. 'Even my bosom friend, in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me' (Ps 41:9). The breach of friendship extends into the sacramental community of the Church, where people continue to take 'his bread' and to betray him.
Jesus agony, his struggle against death, continues until the end of the world, as Blaise Pascal said on the basis of similar considerations (cf. Pens?®es VII, 553). We could also put it the other way around: at this hour, Jesus took upon himself the betrayal of all ages, the pain caused by betrayal in every era, and he endured the anguish of history to the bitter end.
John does not offer any psychological interpretation of Judas conduct. The only clue he gives is a hint that Judas had helped himself to the contents of the disciples money box, of which he had charge (12:6). In the context of chapter 13, the evangelist merely says laconically: 'Then after the morsel, Satan entered into him' (13:27).
For John, what happened to Judas is beyond psychological explanation. He has come under the dominion of another. Anyone who breaks off friendship with Jesus, casting off his 'easy yoke', does not attain liberty, does not become free, but succumbs to other powers. To put it another way, he betrays this friendship because he is in the grip of another power to which he has opened himself. True, the light shed by Jesus into Judas soul was not completely extinguished. He does take a step toward conversion: 'I have sinned', he says to those who commissioned him. He tries to save Jesus, and he gives the money back (Mt 27:3, 5). Everything pure and great that he had received from Jesus remained inscribed on his soul, he could not forget it.
His second tragedy, after the betrayal, is that he can no longer believe in forgiveness. His remorse turns into despair. Now he sees only himself and his darkness; he no longer sees the light of Jesus, which can illumine and overcome the darkness. He shows us the wrong type of remorse: the type that is unable to hope, that sees only its own darkness, the type that is destructive and in no way authentic. Genuine remorse is marked by the certainty of hope born of faith in the superior power of the light that was made flesh in Jesus. John concludes the passage about Judas with these dramatic words: 'After receiving the morsel, he immediately went out; and it was night' (13:30). Judas goes out, in a deeper sense. He goes into the night; he moves out of light into darkness: the 'power of darkness' has taken hold of him (cf. Jn 3:19; Lk 22:53).