Last Updated:Friday - 09/24/2010
June 11, 2007
Papal shepherd shares insights about Jesus
One of the major religious publishing events in recent years was the 1994 publication of Pope John Paul's book Crossing the Threshold of Hope. The book was an interview in which the pope responded to various questions about religion and faith.
Crossing the Threshold sold millions of copies. How many of those books were read cover to cover is another matter.
There has been far less hype about the release last month of Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth. Indeed, nearly everything about this pope has happened in a lower key than similar events during the time of John Paul II.
Still, Jesus of Nazareth may well be one of the most important papal documents of all time. That is partly because it is not what we would normally classify as a papal document. The pope himself says Jesus of Nazareth is a personal reflection, not an exercise of papal authority.
It is, however, a personal reflection written by perhaps the most profound thinker of our era, one who draws on an enormous range and depth of scholarship and synthesizes it in a manner accessible to an educated reader.
The current pope made a splash more than 20 years ago with The Ratzinger Report. While his views have remained fundamentally the same, The Ratzinger Report was a tour de force compared with the gentleness and erudition of Jesus of Nazareth. In his new book, the pope does what should be the main task of every spiritual shepherd-he draws us into a living relationship and deeper understanding of the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ.
In his reflection on the temptations Christ faced in the desert, for example, Pope Benedict contrasts two views of the messiah - first, the messiah as one who establishes an earthly paradise and the second as the messiah who is the suffering servant.
The pope finds it striking that immediately after Jesus is baptized in the Jordan - where he receives the mantle of messiah - the Spirit's first command is for him to go into the desert and be tempted.
In the third temptation, which the pope sees as the fundamental one, the devil leads Jesus up a high mountain "and showed him all the kingdoms of the world in their glory. 'All these,' he said, 'I will give you, if you will only fall down and do me homage'" (Matthew 4:8-9).
Jesus, of course, rejects the temptation and the splendour earthly kingdoms bring with them.
"This is not the sort of splendour that belongs to the kingdom of Christ," the pope writes. "His kingdom grows through the humility of the proclamation in those who agree to become his disciples . . .".
The Church must avoid being tied to any political kingdom, he says. "For the fusion of faith and political power always comes at a price: faith becomes the servant of power and must bend to its criteria."
This is a sharp division the pope draws between faith and worldly power, one much sharper than that of the Second Vatican Council that urged the laity to permeate the world with the spirit of the Gospel.
Nevertheless, the call to humility and avoidance of power-seeking that Pope Benedict sees as the core of the messianic mission of Jesus is irrefutably central to the Gospel. He goes on to ask what we who want to follow Jesus should do. The answer is to live lives of faith, hope and love. "It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little."
Joseph Ratzinger has made these arguments previously. What is most unique about the book Jesus of Nazareth are the little insights into the Gospel that pop up page after page and that give colour and depth to his portrait of Jesus.
The pope offers an opportunity to journey with him to a deeper understanding of our Lord and Saviour. A reflective reading of his book cannot help but lead us to a closer relationship with Jesus.
It is not an opportunity to pass by.
- Glen Argan
Copyright © 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 -- Western Catholic Reporter
Our mission: To serve our readers by bringing the Gospel to bear on current issues in the Church and in secular culture through accurate news coverage and reflective commentary.