by Father Robert Lauder
Second in a series
When I decided to re-read Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011, pp. 362), I had several hopes about how I would benefit from reading this second volume from the Holy Father about Jesus.
One was that I wanted to benefit from the insights of a first-class Catholic theologian. I also wanted to benefit from Pope Benedict’s extraordinary knowledge of sacred Scripture. But probably more than anything else, I expected to receive some special insights from his meditations on Jesus. I was not disappointed: Every hope was fulfilled. The book is excellent theology and also wonderful spiritual reading. Those who read the book will not only receive a theological education but may also be motivated and inspired by what the pope writes about our Saviour.
Commenting on Jesus’ claim to the right of kings, Pope Benedict points out that both Matthew and John, in conveying the meaning of Palm Sunday, quote explicitly from Zechariah: “Tell the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey, and to a colt, the foul of a donkey (Mt 21:5; cf. Zech 9:9; Jn 12:15) … He is a king who destroys the weapons of war, a king of peace and a king of simplicity, a king of the poor.” (p. 4)
I find the pope’s ability to link passages of the New Testament to the Old Testament very illuminating. Not only is his knowledge of Scripture impressive, but equally impressive are his insights.
I find the following passage informative and provocative: “For now let us note this: Jesus is indeed making a royal claim. He wants his path and his action to be understood in terms of Old Testament promises that are fulfilled in person. The Old Testament speaks of him – and vice versa: he acts and lives within the word of God, not according to projects and wishes of his own. His claim is based on obedience to the mission received from his Father. His path is a path into the heart of God’s word. At the same time, through this anchoring of the text in Zechariah 9:9, a ‘Zealot’ exegesis of the kingdom is excluded; Jesus is not building on violence; he is not instigating a military revolt against Rome. His power is of another kind: it is in God’s poverty, God’s peace, that he identifies the only power that can redeem.” (p. 5)
The idea that Jesus lives within the Word of God is both beautiful and challenging. For years I thought of divine revelation in terms of information. My notion was almost that God sent down a number of answers concerning the most important questions about human living. I linked this notion of divine revelation to my image of faith. I thought of faith as a power, almost a light that God had given to people to accept the answers that God had sent down from heaven. I thought of both divine revelation and faith as dealing primarily with knowledge: Faith was the power that enabled us to believe God’s answers. So for me, sacred Scripture was largely information about God and us.
The Holy Father has helped broaden my view of divine revelation, faith and Scripture. Scripture is the Word of God. It is not just another book. Its author is God. St. Paul tells us in his Letter to the Hebrews that “the word of God is living and effective, sharper than any two-edged sword.” (4:12) The Word of God not only consoles us but also challenges us, calls us beyond where we are. If Jesus acts and lives within the word of God, that means that His life and actions are centered in the history of salvation, in the ongoing relationship between God and God’s people. There is a sense in which not only the New Testament but also the Old Testament is about Jesus. There is also a sense in which Jesus is living in the texts of both Testaments, available to be encountered.
The pope writes that “Jesus’ path is a path into the heart of God’s word.” I take that to mean that Jesus is not only at the heart and center of God’s message but also at the heart and center of God’s life and relationship with God’s people. What God desires from human beings, what God asks of human beings, is illustrated by Jesus’ life. The power of Jesus is in God’s poverty and peace. That power, the only power that can redeem, is the power of love.
Father Robert Lauder, a priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn and philosophy professor at St. John’s University, Jamaica, writes a weekly column for the Catholic Press.