I have been meaning to write for quite some time about “Jesus of Nazareth,” the book by Pope Benedict XVI, which was published last May. I read the book in early summer and found it to be wonderful. A second reading is in my plans.
The book is a series of reflections on the Gospel stories presented in 10 chapters. The chronology of the book takes us from the Baptism of Jesus through the Transfiguration. A second volume is set to be published which will include, among other things, commentary on the infancy narratives.
Pope Benedict gave me several “Ah hah!” moments with is explanation of many Gospel stories. Chapter 2, for example, which deals with the temptations of Christ, foreshadows the Passion with a reference to Barabbas. When Pilate offers the crowd a choice between freeing Jesus or Barabbas, they choose Barabbas. Pope Benedict notes that Jesus offers the people spiritual freedom, whereas Barabbas, imprisoned for insurrection, offers political freedom. The people chose the political solution; it is the same choice people always make.
Chapter 5 is devoted to The Lord’s Prayer. This chapter has changed forever the way I will think as I recite this familiar prayer. He looks at each line. Reflecting on the phrase: “Hallowed be thy name,” Pope Benedict notes the importance of names. He notes that knowing someone’s name is the first step for entering into a relationship with them. By authorizing us to call him Father, “God established a relationship between himself and us…He enters into relationship with us and enables us to be in relationship with him.” Pope Benedict notes that the Incarnation began with the giving of the divine name to Moses. “What began in the Sinai desert comes to fulfillment at the burning bush of the Cross.”
I also like the reflection on the line: “Give us this day our daily bread.” Jesus acknowledges our earthly needs. He “invites us to pray for our food and thus to turn our care over to God.” It is so easy to think that we provide for ourselves, but this is a reminder about who really provides for us. Nonetheless, “we have the right and the duty to ask for what we need. We know that if even earthly fathers give their children good things when they ask for them, God will not refuse us the good things that he alone can give.”
Chapter 7 deals with parables. Pope Benedict writes about the older brother as he discusses the parable of the prodigal son. The older brother gives into the temptation of self-righteousness, triggering jealously toward the younger brother. Pope Benedict notes that for the older brother and others like him, “more than anything else, God is Law; they see themselves in a juridical relationship with God and in that relationship they are at rights with him. But God is greater: They need to convert from the Law-God to the greater God, the God of love.” Pope Benedict writes that the bitterness of the older son indicates the limitations of his own obedience. He would have liked the “freedom” that the younger brother enjoyed. “There is an unspoken envy of what others have been able to get away with,” Pope Benedict writes. Folks living in a manner pleasing to the father have real freedom, yet bitterness turns that freedom into slavery.
It is pretty easy for us folks who take our faith seriously to feel as if we are living by the rules. Perhaps we get a little jealous when we look at those flaunting the rules, especially if we see no earthly consequences. Pope Benedict gives us a reminder to check our heart and reconsider whether we really love God, or merely the idea of self-righteousness. Of course we should rejoice whenever someone makes a commitment to their faith, no matter what their stage in life.
Sections of this book will impact readers differently depending on where each individual reader is in their own faith journey. If you are interested in advancing on that journey, however, you can get a real boost by reading “Jesus of Nazareth.” I suspect I will be giving copies of this book at Christmas time.
tMichaelB is the web site for Tom Bengtson, who writes about business, religion, family and politics.
Friday, September 28, 2007
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