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April 20, 2011

Column #1,547

Pope Benedict’s New Book on Jesus

By Mike McManus

            During Lent, I read Pope Benedict XVI’s new book Jesus of Nazareth.

Why? I agree with Dr. Ben Witherington of Asbury Theological Seminary in his surprising assessment: “A large swath of evangelicals will receive it well as a gold standard.” He adds, “It may disabuse them of their jaundiced view of their Catholic brothers and sisters.”

Dr. Craig Evans, a Protestant theologian at Canada’s Acadia University, concurs: “Protestants would be astonished at how Protestant and evangelical it sounds. I have no hesitation in making it required reading for my Baptist students.”

            In his Foreword, which he humbly signs as “Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, the Pope he states his goal “to be helpful to all readers who seek to encounter Jesus and to believe in him.”  (All other popes abandon their given name.)

            Benedict openly deals with ignored contradictions between the Gospels, which is refreshing.  For example, Mark, Luke and Matthew all say the Last Supper is a Passover meal, while John asserts it was a day earlier.  Benedict agrees: “It seems questionable whether the trial before Pilate and the crucifixion would have been permissible and possible on such an important Jewish feast day.”

            According to that chronology, “Jesus dies at the moment when the Passover lambs are being slaughtered in the Temple.  Jesus dies as the real lamb.“

He is a Biblical scholar who illumines Jesus, like his Palm Sunday ride into Jerusalem on a donkey, by looking at the Old Testament.

            In asking his disciples to find the donkey, Benedict writes, “Jesus claims the right of kings, known throughout antiquity, to requisition modes of transport.”  Matthew and John quote Zechariah: “Behold, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey…” Why?

            Jesus “is a king who destroys the weapons of war, a king of peace and a king of simplicity, a king of the poor,” Benedict argues. He adds, “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 his person.”

            When Jesus rides in, the people spread out palm branches, and quote Psalm 118, a Messianic proclamation: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Blessed is the kingdom of our father, David that is coming! Hosanna in the highest!”

            Consider the Last Supper, where a troubled Jesus laments, “Truly, truly I say to you, one of you will betray me.”  Asked who it is, Jesus replies, quoting Psalm 41:9, “The Scripture must be fulfilled: `He who ate my bread has lifted his heel against me.’”

            Benedict comments that Jesus “alludes to his destiny using words from Scripture, thereby locating it directly within God’s logic, within the logic of salvation history.”

            What’s most surprising is the Pope dismisses what the Gospels seem to say that the accusers of Jesus were “the Jews,” as John often asserts: “In John’s Gospel this word has a precise and clearly defined meaning: he is referring to the Temple aristocracy.”  Mark calls them the “crowd” or “the mob” who were “stirred up” by “the chief priests,” to press for the release of Barrabas, who “with his fellow rebels had committed murder,” rather than Jesus.

            True, Matthew says “all of the people” demanded Jesus’ crucifixion.  Benedict flatly disagrees, “Matthew is certainly not recounting historical fact here: How could the whole people have been present at this moment to clamor for Jesus’ death?”

            Matthew quotes the crowd, “His blood be upon us and on our children” (27:25). Again,Benedict demurs, “The Christian will remember that Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24); it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation.

            “It is not poured out against anyone; it is poured out for many, for all. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…God  put (Jesus) forward as an expiation by his blood. (Rom 3:23, 25).

            Benedict writes that “Pilate had nothing that would incriminate Jesus,” but asks, “So you are a king?”  Jesus replies “For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth.” Pilate replies cynically, “What is truth?”

            Thomas Acquinas answers: “Truth is in God’s intellect properly and firstly.”

            Benedict concurs: “Man becomes true, he becomes himself, when he grows in God’s likeness.”

            Dr. Brant Pitre, a Notre Dame scholar, says, “Never before in the history of the church has a reigning Pope written a full-length book on the life of Jesus.”

            It is perfect book for Lent.

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