"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 39
Welcome to the first post in our readalong of Pope Benedict XIV's Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week! I don't know about you, but I feel both totally out of my depth and totally safe and snug. While I'm hardly the perfect guide for this theological excursion, I think that we're all competent adventurers here and that we have a trusty map and an infallible compass that will not let us down. So if we all hang in there together, this should be great.
Now let's see exactly what we got ourselves into this time . . .
In the foreword to Part One, I stated that my concern was to present "the figure and message of Jesus." Perhaps it would have been good to assign these two words--figure and message--as a subtitle to the book, in order to clarify its underlying intention . . . The quest for the "historical Jesus," as conducted in mainstream critical exegesis in accordance with its hermeneutical presuppositions, lacks sufficient context to exert any significant historical impact. It is focussed too much on the past for it to make possible a personal relationship with Jesus. In the combination of [a faith-hermeneutic and a historical hermeneutic], I have attempted to develop a way of observing and listening to the Jesus of the Gospels that can indeed lead to personal encounter and that, through collective listening with Jesus's disciples across the ages, can indeed attain sure knowledge of the real historical figure of Jesus.
In words of shorter syllables, what the Holy Father means is that not all ways of interpreting the Gospels are created equal. He doesn't quite go out and say that his style of interpretation--which combines the study of the historical context with properly developed faith in Jesus's person and message--is the best one . . . but I will go out on a limb now and say that it's pretty high on the awesomeness scale.
So what kind of vision is available to us when we examine this period of history in almost microscopic detail, with the eyes of faith in its central figure?
Jesus of Nazareth is structured so carefully and cleanly that I feel every chapter comes with an unstated learning objective: "By the end of this chapter, the reader should be able to explain . . ." Chapter I is about the Entry into Jerusalem and the Cleansing of the Temple, but in the interest of time, my own sanity, and everyone else's tolerance, I will only focus on the first one in this post.
By the end of the chapter, every detail of this painting should make sense to you.
There is more than one level on which to understand Jesus's Entry into Jerusalem, and the Holy Father explains three.
First, he provides the allegorical reading of the ascent, which is the sort I used to get in Catholic school all the time. It's lovely, but hardly filling, inasmuch as it begs the question of how we'd understand the same event if the topography of the Holy Land had been any different.
Next, he proceeds to unlock all the allusions that would have spoken directly to Jesus's Jewish contemporaries: the requisition of the donkey, the cries of "Hosanna," the quoting of Psalm 8 . . . All truly fantastic if you were one of the Jews of the day or are a Christian theologian with bean-counting tendencies (Not that there's anything wrong with that!); but what does this mean to the rest of us? As Pope Benedict notes, St. Luke, who was writing for Gentiles, omitted at least one of the specifically Messianic signs from his account of this event because his audience didn't actually need to know it, to know Jesus.
And so the Holy Father guides us to the interpretation of the early Church, which is the reason we still sing the Hosanna in the liturgy and the reason we do so right before the Consecration . . .
The Church greets our Lord in the Holy Eucharist as the one who is coming now, the one who has entered into her midst. At the same time, she greets him as the one who continues to come, the one who leads us toward his coming. As pilgrims, we go up to him; as a pilgrim, he comes to us and takes us up with him in his "ascent" to the Cross and Resurrection, to the definitive Jerusalem that is already growing in the midst of this world in the communion that unites us with his body.
This also gives a new level of meaning to the idea that Scripture can be read properly only when it is read in the light of the Church. It's not just about the Church having the right understanding of this or that verse, but about the Church having a living interpretation in her marrying of Scripture to liturgy.
It is not enough to go to Jesus by reading about Him in the Gospels; this devotion of ours is fulfilled only when He also comes to us in the Mass.
Indeed, every event of the Gospels is made present to us, as if we had really been there 2000 years ago, in the liturgy of the Mass. Assist at Mass every day for three years--which, of course, correspond to Jesus's three years of earthly ministry--and it will be as if you had been right by His side as He walked the earth. The Mass makes Him present in a way that nothing else ever could. It is a time machine that unlocks eternity on every altar of every Catholic church in the world.
Question of the Day: What is your favourite part of the Mass?
Image Sources: a) Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week by Pope Benedict XVI, b) Entry of Christ into Jerusalem by Pietro Lorenzetti