"Two or Three" Book Club, Meeting 40
In the light of recent events, it was very moving to read this paragraph from Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week . . .
Matthew and Luke recount the parable of the servant who noticed his master's delay in returning and, thinking himself absent, made himself master, beat the servants and maids, and gave himself over to fine living. On the other hand, the good servant remains a servant, knowing that he will be called to account. He gives to all their due and is praised by the master for so doing: acting with justice is true vigilance (cf Mt. 24: 45-51; Luke 12: 41-46). To be vigilant is to know that one is under God's watchful eye and to act accordingly.
I have been missing the Holy Father very much, especially knowing that he has acted accordingly even in this.
We pick up beautifully from where we left off in the previous chapter: the idea of Jesus's Body as the new Temple of Christian worship. (I didn't bring it up during the last meeting, but I trust that everyone read it?) This idea can be more richly understood in the context of what happened to the Jewish Temple during the first century.
The sections about the Fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple were my favourite parts of Chapter II, hands down. I know of the event, of course, but hitherto hadn't realised how little I actually knew about it. After the conversion of St. Paul, the Acts of the Apostles--and the rest of the New Testament--skew heavily toward the Gentiles (I blame you, St. Luke); but I'd never felt my ignorance of the Jewish side of the story to be a gap in essential Christian knowledge . . . until now.
Pope Benedict explains why the end of the Temple sacrifices was such a massive blow to Judaism, even as it was a footnote to Christianity. For us, it would be as if every priest in the world either died or slipped into a coma at the same time. Who would open the door to eternity at the altar for us then? Would Catholic worship take another form in between that catastrophe and the end of the world? We know that Judaism did take another form after Temple sacrifices ceased forever--and that's mainly why we've stopped paying theological attention to it.
But there is a separate reason why so much importance was given to the Gentiles in the early Church . . .
. . . the urgency of evangelisation in the apostolic era was predicated not so much on the necessity of each individual to acquire knowledge of the Gospel in order to attain salvation, but rather on this grand conception of history: if the world was to arrive at its destiny, the Gospel had to be brought to all nations . . .
Interesting, aye? This loose quote is taken from Pope Benedict's exegesis of Jesus's eschatological teachings. The general idea is that the Gospel must be brought to all the Gentiles before the world will be allowed to pass away.
As I read this part, I imagined the Apostles and other early Christians thinking, "Let's do this, man!" before marching out into the world the way a football team marches into the World Cup stadium. What better motivation to preach the Gospel than the guarantee that when the Gospel has been preached to everyone, Jesus will return to take all who have come to believe in Him into Heaven?
Ha! Actually, there is a better motivation, and even the impassioned Apostle to the Gentiles knew it. =P
This is apocalyptic eschatology we're dealing with here, so I'm going to tread very carefully now. You see, this all sounds very familiar to me: I have some Evangelical relatives who sincerely believe that if they can get certain things of geopolitical import to happen during their lifetime, they will get to see the Second Coming. And their eagerness to make these things come to pass looks very much like the apostolic restlessness of the early Church. Remember that many early Christians believed that Jesus would come again in their lifetime, too.
Pope Benedict treads even more carefully, with Teutonic delicatesse. He says that while we can be certain that the end of the world is connected with the preaching of the Gospel to all peoples, it would be a mistake therefore to hustle the Second Coming: "A further key element of Jesus' eschatological discourse is the warning against false Messiahs and apocalyptic enthusiasm . . ." (You tell them, Papa!)
Again, the key is not in the Scriptures, but in the Mass, that everyday miracle of words and worship which takes place in all times and outside time. What Pope Benedict says of Jesus's teachings about the end times can be taken verbatim as a reference to the Mass:
. . . at its heart we now find the person of Jesus himself, who combines into one the lived present and the mysterious future. The real "event" is the person in whom, despite the passage of time, the present truly remains. In this person, the future is already here. When all is said and done, the future will not place us in any other situation than the one to which our encounter with Jesus has already brought us.
Question of the Day: What have you done lately to help preach the Gospel to all nations? (Blogging doesn't count! =P)
Image Sources: a) Pope Benedict XVI's farewell, b) Sermon of St. Paul among the Ruins by Panini Giovanni, c) Pope Benedict XVI giving Communion