Sunday, July 29, 2007

Jesus of Nazareth

I've just finished reading Pope Benedict's Jesus of Nazareth. I really enjoyed it. If I had to describe it in one word, I'd say it's peaceful. Pope Benedict gently guides the reader to familiar scenes and sayings of Christ, and then expounds upon them quite simply. There are no big theologically fancy words or complicated explanations. And yet, I found myself again and again thinking, "Wow...why had I never seen that before?"

For instance, in one part discussing the Torah, Pope Benedict (with help from Rabbi Neusner) explains first the importance of the Sabbath to the Jews. Then he shows how, in light of this, how shocking Jesus' words (words that I've heard repeated and repeated myself many times without considering this aspect of them) would have been.

"[Neusner] then adds: 'Not working on the Sabbath stands for more than nitpicking ritual. It is a way of imitating God.' The Sabbath is therefore not just a negative matter of not engaging in outward activities, but a positive matter of 'resting,'..."

"For Neusner, the key word rest, understood as an integral element of the Sabbath, is the connecting link to Jesus' exclamation immediately prior to the story of the disciplies plucking the ears of wheat in Matthew's Gospel...[it] reads as follows: 'Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" (Mt 11:28-30). This is usually interpreted in terms of the idea of the liberal Jesus, that is, moralistically. Jesus' liberal understanding of the Law makes for a less burdensome life than "Jewish legalism." This interpretation is not very convincing in practice,though, for following Christ is not comfortable - and Jesus never said it would be, either.

"What follows from this? Neusner shows us that we are dealing not with some kind of moralism, but with a highly theological text, or, to put it more precisely, a Christological one. Because it features the motif of rest, and the connected motifs of labor and burden, it belongs thematically with the question of the Sabbath. The rest that is intended here has to do with Jesus...Neusner sums up the overall content as follows: "My yoke is easy, I give you rest, the son of man is lord of the Sabbath indeed, because the son of man is now Isreal's Sabbath: how we act like God."

"...'No wonder, then, that the son of man is lord of the Sabbath! The reason is not that he interprets the Sabbath restrictions in a liberal manner...Jesus was not just another reforming rabbi, out to make life "easier" for people...No, the issue is not that the burden is light...Jesus' claim to authority is at issue...Christ now stands on the mountain, he now takes the place of the Torah.'..."

"The issue that is really at the heart of the debate is thus finally laid bare. Jesus understands himself as the Torah - as the word of God in person."

After many more "aha!" moments and connections similar to this one, in the end I'm left with a sudden desire to go back and read the Old Testament from start to finish - partly because we never much focused on the Old Testament growing up in the CoC, and also partly because with my newer Catholic outlook, and with bits and pieces of the Old Testament that were highlighted in Jesus of Nazareth, I feel like there is so much that will jump out at me now that I had glossed over so many times before.

Overall, a great book, and a great resource for unlocking the depths of Christ's words in scripture.


Peter said...

After many more "aha!" moments and connections similar to this one, in the end I'm left with a sudden desire to go back and read the Old Testament from start to finish

Hooray Hooray and Amen! (Said the scripture lecturer).

My latest thesis proposal is based on a study of the Levitical sacrifices and what light they shed on the perfect sacrifice of Christ which they prefigure. I can't tell you how disheartening it is that so many good people dismiss such study as purely academic and not relevant to Catholic life now. Grrrr

Stephanie said...

Cool! Indeed, I think the value of the Old Testament is often underestimated (and I'm the first to admit I've done my fair share of underestimating!)

jdavidb said...

partly because we never much focused on the Old Testament growing up in the CoC

And there's a shame whose existence I must agree to. I haven't met too many who just out and out dismissed the Old Testament as something that should never be read, but I have seen far too many churches that acted this way in practice.

Thankfully the elders of our previous congregation were very concerned about this, and the Old Testament was all over the adult teaching curriculum. In the past 3-5 years there were classes on all of the prophets except Ezekiel, I think, and I'm sure that was scheduled. My dad taught the minor prophets while we were there, in fact, and Isaiah after we left (I've been meaning to request that on tape, because preparing for it has basically been his life's work for the past seven years or so, and I know it was wonderful).

I've heard it said that the Church of Christ never produced an Old Testament commentary that was a financial success. (I've also heard some deny that, so I'm not sure.) :(

Somebody was recently asking me to explain my very anti-premillenial understandings (I wouldn't divide over the subject, but I find it to be the least credible eschatological view) and I found myself at a huge disadvantage because I could explain things in detail from the New Testament, but they wanted explanations of a thousand out of context verses from the prophets. And I was woefully, woefully inequipped to recognize the true context of all of those passages.

But of course that is my shame, because no matter what my church is doing I can take the responsibility upon myself to read the Old Testament myself.

Erik said...

Gah! I'm trying to read this, honestly I am. I'm at chapter 4; but I just can't read with all this heat, and my mom refuses to turn on the a/c because it's too "expensive".

I read much better in the winter than in the summer. I guess I'm dissevering my Southern heritage, but so be it. I'd much rather live in Norway or Russia.

At any rate, Chapter 4 looks to me like it's very long. I'll tackle it tomorrow.

Stephanie said...

Oh I'm so with you, Erik...I'm a born and raised Texan but I can't STAND the heat, I'd much rather be cold!

No A/C??? I'd die!! Good luck!

jdavidb said...

Ditto from both of us Texans, including my double pregant wife (twins). We almost died on our trip up north in May.

And Sarah is about to throttle everybody in our church for praying for our unusual season of extra rain to end and the sun to come out. :)

Stephanie said...


Yes, I'm quite enjoying the extra rain myself...although I could do without the humidity, but you can't have it all I suppose!

Cheryl said...

"And Sarah is about to throttle everybody in our church for praying for our unusual season of extra rain to end and the sun to come out."

At least it's only about 2 months until October (I remind myself annually that my husband was never able to have a pool party on his birthday growing up, because it always cooled off by then, even if just the day before - his b-day is at the end of September).

Fall is coming, fall is coming, fall is coming...