Oct 052011

This passage from “Jesus of Nazareth” has stayed with me, but the basic content of is something I have come across in Pope Benedict’s writings before, however. In Pope Benedict’s encyclical on hope, he says:

“Christianity did not bring a message of social revolution like that of the ill-fated Spartacus, whose struggle led to so much bloodshed. Jesus was not Spartacus, he was not engaged in a fight for political liberation like Barabbas or Bar- Kochba. Jesus, who himself died on the Cross, brought something totally different: an encounter with the Lord of all lords, an encounter with the living God and thus an encounter with a hope stronger than the sufferings of slavery, a hope which therefore transformed life and the world from within.”

In his book, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Pope Benedict describes Barabbas as a rival messianic figure, a well-known freedom fighter. Barabbas, whose name translates, literally, as “Son of the Father” is presented as alter ego of Jesus, Son of the Father,

“who makes the same claim but understands it in a completely different way. So the choice is between a messiah who leads an armed struggle, promises freedom and a kingdom of one’s own, and this mysterious Jesus who proclaims that losing oneself is the way to life. Is it any wonder that the crowds prefer Barabbas?”

“If we had to choose today, would Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Mary, the Son of the Father, have a chance? Do we really know Jesus at all? Do we understand him? Do we not perhaps have to make an effort today as always to get to know him all over again? The tempter is not so crude as to suggest to us directly that we should worship the devil. He merely suggests that we opt for the reasonable decision, that we choose to give priority to a planned and thoroughly organized world, where God may have his place as a private concern but must not interfere in our essential purposes.”

He cites an author for further reading, and apparently in this work the author

“attributes to the Anti-Christ a book entitled, ‘The Open Way to World Peace and Welfare.’ This book becomes something of a new Bible, whose real message is the worship of well-being and rational planning.

“Jesus’ third temptation proves then to be the fundamental one, because it concerns the question as to what sort of action is expected of a savior of the world. It pervades the entire life of Jesus. It manifests itself openly again at a decisive turning point along his path. Peter, speaking in the name of the disciples has confessed that Jesus is the Messiah Christ, the son of the living God. […] At this crucial moment […] the tempter appears, threatening to turn everything into its opposite. The Lord immediately declares that the concept of the Messiah has to be understood in terms of the entirety of the message of the prophets. It means not worldly power, but the cross, and the radically different community that comes into being through the cross.

“But that is not what Peter has understood. Peter took him and began to rebuke him, saying “God forbid Lord, this shall never happen to you. (Mat. 16:22)

“Only when we read these words against the backdrop of the temptation scene, as its recurrence at the decisive moment, do we understand Jesus’ unbelievably harsh answer: ‘Get behind me Satan. You are a hindrance to me for you are not on the side of God, but of men.’ (Mat 16:23)

“But don’t we all repeatedly tell Jesus that his message leads to conflict with the prevailing opinions, so that there is always a looming threat of failure, suffering, and persecution? The Christian Empire, or the secular power of the Papacy, is no longer a temptation today, but the interpretation of Christianity as a recipe for progress and the proclamation of universal prosperity as the real goal of all religions, including Christianity – this is the modern form of the same temptation. It appears in the guise of a question: ‘What did Jesus bring then, if he didn’t usher in a better world? How can that not be the content of messianic hope?'”

Pope Benedict goes on to discuss the Old Testament hope and

“expectation of a worldly paradise in which the wolf lies down with the lamb (Is 11:6), the peoples of the world make their way to Mt Zion, and the prophecy, ‘They shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks,’ comes true (Is 2:4, Mic 4:1-3).

“Along side this expectation, however, is the prospect of the suffering servant of God, of a messiah who brings salvation through contempt and suffering. Throughout his public ministry, and again in his discourses after Easter, Jesus had to show his disciples that Moses and the prophets were speaking of Him, the seemingly powerless one, who suffered, was crucified, and rose again. He had to show that in this way, and no other, the promises were fulfilled.”

“[…] we too are constantly presuming that in order to make good, He must have ushered in the golden age. Jesus, however, repeats to us what he said in reply to Satan, what he said to Peter, and what he explained further to the disciples of Emmaus: No kingdom of this world is the kindgdom of God, the total condition of mankind’s salvation. Earthly kingdoms remain earthly, human kingdoms, and anyone who claims to be able to establish the perfect world is the willing dupe of Satan and plays the world right into his hands.

“Now, it is true that this leads to the great question that will be with us throughout this entire book: ‘What did Jesus actually bring if not world peace, universal prosperity and a better world? What has he brought?’ The answer, is very simple. God. He has brought God. He has brought the God who formally unveiled his countenance gradually, first to Abraham, then to Moses, and the prophets and then in the Wisdom literature; the God who revealed his face only in Isreal, even though he was also honored among the pagans in various shadowy guises. It is this God, the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, the true God who He has brought to the nations of the earth. He has brought God and now we know His face, now we can call on Him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God and with God, the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope, and love.

“It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little. Yes, indeed, God’s power works quietly in this world, but it is the true and lasting power. Again and again God’s power seems to be in its death throws, yet over and over again it proves to be the thing that truly endures, and saves. The earthly kingdoms that Satan was able to put before the Lord at that time have all passed away; their glory, their doxa, has proven to be a mere semblance, but the glory of Christ, the humble, self-sacrificing glory of His love, has not passed away, nor will it ever do so.

“Jesus has emerged victorious from his battle with Satan. To the tempter’s lying divinization of power and prosperity, to his lying promise of a future that offers all things to all men through power and through wealth, he responds with the fact that God is God, that God is man’s true good. To the invitation to worship power, the Lord answers with a passage from Deut., the same book that the devil himself had cited: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and Him only shall you serve’ (Mat 4:10, Deut 6:13).”

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