Tag Archives: lenten journey

Knowing Jesus Christ

St. Augustine has an important reflection in his commentary on the psalms in today’s Office of Readings. It’s about the way we see Jesus Christ, who is God and also human, the Word made flesh.

“We contemplate his glory and divinity when we listen to these words: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him nothing was made. Here we gaze on the divinity of the Son of God, something supremely great and surpassing all the greatness of his creatures. Yet in other parts of Scripture we hear him as one sighing, praying, giving praise and thanks.

We hesitate to attribute these words to him because our minds are slow to come down to his humble level when we have just been contemplating him in his divinity. It is as though we were doing him an injustice in acknowledging in a man the words of one with whom we spoke when we prayed to God. We are usually at a loss and try to change the meaning. Yet our minds find nothing in Scripture that does not go back to him, nothing that will allow us to stray from him.

Our thoughts must then be awakened to keep their vigil of faith. We must realise that the one whom we were contemplating a short time before in his nature as God took to himself the nature of a servant; he was made in human likeness and found to be human like others; he humbled himself by being obedient even to accepting death; as he hung on the cross he made the psalmist’s words his own: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

We pray to him as God, he prays for us as a servant. In the first case he is the Creator, in the second a creature. Himself unchanged, he took to himself our created nature in order to change it, and made us one with himself, head and body. We pray then to him, through him, in him, and we speak along with him and he along with us.”

In these final weeks of Lent John’s gospel sees Jesus claiming to be “I am,” the Word confronting his opponents in the temple. Soon, we will see him praying with fear in the garden, silent before his enemies, struggling to bear his cross, dying a cruel death.

If we neglect his divinity, we call into question God’s gift of redemption to our world and our our own call to be God’s children. If we neglect his humanity, we call into question our own humanity, becoming other-worldly and ignoring the lowliness of our human condition.

We need to keep a “vigil of faith” as Augustine says.

The New Temple

In his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, Benedict begins the account of the Passion of Jesus with the incident in the temple in Jerusalem when Jesus drives out those who buy and sell there. Unlike the other gospels that put that event immediately before his passion and death, John’s gospel puts it further back, at the beginning of Jesus ministry, as he goes up to the Holy City to celebrate the Passover.

Unlike the other gospels that present one journey of Jesus to Jerusalem, John’s gospel sees Jesus making three journeys there. His chronology is more accurate. He wishes to show that opposition to Jesus at the highest levels began early on. If he overturned the tables in the entranceway of the temple, what would he do next?  Destroy it? Alarmed, the city’s leaders kept a close watch on this Galilean trouble-maker.

The pope calls attention to three interpretations for Jesus’ action. First, some say he was trying to reform a system gone bad as abuses crept in. People, including those in charge of the temple, were making money on the system and Jesus was calling attention to their corrupt practices.

Benedict sees more to the event than that.

Others say that Jesus was a Zealot,  belonging to a Jewish party intent on forcefully overthrowing a Judaism become too “Hellenized,”  too influenced by the prevailing Greco-Roman culture of its conquerors.

There are flaws to this interpretation too, Benedict notes, and points to the way the synoptic gospels describe Jesus as he enters Jerusalem immediately before he cleanses the temple. He rides into the city on a donkey, the humble beast who carries a humble Messiah. The warrior would come on a horse and chariot. He is the shepherd slain for his sheep, the suffering servant of Isaiah 53, who takes his people’s sins on to himself.

The temple was conceived as more than a place of Jewish worship. According to the Prophet Isaiah ( Isaiah 2,2-5) it was seen as a place where all peoples could come to worship the one God. The court of the Gentiles in the temple symbolized their future place. Jesus‘ action symbolically readied Judaism to receive new nations.

In the gospel of John, 12:20 ff, some Greeks ask to see Jesus, just before his passion and death. They represent the new peoples who find their way to the Father through Jesus himself. His death will bring much fruit.

In John’s gospel, he tells the Samaritan woman, “the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem.” Jn 4, 21  Jesus becomes the new temple.

Jesus of Nazareth, Holy Week

I’m reading Pope Benedict XVI’s “Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week,” which treats of his journey into Jerusalem to his resurrection. The pope introduces the book by saying he’s   not going to overwhelm us with the historical questions that so many of the studies about Jesus concentrate on today. By reducing Jesus to his history, we can miss his presence with us today, he says.

Still,  Benedict is obviously trying to incorporate into his study the work of recent scriptural scholars which give us renewed appreciation of Jesus Christ.

He begins with the different approaches to his journey to Jerusalem found in the gospels. Matthew, Mark and Luke describe one journey. John’s gospel describes three journeys to the Holy City, beginning with the ominous one where he overturns the tables in the temple, which creates a growing suspicion among the Jewish leaders that he’s a danger to Judaism and its temple.

Jesus “ascends” to Jerusalem. His ascent is concrete, first of all. From the Sea of Galilee, 690 feet below sea level, to Jerusalem almost 2,500 feet above sea level. But he “goes up” to Jerusalem in a spiritual sense as well. He makes his way to the Jerusalem which is above, the “new Jerusalem,” and he brings his followers with him, beginning with the twelve but then with others who join him on the way.

As he goes through Jericho, also a symbolic city of  journeys, he meets the blind man, Bartimaeus, who shouts out “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me!” When Jesus calls him over and gives him his sight, he says to Bartimaeus, “Go on your way;  your faith has made you well.” And the man begins to “follow him on the way.”

The pope doesn’t overwhelm us either with obvious conclusions from the scriptural sources. They tell us that others joined Jesus on his way to Jerusalem, in great numbers, including this poor blind man, who follows him on the way.

And what about us, as well? The crowd around him try to shout him down, but the blind man keeps calling. “Jesus, son of David, have mercy on me.” Surely, we are among those who call and follow.

I downloaded the pope’s book from Amazon and I’m  reading it on my iTouch. I’m trying to discover the limits and possibilities of ebooks these days of Lent. So far, so good.