Friday, April 21, 2017

Book Review: Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week by Benedict XVI

Jesus of Nazareth Part II: Holy Week: From the Entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection by Benedict XVI

Benedict continues his deep analysis of the Gospel texts to understand who Jesus is and what faith in Him brings about for believers. This book follows Jesus from His Palm Sunday entrance into the holy city of Jerusalem through the resurrection with an epilogue about His ascension. Naturally, other relevant texts from the Old Testament and the New Testament are referenced and explained in light of Jesus's passion, death, and resurrection. The songs of the Suffering Servant from Isaiah and a surprising number of the Psalms have fuller and deeper meaning. The book is steeped in Holy Scripture.

The book is also very aware of recent scholarship about Jesus. Benedict frequently references the work of the historical-critical method without going into depth about the method. Rather, he uses their work to investigate who Jesus is and what faith in Him brings about for believers (i.e., Benedict sticks to his purpose!). Benedict has an awareness of academics and often references their work, not to engage in controversies, but to grow in understanding. He also references the Church Fathers and the great theologians from history such as Saint Augustine of Hippo and Saint Thomas Aquinas. The book never bogs down in scholarly conundrums or technical details.

Benedict stays focused on certain details and often admits that more can be said about the events and details than he presents. Such a claim is amazing considering the depth and originality of his own analysis. Consider his discussion of Jesus's trial with Pilate, where John quotes the crowd as demanding Jesus's death and saying that His blood will be upon them and their children. Historically, this text is used to justify anti-Semitic violence and hatred, a fact Benedict acknowledges. But he goes deeper and says that "the Christian will remember that Jesus' blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb 12:24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone; it is poured out for many, for all." [p. 187, emphasis in original] The crowd is just as worthy as anyone else to be redeemed by His blood, even if they did not immediately intend it. Benedict also says the crowd was probably full of Barabbas supporters waiting for the moment when they could get their condemned man out of trouble by taking advantage of Pilate's Passover amnesty. The crowd certainly didn't represent the Jewish people as a whole. Benedict does go into detail when discussing events and issues when he deems it appropriate. Naturally Jesus's death and resurrection are so fundamental to Christian history and faith that endless details and meanings can be brought out of them.

This book is a wonderful presentation of Jesus in the definitive moments of His mission for us, that is, to reconcile mankind to the Father and to open up a greater intimacy between God and His creatures. Readers will find much to inform and inspire them to strive for that intimacy through greater knowledge of Jesus of Nazareth.

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