June 15, 2007


In the man Jesus, God is made visible

Pope Benedict XVI is only two years into his papacy, but he has spent more than half a century reflecting on, and writing about, the mystery of God as it is revealed to us in the person of Jesus Christ.

In hundreds of books, articles and homilies, over many decades, Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, has shared with us (his students and his readers) his lifelong search for the face of God, and his profound conviction that in the man Jesus, God is made visible.

We are fortunate that the Holy Father did not give up or suspend his vocation as a writer and teacher when he became pope.

His first encyclical, “God is Love,” is a powerful reflection on who God is, and who we human beings are called to be as people who abide in God’s love.

Similarly, the pope’s weekly reflections and his homilies and public addresses carry forward his life’s work as a theologian and pastor called to share with others the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Even when his comments have sparked controversy—as in Turkey or Brazil—his subsequent remarks clarify and continue the dialogue that the Holy Father seeks to encourage always about who God is and who we are called to be as people created in his image.

Now, Pope Benedict XVI has given us the gift of his reflections on the person and the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth.

The starting point of this remarkable narrative is the Christ of faith as he has been revealed to us in the Scriptures and in the living tradition of the Church.

Although the pope shows a keen understanding of and appreciation for modern methods of biblical criticism, he does not allow his book, Jesus of Nazareth: From the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration, to be limited by them.

“Neither the individual books of Holy Scripture nor the Scripture as a whole are simply a piece of literature,” the pope writes. “The Scripture emerged from within the heart of a living subject—the pilgrim people of God—and lives within this same subject. … The main implication of this for my portrayal of Jesus is that I trust the Gospels.”

Not only does the pope trust the Gospels, he makes them come alive with vivid clarity and immediacy. Familiar parables like the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Rich Man and Lazarus are explained in ways that provide new understanding and that move the heart.

Reflections on the Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes offer a portrait of Jesus as the one who is pure of heart, the peacemaker who searches for justice in complete fidelity to the will of the father.

The portrait Pope Benedict XVI gives us is not akin to what he calls a “Jesus novel.”

Too often, attempts to sketch the historical Jesus have mirrored the authors’ prejudices rather than historical-biblical reality. “The scriptural texts give us no window into Jesus’ inner life,” the pope says. “Jesus stands above our psychologizing.”

At the same time, Pope Benedict helps us to see clearly—with the eyes of faith—the man who is like us in all things but sin while always “the Wholly Other”—the beloved son of God who, as St. Augustine says, is closer to us than we are to ourselves.

Although written for general audiences, Jesus of Nazareth challenges the reader. The pope wants us to stretch our vision and understanding of who God is, and who we are, by coming to know more intimately the man Jesus, God made visible. The struggle is worth it—especially if it helps us to achieve a more intimate friendship with Jesus which, the pope tells us, is the ultimate purpose of every human life.

At the conclusion of the book’s Foreword, the pope writes, “It goes without saying that this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search for ‘the face of the Lord.’ ”

We urge all readers to join Pope Benedict in this personal search for a better understanding of who Jesus is, and who each of us is called to be, as sisters and brothers in Christ.

— Daniel Conway

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