Book Reviews2 Jesus of Nazareth: from the Baptism in the Jordan to the Transfiguration.

The words to describe this book are “wow” and “awe inspiring”.  This deep, academic book is the first in a series of volumes that the Pope is planning to publish.  General readers may have a difficult time with it, but will be able to appreciate the book with additional reflection and prayer. 

The pope discusses and quotes various theologians and Fathers of the Church when examining his topics of the period of Jesus’ life from his baptism to the Transfiguration.  However, he does not agree with all of them.  In fact he refutes what some of them present.  Some of the names of theologians he quotes are:  Rudolf Schnackenburg, Peter Stuhlmacher, Rudolf Pesch, Joachim Jeremias, Pierre Grelot, Jurgen Moltmann, Joachim Gnilka, and many others.  The pope quotes from various Church Fathers like St. Augustine, St. Cyril of Alexandria, Origen, St. John Chrysostom, St. Cyprian, and others.  He also refutes various philosophers like Friedrich Nietzsche, Karl Marx, and others who deny Christianity’s benefit to the world.  The pope also uses Scripture from Old and New Testaments in his discussions.

The pope in his foreword encourages others to enter into a discussion or dialogue with him on the life, works and ministry of Jesus Christ.  He also says that this book is not infallible and he is not writing this book as part of his office as pope.  He states the book is his “personal search for the face of the Lord.”  In the foreword, he presents the history of the understanding Scriptures through time.  He emphasizes the modern developments such as the historical-critical method.  He also shows that the Second Vatican Council encourages scripture scholars and theologians to investigate the Scriptures to help the Church to have a better understanding of what God is saying to us today.  The introduction sets the stage from a Scripture point of view for the Gospels and the life of Jesus.

As stated above, this is the first in a series of volumes the Pope hopes to write, but since he is 80 years old he wanted to make sure his preparations are published in case he cannot complete the set.  That is why his first volume starts with the Baptism of the Lord instead of the nativity narratives of Matthew and Luke.  He hopes to complete those writings and have that volume published in the future.

In chapter one, the pope discusses baptism in the context of Jesus’ time and why He had to be baptized.  John the Baptist thought that Jesus should baptize him instead of John baptizing Jesus.  The next chapter is concerned with the temptation of Jesus by the devil.  The pope describes the scene and also the symbolism that is taking place.  Chapter three focuses on the Gospel of the Kingdom of God where the Holy Father discusses the various meanings of “kingdom”.  Chapter four is on the Sermon on the Mount.  The pope examines the Sermon and its differences in Matthew compared to Luke.  He discusses the various beatitudes and what they mean based on other Scriptures and what Church Fathers and others comment as to their meaning.  This chapter is very involved, but worth reading patiently.

In chapter five the pope examines the Lord’s Prayer petition by petition.  There is much material here on this beloved prayer which most people pray at great speed without thinking or reflecting on what they are praying.  The pope encourages us to slow down a bit and realize what is being said.  His examination of this prayer is a wonderful meditation.  Chapter six is on the calling of the Twelve Apostles, but it is also the calling of the 70 or 72 Disciples.  The pope shows that this is reflecting back to the 12 sons or tribes of Israel and the 70 elders who helped Moses during the Exodus journey in the desert.  Chapter seven is on the message of the parables.  This is an extensive examination of what parables are and he examines a select few.  He examines the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Prodigal Son, and the Rich Man and Lazarus.  These are great reflections. 

Up to this point, the Holy Father has been examining the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), but in chapter eight, he discusses the principle images of John’s Gospel: water, vine and wine, bread, and the shepherd. 

Chapter nine is on Peter’s confession and the Transfiguration.  Peter’s confession is in a similar form in all three of the Synoptic Gospels.  The Pope also says that it is in John’s too, but in a different form.  He shows the primacy of Peter amongst the Apostles from these verses, but also from other Scriptures and he also examines Jesus’ remonstration with Peter about his view of what the messiah was to be; Peter and others of his time thought that the messiah would be a worldly king and only for Israel.  The pope examines how they came to realize who Jesus really was and that Jesus’ titles developed from teacher and rabbi to Lord and ultimately to Lord and God. 

Chapter ten is a wonderful reflection on the true identity of Jesus.  The pope shows that the Apostles and the disciples slowly came to realize who Jesus is, that he is the Son of God.  The early Church had to grapple and define what this meant which lead to the Nicene Creed.  Many could not accept Jesus as God and many people today only think of him as a good religious person, but they do not accept him as God.

The pope refutes modern day fallacies throughout this book.  He does it in connection with the topic he is discussing.  He brings the reader along with him on his search for God.  He shows that life has meaning and that there is an after life.  He argues that Jesus is still with us and is concerned about us.  He shows that Jesus is the Son of God and not a mere human or angel who came to save us from sin and death.  He also shows that Jesus took on our very flesh at the Incarnation to be like us in everything but sin.

This book is highly recommended.

Br. Benet Exton, O.S.B., St. Gregory's University, Shawnee, Oklahoma.

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