Monday, June 21, 2010

Jesus of Nazareth: Chapter 2

Chapter 2 of Jesus of Nazareth focuses on the temptations of Jesus, which occur immediately after his baptism in the Jordan. As Pope Benedict points out: "At the heart of all temptations, as we see here, is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill out lives ( 28)." Am I the only one who thinks he is right on here? I know in my own journey that there have been plenty of times when I push God off as secondary, rather being occupied by other matters. Often these other matters, which I perceive to be important at the time, are simply not all that urgent after all. Ultimately, no matter what the temptation is, the question is whether or not we believe God is real? God is the issue (29).

The first temptation, which concerns bread, challenges Jesus to justify his claim of being the "Son of God." This is a constant theme in the Gospels, where Jesus is always having to "prove himself" to others. In a world where hunger remains an ever-present horror for many, does the Messiah have to feed everyone to prove who he is (31)? It is a legitimate question, right? The Pope agrees that it is a legitimate question, however, following the Gospels he points out that everything needs to be done in "the proper context and the proper order (32)." In the Gospels Christ feeds the people primarily in two ways, both in the multiplication of the loaves and in the Eucharist. These two are essential, in their proper order. Quoting from Jesuit Alfred Delp, executed under the Nazi regime, who wrote: "Bread is important, freedom is important, but most important of all is unbroken fidelity and faithful adoration (33)." Any attempt, then, to divorce the spiritual and material is bound to fail. Once again, this is very Incarnational. The Pope uses the example of the aid offered to developing countries from the West, which has been "purely technical and materially based, and not only has left God out of the picture, but has driven men away from God (33)." This version of "aid" by the West has not really given bread, but rather "stones in place of bread (33)." Even if the West denies it, the issue remains God. Thus any goodness of the human heart can "ultimately come only from the One who is goodness, who is the Good itself (34)." One can see connections to his encyclical Deus Caritas Est.

Looking very briefly at the second temptation, the Devil proves to be a great Scripture scholar and theologian! Satan sites Scripture in order "to lure Jesus into his trap (34)." Benedict sites the Russian writer Vladimir Soloviev, who in his short story "The Antichrist", has the Antichrist receive an honorary doctorate in theology from the University of Tubingen. The point Benedict tries to make is not to reject Biblical scholarship, remember what he said about the historical-critical method in the foreword, but rather to remind Biblical scholars of their great responsibility in what they do. In the end, "the fact is that scriptural exegesis can become a tool of the Antichrist (35)." Yet, Jesus is not persuaded by the devil's exegetical prowess, but rather trusts in the Father. Jesus did not tempt His Father, he trusted Him. Again, I can think of the many instances in my own life where God was not asking me to do something I couldn't, but rather to simply trust in his providence.

The third temptation focuses on "what sort of action is expected of a Savior of the world (42)." What is true power? Is it the power of the world or the power of the cross? The Church must always be aware of that important distinction, for there have been times when she has perhaps sought after the worldly sort of power. Pope Benedict alludes to this temptation when he remarks that "the Christian empire or the secular power of the papacy is no longer a temptation today (42)." For Pope Benedict, true power is accepting our daily cross. The power of this world is an illusion, which fades. Those who trust in earthly power or "claim to be able to establish the perfect world is the willing dupe of Satan and plays the world right into his hands (44)."

Finally, the chapter ends with the question: "What did Jesus actually bring?" From a quick glance at the world today, it is clear that he did not end hunger or bring about world peace. So, what was the point? The answer is that Jesus brought God (44). God who we can now see face to face. "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 (44)."

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