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Our contemporary

· Part Two of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ ·

The new book by Ratzinger-Benedict XVI, makes Jesus of Nazareth a contemporary of ours. In the great disarray that prevails under the heavens the arrival of such an impassioned book sparks questions that plumb the depths of our anxieties. In this book each and everyone can find the light to help resolve them. The author tells of the three crucial days of Jesus’ life, the last hours, marked by his Passion and death; the beginning of the new epoch, the Resurrection, a true watershed of history which gives rise to an alternative idea of the world’s future and of human hopes.

The author is convinced that the positive encounter with Jesus of Nazareth may be a solution rather than a problem for humanity. His investigation is convincing, reasonable and respectful of different cultures and viewpoints. To take an interest in Jesus makes sense — perceptible to us between the lines — because he is the only Risen One in history, the Living One immersed in every epoch, hence also in our own; a trustworthy travelling companion who introduces us to unknown horizons of life beyond death.

Anyone who wants to understand this mysterious Lord may steep themselves in the final days of his earthly life.

Page after page, from the words and behaviour of Jesus, the theologian-become-Pope pieces together the elements of a Christian identity card. On the one hand he welds the experiences of suffering, anguish and tenderness of the Nazarene with the untold weeping and grief of the victims of every epoch, and, on the other, he helps us to read fragments of the mystery of evil and suffering that are no longer invincible after his agony in the Garden of Olives and his surrender on the Cross.

The Resurrection of Jesus is not a sudden belated change of course made by his disappointed disciples who, unable to forget him, turned him into a myth.

It is a real event that truly happened, on a par with his Crucifixion and death. However, while we have an experiential knowledge of suffering and death that make up history, we have knowledge of the Resurrection through faith. It is reasonable faith, but always faith. Indeed Pope Ratzinger reminds us that the Christian faith is founded on the Resurrection. Since it is closely linked to the Cross, the memory of the Resurrection is equally dangerous for human wisdom. For the disciples who were expecting a royal and victorious Messiah, the death of Jesus was overwhelming. The Resurrection, once it had been proven, changed their outlook, and led them to follow the Teacher whom at last they understood.

In the mystery of the Passion, death and Resurrection — the author reminds us — are contained some of the profound existential questions. And inherent in Jesus’ trial is the radical criticism of policies based on deception and violence rather than on truth. The world’s destiny is staked on truth, not on force, which remains an illusory solution. Being concerned with Jesus is being concerned with this destiny, for he came to bear the most authoritative witness to the truth which the Christian outlook identifies with God.

In the style of the Fathers of the Church, Pope Ratzinger does not write out of pure intellectual enjoyment, but offers a book for life. Reading it immerses us in the depths of the Christian mystery, revealing to us how little it is known and savoured. With the choice of an interpretation of the narratives of the  Passion based on history and on faith that are not opposed but complementary, the author confirms the Conciliar theology and puts an end to prejudice with regard to Jewish people, accused down the ages of deicide.

In the various events examined, from the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection, Benedict XVI chooses a new and accessible language without losing depth.

He calls the Church “the company of the disciples of Jesus Christ”, he defines caritas “care for the other”, not a second class Christianity in comparison with worship, “rather, it is rooted in it and forms part of it”. The struggle between good and evil in the night of Gethsemane rouses emotion, when Jesus “elevates our recalcitrant nature to become its real self” and “holds up to God the anguish of human existence”. The Ascension is expressed as a “continuing closeness” of Jesus with us, an “entry into the mystery of God” and on another dimension of being.

Lastly the Resurrection is described as a totally new phenomenon, a new dimension of being human, a decisive mutation, a leap in quality; a new kind of future for man, a new dimension of human existence, also in the act of giving life.

Love and the Resurrection — the author insists — are the two distinct reasons for being Christian. The Resurrection as a genetic “evolutionary leap” brought about by God in Jesus and promised to all; love as a method of life that distinguishes God’s children and that for the cosmos is already, at this moment, unfolding a future of hope

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