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The Figure and Message of Jesus

  • Sep 14, 2011
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In "Jesus of Nazareth Part Two" Pope Benedict sets out to finish his reflections on the life and significance of Jesus of Nazareth. The fact that this second and final book covers "just" the last week or so of Jesus' earthly ministry is the reflection of the impact and importance of that one week, which culminated in crucifixion that was followed by the glorious resurrection. The amount of space that is devoted to the Holy Week also reflects the fact that the Gospels themselves allocate a significant amount of space to it. The Passion narrative alone is by far the longest uninterrupted narrative of any event that has been described in the Bible. It is because of the events that took place during that week that there is Christianity to begin with - faith that is firmly grounded in the redemptive suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is no wonder then that many books have been written about that momentous week, and "Jesus of Nazareth Part Two" is another important contribution to our fuller understanding of the impact of the events that took place then.

People familiar with Pope Benedict's writing will know to expect a keen and refined intellect that is equally at ease at Biblical exegesis, theological reflection, and pastoral exhortations. Pope moves effortlessly between critical and insightful exegesis, highly developed theology, and effective and imminent preaching. Catholic Church is truly blessed to have in the person of Pope Benedict all the virtues and functions that it aspires to manifest and carry out corporally as an institution. Pope's writing is very lucid and accessible, but it demands a certain level of familiarity with the more nuanced details of the Gospel narratives. Even though there are numerous scriptural quotations throughout the book I find that having a copy of the Bible on the side to be very useful. Sometimes it is important to look up the entire passage or the chapter from which the quote is taken. The translation that is used in this book is RSV, but any other popular English translation will do.

Even though he is an eminent theologian and leader of the over billion strong Catholic Church, Pope Benedict at no point uses his own eminent status to impose his views on the reader. He engages in a scholarly dialogue with other theologians and exegetes, and many of his statements are laced with qualifications. He comes across as someone who relishes intellectual vibrancy that may lead reasonable well-informed people to conclusions that are different from his own. He aims to persuade his readers by the reasonableness of his views, and not by the authority of his office or the scholarly accomplishments.

The book is not yet another attempt to write about the life of Jesus. This book, like all the good theology, aims to answer a couple of fundamental questions about the events in Jesus' life: What does this mean to me? What does it mean for my path as a human being? The over-intellectualized theology that loses touch with the lives and concerns of ordinary human beings is almost completely antithetical to the basic message of Christianity. Good theology brings God closer to us, and helps us become more integrated in the Church. The Church, on the other hand, is not just a "community of believers" - it is an entirely new and different mode of existence.

The book deals with several themes that Pope Benedict has reflected extensively upon, both in his previous books and in many of his public statements: the plausibility and validity of the orthodox Christian view of Jesus, the absolute nature of Truth, the reality of sin and evil, and the uniqueness of Jesus as the road to salvation.

The publishing of this book coincides with the beginning of Lent, and I cannot imagine a more appropriate book for this season of reflection and personal acts of penance. One does not have to use it only for those purposes, though: its messages, just like those of Jesus of Nazareth, are timeless.

There are some indications that this might be the last major book written by Pope Benedict XVI. I certainly hope that this is not the case. The World needs constant evangelization, and a person of his sensibility, intellect, and courage is an important and powerful voice.

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About the reviewer
Bojan Tunguz ()
I am a benevolent rascal. I love lounging in bed on a Sunday morning. Rainy days make me melancholy, but in a good kind of way. I am an incorrigible chocoholic. I hate Mondays, but I get over it by Wednesday. … more
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