Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Jesus of Nazareth

Jesus of Nazareth is undoubtedly the most profound book I’ve read in 2008 and the best book on Jesus – outside of the Gospels – I’ve ever encountered. As such it seems an appropriate closing post for 2008. If you haven't read JoN yet, you owe it to yourself to make it a priority for 2009!

Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI claims, “this book is . . . my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord.’” It can be yours too. It is alternately poetical, mystical, scholarly, exegetical and meditative. It is always erudite, challenging, thoughtful and catholic, i.e., universal. It is never preachy or pedantic.

Jesus of Nazareth is not for the faint-hearted, nor casual reader. I read every chapter except the last a minimum of three times, often more and mostly because it was necessary. On my first read throughs I found it impossible to take in the depth of his theology while keeping up with him. Paragraphs are packed with references. In order to do this book justice, you need to sit with a good bible translation beside you at all times. I only wish I’d had access to more of the books and authors the Pope quoted. He drew heavily from Holy Scripture, Scripture scholars (from different denominations), Church Fathers—east and west, saints and their writings and biographies, historical figures, philosophers, atheists, and numerous modern exegetes. In fact, it was the depth and breadth of the Holy Father’s sources which first surprised, then amazed and finally thrilled me; here was a true Shepherd for all of humanity. Any one human being who could command such a vast storehouse of the world’s knowledge is nothing short of a genius. And yet, it wasn’t his brilliance in the end that mattered, but his humility and simplicity.

Over and over again in Jesus of Nazareth, Pope Benedict XVI shows himself to be the world’s true Christian shepherd. He speaks of Jesus with such love, born of long years of relationship, which can never emerge from books, no matter how many, nor how well they are written. Joseph Ratzinger, the man, knows Jesus of Nazareth, Our Lord. It is He that this book is about. As an Evangelical Protestant pastor observes in this blog post, ‘whatever your image may be of Joseph Ratzinger, this book will change it. In it you see deeply into his own heart, and what is there is a humble and gentle spirit, and a deep godliness. He deals gently with those who object to the traditional view of Jesus, and his interaction with the arguments in Jewish scholar Jacob Neusner’s “A Rabbi Talks with Jesus” is worth the price of the book. It should be archetypal for how Christians should interact with their Jewish neighbors, and their Jewish critics.’ Read, Jesus of Nazareth by Pope Benedict XVI by Joel Gillespie, Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The book’s dust jacket claims that PBXVI is seeking to salvage the person of Jesus from recent “popular” depictions and restore Jesus’ true identity as discovered in the Gospels.’ As if Our Lord needs “salvaging” or “restoration”! If in fact that was his intention when he began the book, he surpassed that simple objective and left it far behind in what he ultimately created. However, since PBXVI does address recent ‘scholarship’ which seeks to quantify every aspect of faith, even this issue is dealt with in a straightforward and factual manner.

Each chapter in JoN is a scholarly, yet spiritual, treatment of one aspect of Jesus and/or His ministry. The book is ten chapters, begins with Our Lord’s Baptism and covers a number of significant events/issues relevant to the God-man Jesus Christ, concluding with the revelation of His identity. Tantalizingly – if you glean as much from the book as I did – the Holy Father promises a sequel, or rather, the second half of this book.

An important thing this book did for me was remind me how much there still is to learn about Jesus of Nazareth, and I don’t just mean facts, although there were plenty of those, but in terms of one’s personal relationship with Him—and how much spiritual ‘growing up’ I still have to do, or do I mean ‘growing down’? PBXVI gave me new perspectives on parables I thought I knew inside out. He connected symbols and figures from the Old and New Testaments – many of which I’d seen and heard before – but in ways stunningly innovative. He introduced me to numerous authors and scripture scholars completely unknown to me before. In the middle of a piece of text, there would be a sentence which would reach out and literally grab my attention like a hand jumping out at me from the page. My faith life has been re-energized by this book in ways I could never have dreamed possible. But mostly, I have come to see Him, Jesus, through the eyes of his servant, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI. I am in awe.

Our Goodreads group, Benedict's Book Club, spent over four months with this book and we barely scratched the surface in my humble opinion. Since then A Study Guide - depicted above has been published which should facilite an even deeper and more meaningful journey with this incredible book. May it bless your new year as it has blessed my past one!

May Our LORD Jesus Christ of Nazareth bless you and yours in 2009!

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