Cardinal Martino: Jesus of Nazareth goes against the grain

Cardinal Martino: Jesus of Nazareth goes against the grain July 25, 2007

(I finished Pope Benedict’s book Jesus of Nazareth last week and I have to say that it has inspired me to open the Bible and just immerse in the Old and New Testament Scriptures to get to know our Lord again through the “firsthand” accounts. I did not find the book complicated at all; in fact, it was its simplicity and clarity that did not allow me to put it down for long periods of time. However, as it is the style of Pope Benedict’s writings, each sentence is packed with dense Christological concepts that make you just want to put the book down and meditate on the Pope’s thoughts. That is not to say that the concepts are too hard to understand; on the contrary, they are very clear and that is why they prompt you to pray and meditate upon them. The beauty of this volume is that while the Pope surveys the Gospels, Prophetic books as well as the Pentateuch, he is always attentive to bring forth the relevance of these Christological implications to our contemporary society. Thus, I agree with Cardinal Martino’s assessment of the book as “robust,” “provocative” and as going “against the grain.” Needless to say, I recommend this book for a rediscovery of Jesus of Nazareth in a personal and communal way. It will be leaving you wanting for more!)

Source: Zenit

Social Doctrine

Cardinal Martino deems the book as sometimes being “polemical”: “Jesus of Nazareth is very dense in expression and argumentation, but acute — and occasionally pointed — in the things it says. In other words, it also contains a lot of polemics.”

The claim that the Pope makes that “purely material poverty is not salvific” struck Cardinal Martino:

“[I]nsofar as it takes aim at all the possible social and sociological readings of the Gospel… The Holy Father maintains that it is spiritual poverty and not material poverty that comes first. So, you cannot take poverty in the sociological sense as the point of departure because, in itself, it does not say anything significant… Being materially poor or rather, everyone becoming more poor does not, in itself, carry a message of salvation… It is from spiritual poverty — the Church as the ‘community of the poor of God’ — that the energy to struggle against material poverty is born, which is then redeemed from its materialism… [These are] broad indications that aim at many positions that in the past, as in the present, have proposed to follow the opposite path and no longer take God as the criterion of discernment but poverty, sociologically understood.”

The Torah and Social Implications

I agree with Cardinal Martino that one of the most beautiful parts of the book is how Pope Benedict touches upon the “hypothetical” dialogue that the Jewish theologian Jacob Neusner establishes with Jesus at the Sermon of the Mount:

“This dialogue is one of the most beautiful parts of the book. Christ builds a new community and thus brings about the death the ‘Eternal Israel’ based on the Torah; he brings and end to the family and progeny, bonds of the flesh, he destroys the law of the Sabbath and does not offer concretely realizable social structures but a ‘New Israel,’ bearer of a universal promise.”

Neusner is bothered by Jesus’ claim to be God, to be the Torah himself, and cannot reconcile with this notion, because he understands it as an abolition of the law, of the Eternal Israel. On the other hand, Benedict goes on to explain that Jesus does not destroy the Torah, but rather he fulfills it and Cardinal Martino observes that “[t]he social doctrine of the Church is born” with such notion.
Cultures and Salvation

“I was struck not only by the fundamental idea that animates the whole book — which is the necessity of God so that the world can function as world — but also the straightforward acknowledgement that cultures and religions are not bearers of salvation… Is this disrespect for cultures and other religions? No. Is it a reassertion of the Christian claim? Yes.”

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