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Pope Benedict XVI’s weekly general audience.
BY The Editors
his general audience on Oct. 8, Pope Benedict XVI continued his series of
teachings on St. Paul, focusing on Paul’s relationship to the historical Jesus.
Paul’s knowledge of Jesus and his proclamation of the risen Christ as God’s Son
and our savior was grounded in the life and preaching of Jesus himself.
Dear brothers and sisters,
my last couple of catecheses on St. Paul, I spoke about his encounter with the
risen Christ, which changed his life in a profound way, and his relationship
with the Twelve Apostles who were called by Jesus — particularly James, Cephas
and John — as well as his relationship with the church of Jerusalem. The
question that now remains revolves around what St. Paul knew about Jesus here
on earth — his life, his teachings and his passion.
we take up this question, it might be useful to keep in mind that St. Paul
himself made a distinction between two ways of knowing Jesus, and more
generally, two ways of knowing his person. As he wrote in the Second Letter to
the Corinthians, “Consequently, from now on we regard no one according to the
flesh; even if we once knew Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know him
so no longer” (2 Corinthians 5:16). To know “according to the flesh,” in a
carnal way, means to merely know in an outward manner, using exterior criteria.
We might have seen someone on various occasions; therefore, we are familiar
with their features and various details regarding their behavior — how they
speak, how they carry themselves, etc.
Nonetheless, we do not truly know
someone if we know them in this way. We do not know the core of that person. We
truly know someone only with the heart.
The Pharisees and Sadducees knew
Jesus in an outward way. They were acquainted with his teachings and many other
details regarding him, but they did not know him according to his truth.
There is an analogous distinction in
some of Jesus’ words. After the Transfiguration, he asked the apostles: “Who do
people say that I am?” and “Who do you say that I am?” The people know him, but
superficially. They know different things about him, but they don’t truly know
him. The Twelve Apostles, on the other hand, thanks to a friendship that
involves the heart, had understood, at least in substance, and had begun to know
who Jesus is.
Even today there are these two ways
of knowing him. There are very learned people who know many details about Jesus
as well as simple people who are not familiar with these details, but who know
him according to his truth: “The heart speaks to the heart.”
In essence, Paul was speaking about
knowing Jesus in this way — with the heart — and essentially knowing a person
according to their truth, before knowing details about them.
Having said this, the question
remains: What did Paul know concretely about Jesus’ life, words, passion and
It seems fairly certain that he
never met Christ during his life here on earth. Yet, he surely knew some of the
details about Christ’s life here on earth from the apostles and from others in
the emerging Church.
In his letters, we find three ways
in which he refers to Jesus prior to Easter.
First of all, there are some
explicit and direct references. Paul speaks about Jesus’ Davidic lineage (see
He knows about the existence of some
of his “brothers,” that is, blood relatives (see 1 Corinthians 9:5; Galatians
1:19). He knew what happened at the Last Supper (see 1 Corinthians 11:23). He
knew some other things that Jesus said, regarding, for example, the
indissolubility of marriage (see 1 Corinthians 7:10 with Mark 10:11-12) and the
need for the community to provide for those who proclaim the Gospel — just as
any worker deserves his wage (see 1 Corinthians 9:14 with Luke 10:7).
Paul was familiar with the words
that Jesus spoke at the Last Supper (see 1 Corinthians 11:24-25 with Luke
22:19-20), and he also was familiar with Jesus’ cross.
These are direct references to what
Jesus said and facts about his life.
The Gospel Tradition
Secondly, in some of the phrases of
Paul’s letters, we can see various allusions to the tradition found in the
For example, the words we read in
his First Letter to the Thessalonians, which tell us that “the day of the Lord
will come like a thief at night” (see 1 Thessalonians 5:2), cannot be explained
by referring to the Old Testament prophecies because the metaphor of the thief
at night is found only in the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Luke.
Therefore, it must have been taken directly from the synoptic tradition.
Likewise, when we read that God
“chose the foolish of the world” (see 1 Corinthians 1:27-28), we hear a
faithful echo of Jesus’ teachings on the simple and poor (see Matthew 5:3;
In addition, there are Jesus’ words
during a moment of messianic rejoicing: “I give you praise, Father, Lord of
heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and
the learned, you have revealed them to the childlike.”
From his experience as a missionary,
Paul knows that these words are true, and that it is the childlike whose hearts
are open to knowing Jesus. Also, his reference to Jesus’ obedience “to death”
that is found in Philippians 2:8 cannot but recall Jesus’ total willingness to
fulfill the Father’s will here on earth (see Mark 3:35; John 4:34).
Paul was, therefore, familiar with
Jesus’ passion, his cross, and the way in which he lived the last moments of
The cross of Jesus and the tradition
regarding the events surrounding the cross are at the center of Paul’s kerygma
Paul was also familiar with the
Sermon on the Mount — another pillar in the life of Jesus — some elements of
which he cites almost to the letter when he writes to the Romans: “Love one
another. ... Bless those who persecute you. ... Live in peace with all. ...
Overcome evil with good.”
In his letters, therefore, there is
a faithful reflection of the Sermon on the Mount (see Matthew 5-7).
Finally, it is possible to find a
third way in which Jesus’ words are present in Paul’s letters, as he transposes
traditions that predate Easter to the situation after Easter. A typical case is
the subject of the Kingdom of God. This is certainly at the center of the
historical Jesus’ preaching (see Matthew 3:2; Mark 1:15; Luke 4:43).
In Paul, we can see this theme
transposed, because it is obvious after the Resurrection that Jesus in person,
the risen One, is the Kingdom of God. Thus, the Kingdom of God reaches wherever
Out of necessity, the theme of the
Kingdom of God, which foresaw the mystery of Jesus, was transformed into
Nevertheless, the same dispositions
that Jesus required in order to enter into the Kingdom of God are exactly the
same ones that Paul required vis-à-vis justification by faith: Both entrance
into the Kingdom of God and justification require an attitude of great humility
and willingness, free of presumptions, in order to accept God’s grace.
For example, the parable of the
Pharisee and the publican (see Luke 18:9-14) teaches exactly what St. Paul
teaches when he insists that we are obliged to avoid any boasting in our
relationship with God.
addition, Jesus’ teaching on the publicans and the prostitutes, who were more
willing than the Pharisees to accept the Gospel (see Matthew 21:31; Luke
7:36-50), and his decision to share meals with them (see Matthew 9:10-13; Luke
15:1-2), are fully found in Paul’s teaching on God’s merciful love toward
sinners (see Romans 5:8-10 and Ephesians 2:3-5).
Thus, the theme of the Kingdom of God
is formulated in a new way, but is always faithful to the tradition of the
Another example of transformation
that is faithful to Jesus’ core teaching is found in the “titles” that refer to
Prior to Easter, Christ called
himself the “Son of Man.” After Easter it is obvious that the Son of Man is
also the Son of God. Therefore, the title that Paul prefers for describing
Jesus is Kýrios (Lord) (see Philippians 2:9-11),
which points to Jesus’ divinity.
With this title, the Lord Jesus appears
in the full light of his resurrection.
On the Mount of Olives, during
Jesus’ extreme anguish (see Mark 14:36), the disciples, before falling asleep,
heard Jesus speak with the Father and call him Abbà (Father).
This is a very informal expression, akin to our word “daddy,” that only
children use for their father.
Up until that moment, it was
unthinkable that a Jew would use such a word to address God. But Jesus, being a
true son, spoke in this way during this hour of intimacy and said, “Abbà,
Surprisingly, in St. Paul’s letters
to the Romans and Galatians, the word “Abbà,” which expresses the uniqueness of
Jesus’ relationship as a son, appears on the lips of the baptized (see Romans
8:15; Galatians 4:6) because they who have received the “Spirit of the Son” now
carry this Spirit within them and can speak as Jesus and with Jesus as true
sons to their Father.
They can say Abbà
because they have become sons and daughters in the Son.
Freedom in Christ
Finally, I would like to speak about
the saving dimension of Jesus’ death, which we find in that passage of the
Gospel where “the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give
his life as a ransom for many” (see Mark 10:45; Matthew 20:28).
Jesus’ words are faithfully
expressed in Paul’s teaching on Jesus’ death as a ransom (see 1 Corinthians
6:20), as redemption (see Romans 3:24), as freedom (see Galatians 5:1) and as
reconciliation (see Romans 5:10; 2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
Here is the core of Paul’s theology,
which is based on this saying of Jesus.
In conclusion, St. Paul did not
think of Jesus as a historian would — as a person from the past. He certainly
was familiar with the great tradition regarding Jesus’ life — his words, his
death and his resurrection — but he did not treat them as something from the
past, but as the reality of the living Jesus.
For Paul, Jesus’ words and actions
do not belong to some historical period, to the past. Jesus lives and speaks
with us today, and lives for us. This is the true way to get to know Jesus and
to embrace the tradition regarding him.
too, should learn to know Jesus, not according to the flesh as a person of the
past, but as Our Lord and brother, who is with us today and shows us how to
live and how to die. Register translation