This spring, Pope Benedict XVI published a 10-chapter book titled Jesus of Nazareth. And while the Pope specifically instructed that the work is a personal project and not part of the magisterial teaching of the Church, his book is a profound reflection on Jesus authored by one of the greatest theological minds in the history of Christianity.
Father Raymond J. de Souza, the Register’s former Rome correspondent, analyzes the book’s contents and its significance in an exclusive five-part series for the Register. This is Part II.
The publication of Pope Benedict XVI’s historic book, Jesus of Nazareth, earlier this year provided the Church with an invitation to encounter again the figure of Jesus in the full measure of the Gospels. Writing in his personal capacity as Joseph Ratzinger the theologian, Benedict proposes the fruit of a lifetime of research and meditation upon what the Gospels tell us about who Jesus is.
In the second chapter of his book, in which he examines the temptations of Jesus, the Holy Father puts the question directly: “What did Jesus actually bring, if not world peace, universal prosperity, and a better world? What has he brought?”
The question arises because the world around us is obviously flawed — there is a lack of justice, and a lack of peace.
The temptation that Satan offers to Jesus is to turn the stones into bread, and does not the world most obviously need bread? Why shouldn’t the Son of God turn the stones, if not the mountains, into bread that all might eat?
“Is there anything more tragic, is there anything more opposed to belief in the existence of a good God and a Redeemer of mankind, than world hunger?” Benedict-Ratzinger asks. “Shouldn’t it be the first test of the Redeemer, before the world’s gaze and on the world’s behalf, to give it bread and to end all hunger?
“During their wandering through the desert, God fed the people of Israel with bread from heaven, with manna. Did not, and does not, the Redeemer of the world have to prove his credentials by feeding everyone? Isn’t the problem of feeding the world — and, more generally, are not social problems — the primary, true yardstick by which redemption has to be measured? Does someone who fails to live up to this standard have any right to be called a redeemer?”The Wrong Standards
The question seems so reasonable. What did Jesus bring if not a solution to our most pressing problems? What, to put it bluntly, does Jesus offer to us? How is he useful?
Benedict-Ratzinger explains that the temptations that Satan offers are inspired by precisely this logic, which approaches God from a purely human point of view, with a concern for solving human problems and satisfying human ambitions. Yet God does not exist to solve our problems; he is not there as a sort of omnipotent servant, charged with fulfilling our every need and desire.
That kind of God is really not truly God, but rather a much greater and powerful version of ourselves — a god made in the image of what we would like to be.
Benedict-Ratzinger says that Jesus did not bring this man-made god to us, but rather something much simpler and much greater: God as he truly is. This is what Jesus insists upon in his reply to Satan’s temptations — that God does not conform himself to the image of this world.
“He has brought God, and now we know his face, now we can call upon him,” writes Benedict-Ratzinger of what Jesus brought. “Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world. Jesus has brought God, and with God the truth about our origin and destiny: faith, hope and love. It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little.”
It is this hardness of heart to which the devil appeals in tempting Jesus. He appeals to our own hardness of heart, as if Jesus too had a heart calloused by sin. Satan appeals to the reasonableness of human thinking — should we not judge God by our standards of efficiency, by our standards?
“Jesus has emerged victorious from his battle with Satan,” writes Ratzinger-Benedict. “To the tempter’s lying divinization of power and prosperity, to his lying promise of a future that offers all things to all men through power and through wealth — he responds with the fact that God is God, that God is man’s true Good.
“To the invitation to worship power, the Lord answers with a passage of Deuteronomy, the same book that the devil himself had cited: ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve’ (Matthew 4:10; cf. Deuteronomy 6:13). The fundamental commandment of Israel is also the fundamental commandment for Christians: God alone is to be worshipped.”In God’s Hands
In rejecting the temptations of worldly bread, protection from worldly dangers and worldly power, Jesus reminds us that only in God do we find salvation. But this God does not remain unreachably far from us, in another world to which we do not have access.
To the contrary, Jesus came to bring this God to us — even to us in our suffering, our distress and our despair.
If we see the wicked world around us and feel abandoned, and are tempted to take matters into our own hands, Jesus comes precisely that we might know that we are not alone, and even this broken world is in the provident hands of God.
Father Raymond J. de Souza
served as the Register’s Rome
correspondent from 1999-2003.
He writes from Kingston, Ontario.