‘Jesus Becoming Jesus’: What’s in a Name?
BOOK PICK: Vol. 3 of ‘Jesus Becoming Jesus’ draws out the theological meaning and import of the Gospels and is true scriptural theology.
One of Pope Benedict XVI’s greatest gifts to the Church was not in the form of a magisterial act. It was the publication of his Jesus of Nazareth series. In those books, he sidestepped the dominant historical-critical method, which so often failed to present the actual meaning of Scripture and instead just quibbled about who or what community wrote what and when and from what source, and so on. He treated the Gospels straightforwardly, as a unified whole, and gave a profound reflection on the actual text.
In Dei Verbum, the Second Vatican Council stated that the study of the sacred page should be the “soul of theology.” In the ancient world, most theology was simply the fruit of commentating on Scripture. Nor did this method disappear with the scholastics. Although most people limit themselves to his Summa Theologiae, St. Thomas Aquinas continued the tradition of doing theological commentaries on Scripture. But by Vatican II, a lot of theology had drifted away from its scriptural roots. Hence, the Council’s exhortation.
In his Jesus Becoming Jesus series, Capuchin Father Thomas Weinandy follows the path renewed by Pope Benedict and urged by the Council. Like Benedict, he deliberately sets aside the Scripture commentaries and historical-critical debates. He confines himself to the text and applies his theological mind to the Scriptures. The result is a wonderful work that draws out the theological meaning and import of the Gospels and is true scriptural theology.
Father Weinandy has held positions at Mount St. Mary’s Seminary and Franciscan University. He also served as executive director of the Secretariat for Doctrine and Pastoral Practices of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The latest installment of his series, Jesus Becoming Jesus, Vol. 3: A Theological Interpretation of the Gospel of John: The Book of Glory and the Passion and Resurrection Narratives, was published in October and completes his theological reflections on the Gospels.
The series title speaks volumes. Now, the phrase “Jesus Becoming Jesus” could be misunderstood as a modernist assertion that somehow Jesus became God or that he came to the sudden realization that he is God. That, of course, is not how Father Weinandy intends it. Rather, he means to examine the words, events and actions by which Jesus “enacts his name” and fully becomes “YHWH-saves.”
This is, of course, a deeply scriptural principle. The change of names that we encounter in Scripture (e.g., Abram/Abraham, Jacob/Israel, Simon/Peter) indicate that the name is not just a designation or label but a brief summary of who the person is: “As the name, so is the man” (1 Samuel 25:25). So also for the man who bears the holy Name of Jesus. He ought to (in colloquial terms) “live up to his name.”
St. John Eudes prayed, “O good Jesus, be Jesus to me.” It’s a petition that Jesus make his name fully effective, YHWH-Saves in our lives — not just that he does this or that work in our lives but that he himself is present in the fullness of who he is. That gets to the point of Father Weinandy’s three-volume project: to give a theological exposition of the Person of Jesus and his mission to reveal and enact his name. It focuses on not just how Jesus does this or that, but how he accomplishes, reveals and gives the fullness of who he is, YHWH-Saves.
Jesus Becoming Jesus is a great example of theology prayerfully done. It embodies truly pious thought. Certain sections of the book make for great spiritual reading and fodder for prayer. It’s clear that this work is the fruit of Father Weinandy’s own thoughtful prayer and not only academic labor.
Still, it is theology and thus requires of the reader the seriousness and perseverance to engage and think theologically. This will be a challenge for some, and that’s as it should be. Our growth in knowledge of God shouldn’t be expected without a challenge. We should desire that the mind be stretched to know God every bit as much as we desire that the heart be stretched to love him.
This latest and third volume takes up the last half of John’s Gospel, including the so-called “Book of Glory” and the Passion and Resurrection narratives. The Last Supper discourse and the Passion narrative provide perhaps the best material for Father Weinandy’s project, not only because of their own theological depth but also because they focus on those moments when Jesus definitively accomplishes his mission of salvation and becomes YHWH-Saves.
It’s hard to dip into this book for specifics without getting quickly drawn into deeper things. The section (in this reader’s opinion) most worthy of mention is Father Weinandy’s exposition of Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer (John 17). Father Weinandy brings out how, as a conclusion to the Last Supper Discourse and preface to the Passion, the High Priestly Prayer sums up all that came before and anticipates all that will come. In that one chapter (as a fit example) he engages Trinitarian theology, liturgy, ecclesiology and soteriology — and never at the expense of the focus on the Person of Jesus himself.
The Benedictine theologian Abbot Anscar Vonier once wrote, “Christ the Son of God could never be man’s eternal life if He were not man’s eternal wonder.” Father Weinandy captures this thought. He brings out the saving truths of our faith from the pages of Scripture but, unlike many theologians, without shattering the wonder of the Word-Made-Flesh. By way of piety and thought, he deepens our knowledge of how Jesus is Jesus to us.