Father Cantalamessa on Pope’s Book
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday’s Readings
ROME, JUNE 28, 2007 (Zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from this Sunday’s liturgy.
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“Let the Dead Bury the Dead”
13th Sunday in Ordinary Time
1 Kings 19:16b,19-21; Galatians 4:31-5:13-18; Luke 9:51-62
Benedict XVI’s book “Jesus of Nazareth” appeared in April. I thought that I would take account of the Pope’s reflections in my commentary on some of the next Sunday Gospels.
First of all, I’d like to remark on the content and purpose of the book. It treats of Jesus in the period from his baptism in the Jordan to the moment of his transfiguration, that is, from the beginning of his public ministry almost to its epilogue.
The Pope says that if God gives him sufficient strength and time to write it, a second volume will deal with the accounts of Jesus’ death and resurrection along with the infancy narratives. These were not treated in the first volume.
The book presupposes historical-critical exegesis and uses its findings, but desires to go beyond this method, aiming at a properly theological interpretation, that is, one that is global, not narrow, and that takes seriously the witness of the Gospels and Scriptures as books inspired by God.
The purpose of the book is to show that the figure of Jesus that is arrived at in this way is “much more logical and, from the historical point of view, also more understandable than the reconstructions that we have seen in the last decades. I hold,” the Pope adds, “that precisely this Jesus — that of the Gospels — is a historically sensible and convincing figure.”
It is quite significant that the Pope’s choice to attend to the Jesus of the Gospels finds a confirmation in the more recent and authoritative orientation of the same historical-critical approach, in, for example, the Scottish exegete James Dunn’s monumental work “Christianity in the Making.”
According to Dunn, “the synoptic Gospels bear testimony to a pattern and technique of oral transmission which has ensured a greater stability and continuity in the Jesus tradition that has thus far been generally appreciated.”
But let us come to the Gospel reading for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time. It recounts three different meetings Jesus had on the same journey. We will focus on one of these meetings. “And to another Jesus said, ‘Follow me.’ But he replied, ‘Lord, let me go first and bury my father.’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let the dead bury their dead. But you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.'”
In his book, the Pope comments on the theme of family relations alluded to in the above Gospel passage in dialogue with the Jewish-American Rabbi Jacob Neusner. In his book “A Rabbi Talks with Jesus,” Rabbi Neusner imagines himself as present in the crowds when Jesus speaks.
Rabbi Neusner explains why, despite his great admiration for the “Rabbi of Nazareth,” he would not have been able to become his disciple. One of the reasons for this is Jesus’ position on family relations. Rabbi Neusner says that on many occasions Jesus seems to invite transgression of the fourth commandment, which says that we must honor our father and mother. Jesus asks someone, as we just heard, to forget about burying his own father and elsewhere he says that whoever loves father and mother more than him is not worthy of him.
Often the response to these objections is to cite other words of Jesus that strongly affirm the permanent validity of family bonds: the indissolubility of marriage, the duty to help one’s father and mother.
In his book, however, the Pope offers a more profound and illuminating answer to this objection, an objection that is not only Rabbi Neusner’s, but also that of many Christian readers of the Gospel. He takes his point of departure from something else Jesus says. “Who is my mother? Who are my brothers? … Whoever does the will of my Father who is in heaven is my brother, sister, and mother” (Matthew 12:48-50).
Jesus does not thereby abolish the natural family, but reveals a new family in which God is father, and men and women are all brothers and sisters thanks to a common faith in him, the Christ. Rabbi Neusner asks whether he has a right to do this. This spiritual family already existed: It was the people of Israel, united by observance of the Torah, that is, the Mosaic law.
A son was only permitted to leave his father’s house to study the Torah. But Jesus does not say, “Whoever loves father or mother more than the Torah is not worthy of the Torah.” He says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” He puts himself in the place of the Torah and this can only be done by someone who is greater than the Torah and greater than Moses, who promulgated it.
Benedict XVI thinks that the rabbi is right to conclude: “Only God can demand of me what Jesus asks.” The Pope notes that the discussion about Jesus and family relations — like that about Jesus and observance of the Sabbath — thus brings us to the true heart of the matter, which is to know who Jesus is. If a Christian does not believe that Jesus acts with the authority itself of God and is himself God, then Rabbi Neusner, who refuses to follow Jesus, has a more coherent position than that particular Christian does. One cannot accept Jesus’ teaching if one does not accept his person.
Let us take some practical instruction from this discussion. The “family of God,” which is the Church, not only is not against the natural family, but is its guarantee and promoter. We see it today. It is a shame that some divergences of opinion in our society on questions linked to marriage and the family impede many from recognizing the providential work of the Church on behalf of the family. She is often without support in this decisive battle for the future of humanity.