Was Jesus Who He Said

This article is a series of homilies by Father Raniero Cantalamessa, OFM Cap, on the person of Jesus, delivered during Lent and Easter Seasons 2007. Father Cantalamessa addresses the question, "Was Jesus Who He Said He Was?" and uses Scripture to answer the question.

Jesus: He Gives Us Infinite Chances

ROME, APRIL 20, 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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Do You Love Me? 
Third Sunday of Easter 
Acts 5:27b-32, 40b-41; Revelation 5:11-14; John 21:1-19 

Reading the Gospel of John, we understand that originally it ended with Chapter 20. If Chapter 21 was added on later, why did the Evangelist or some disciple of his feel the need to insist yet again on the reality of Christ's resurrection. 

The teaching that is drawn from this Gospel passage is that Jesus is risen not just in "a manner of speaking," but really, in his new body. "We ate and drank with him after his resurrection from the dead," Peter will say in the Acts of the Apostles, probably referring to this episode (Acts 10:4). 

In John's Gospel, Jesus' dialogue with Peter follows the scene in which he eats the roasted fish with the apostles. Three questions: "Do you love me?" Three answers: "You know that I love you." Three conclusions: "Feed my sheep!" 

With these words Jesus confers on Peter, de facto -- and according to the Catholic interpretation, to his successors -- the office of supreme and universal shepherd of the flock of Christ. He confers on him that primacy that he promised him when he said: "You are Peter and on this rock I will build my Church. To you I will give the keys of the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 16:18-19). 

The most moving thing about this page of the Gospel is that Jesus remains faithful to the promise made to Peter despite Peter's not having been faithful to his promise to never betray him even at the cost of his life (cf. Matthew 26:35). 

Jesus' triple question is explained by his desire to give Peter the possibility of canceling out his triple denial of Jesus during the passion. 

God always gives men a second chance, and often a third, a fourth and infinite chances. He does not remove people from his book at their first mistake. 

What does this do for us? His master's confidence and his master's forgiveness made Peter a new person; strong, faithful unto death. He fed Christ's faithful in the difficult moments in the Church's beginning, when it was necessary to leave Galilee and take to the roads of the world. 

Peter will be able in the end to keep his promise to give his life for Christ. If we would learn the lesson contained in Christ's interaction with Peter, putting our confidence in someone even after they have made a mistake, there would be a lot fewer failures and marginalized people in the world! 

The dialogue of Jesus and Peter should be transferred to the life of each one of us. St. Augustine, commenting on this passage of the Gospel, says: "Questioning Peter, Jesus also questions each of us." The question: "Do you love me?" is addressed to each disciple. 

Christianity is not an ensemble of teachings and practices; it is something much more intimate and profound. It is a relationship of friendship with the person of Jesus Christ. Many times during his earthly life he asked people: "Do you believe?" and never "Do you love me?" He does this only now, after giving us proof of how much he loves us in his passion and death. 

Jesus makes love for him consist in serving others: "Do you love me? Feed my sheep." He does not want to benefit from the fruits of this love but he wants his sheep to. He is the recipient of Peter's love but not its beneficiary. It as if he said to Peter: "Consider what you do for my flock as done to me." 

This implicates us as well. Our love for Christ should not be something private and sentimental but should express itself in the service of others, in doing good to others. Mother Teresa of Calcutta often said: "The fruit of love is service and the fruit of service is peace." 

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Jesus: The Good Shepherd

ROME, APRIL 27, 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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I am the Good Shepherd 
Fourth Sunday of Easter 
Acts 13:14, 43-52; Revelations 7:9, 14b-17; John 10:27-30 

In all three liturgical cycles the Fourth Sunday of Easter presents a passage from John's Gospel about the good shepherd. After having led us among the fishermen last Sunday, this Sunday the Gospel takes us among the shepherds. These are two categories of equal importance in the Gospels. From the one comes the designation "fishers of men," from the other "shepherd of souls." Both are applied to the apostles. 

The larger part of Judea was a plateau with inhospitable and rocky soil, more adapted to livestock than to agriculture. Grass was scarce and the flock had to continually travel from one spot to another; there were no walls for protection and because of this the shepherd always had to be with the flock. A traveler of the last century has left us a portrait of the shepherd of Palestine: "When you see him in a high pasture, sleepless, a gaze that searches in the distance, weather-beaten, leaning on his staff, ever attentive to the movements of the flock, you understand why the shepherd acquired such importance in the history of Israel that they gave this title to their kings and Christ assumed it as an emblem of self-sacrifice." 

In the Old Testament, God himself is represented as the shepherd of his people. "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" (Psalm (23:1). "He is our God and we are his people whom he shepherds" (Psalm 95:7). The future Messiah is also described with the image of the shepherd: "Like a shepherd he feeds his flock; in his arms he gathers the lambs, carrying them in his bosom, and leading the ewes with care" (Isaiah 40:11). This ideal image of the shepherd finds its complete realization in Christ. He is the good shepherd who goes in search of the lost sheep; he feels compassion for the people because he sees them "as sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36); he calls his disciples "the little flock" (Luke 12:32). Peter calls Jesus "the shepherd of our souls" (1 Peter 2:25) and the Letter to the Hebrews speaks of him as "the great shepherd of the sheep" (Hebrews 13:20). 

This Sunday's Gospel passage highlights some of the characteristics of Jesus the good shepherd. The first has to do with the reciprocal knowledge that the sheep and shepherd have: "My sheep hear my voice and I know them and they follow me." In certain countries of Europe sheep are raised principally for their meat; in Israel they were raised above all for wool and milk. For this reason they remained for many years in the company of the shepherd who knew the character of each one and gave them affectionate names. 

What Jesus wants to say with these images is clear. He knows his disciples (and, as God, all men), he knows them "by name," which for the Bible means their innermost essence. He loves them with a personal love that treats each as if they were the only one who existed for him. Christ only knows how to count to one, and that one is each of us. 

The Gospel passage tells us something else about the good shepherd. He gives his life to his sheep and for his sheep, and no one can take them out of his hand. Wild animals -- wolves and hyenas -- and bandits were a nightmare for the shepherds of Israel. In such isolated places they were a constant threat. This was the moment in which is revealed the difference between the true shepherd -- the one who shepherds the family's flock, who does this for his life's work -- and the hired hand, who works only for the pay he receives, who does not love, and indeed often hates, the sheep. 

Confronted with danger, the mercenary flees and leaves the sheep at the mercy of the wolf or bandits; the true shepherd courageously faces the danger to save the flock. This explains why the liturgy proposes the passage about the good shepherd to us during the time of Easter -- the moment in which Christ showed that he is the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep. 
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Jesus: Preach the Good News to All the World

Comments on Liturgical Readings 

ROME, APRIL 15, 2007 (zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from today's liturgy. 

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Second Sunday of Easter 
Acts 4:32-35; 1 John 5:1-6; John 20:19-31 

The Gospel of this Sunday "in Albis" tells of the two appearances of the risen Jesus to the apostles in the cenacle. In this first appearance Jesus says to the apostles: "'Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, so I send you.' After having said this he breathed on them and said: 'Receive the Holy Spirit.'" It is the solemn moment of sending. In Mark's Gospel the same sending is expressed with the words: "Go and preach the Gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). 

Luke's Gospel, which has accompanied us this year, expresses this movement from Jerusalem to the world with the episode of the two disciples who travel from Jerusalem to Emmaus with the risen Christ, who explains the Scriptures to them and breaks bread for them. There are three or four villages that claim to be the ancient Emmaus of the Gospel. Perhaps even this particular town, like the whole episode, has a symbolic value. Now Emmaus is every town; the risen Jesus accompanies his disciples along all the roads of the world and in all directions. 

The historical problem that we will deal with in this last conversation of the series has precisely to do with Christ's commission of the apostles. The questions that we ask ourselves are: Did Jesus really order his disciples to go into the whole world? Did he think that a community would be born from his message, that this message would have a following? Did he think that there should be a Church? We ask ourselves these questions because, as we have done in these commentaries, there are those who give a negative answer to these questions, an answer that is contrary to the historical data. 

The undeniable fact of the election of the Twelve Apostles indicates that Jesus had the intention of giving life to a community and foresaw his life and teaching having a following. All the parables whose original nucleus contains the idea of an expansion to the Gentiles cannot be explained in another way. One thinks of the parable of the murderous tenants of the vineyard, of the workers in the vineyard, of the saying about the last who will be first, of the "many who will come from the east and west to the banquet of Abraham," while others will be excluded -- and countless other sayings. 

During his life Jesus never left the land of Israel, except for some brief excursion into the pagan territories in the north, but this is explained by his conviction that he was above all sent for the people of Israel, to then urge them, once converted, to welcome the Gentiles into the fold, according to the universalistic proclamations of the prophets. 

It is often claimed that in the passage from Jerusalem to Rome, the Gospel message was profoundly modified. In other words, it is said that between the Christ of the Gospels and the Christ preached by the different Christian churches, there is not continuity but rupture. 

Certainly there is a difference between the two. But there is an explanation for this. If we compare a photograph of an embryo in the maternal womb with the same child at the age of 10 or 30, it could be said that we are dealing with two different realities; but we know that everything that the man has become was already contained and programmed into the embryo. Jesus himself compared the kingdom of heaven to a small seed, but he said it was destined to grow and become a great tree on whose branches the birds of the sky would come to perch (Matthew 13:32). 

Even if they are not the exact words that he used, what Jesus says in John's Gospel is important: "I have many other things to tell you, but you are not ready for them now (that is, you are not able to understand them); but the Holy Spirit will teach you all things and will lead you to the whole truth." Thus, Jesus foresaw a development of his doctrine, guided by the Holy Spirit. It is plain why in today's Gospel reading the sending on mission is accompanied by the gift of the Holy Spirit. 

But is it true that the Christianity that we know was born in the third century, with Constantine, as is sometimes insinuated? A few years after Jesus' death, we already find the fundamental elements of the Church attested to: the celebration of the Eucharist, a Passover celebration with a different content from that of Exodus ("our Passover," as Paul calls it); Christian baptism that will soon take the place of circumcision; the canon of Scripture, which in its core stems from the first decades of the second century; Sunday as a new day of celebration that quite early on will take the place of the Jewish Sabbath. Even the hierarchical structure of the Church (bishops, priests and deacons) is attested to by Ignatius of Antioch at the beginning of the second century. 

Of course, not everything in the Church can be traced back to Jesus. There are many things in the Church that are historical, human products, as well as the products of human sin, and the Church must periodically free itself from this, and it does not cease to do so. But in essential things the Church's faith has every right to claim a historical origin in Christ. 

We began the series of commentaries on the Lenten Gospels moved by the same intention that Luke announces at the beginning of his Gospel: "So that you may know the truth of the things about which you have been instructed." Having arrived at the end of the cycle, I can only hope to have achieved, in some measure, the same purpose, even if it is important to recall that the living and true Jesus is properly reached not by history but through the leap of faith. History, however, can show that it is not crazy to make that leap. 
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The Risen Christ 

ROME, APRIL 7, 2007 (zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings for Easter Sunday's liturgy. 

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He is Risen! 
Easter Sunday 
Acts 10:34a, 37-43; Colossians 3:1-4; John 20:1-9 

There are men -- we see this in the phenomenon of suicide bombers -- who die for a misguided or even evil cause, mistakenly retaining, but in good faith, that the cause is a worthy one. 

Even Christ's death does not testify to the truth of his cause, but only the fact that he believed in its truth. Christ's death is the supreme witness of his charity, but not of his truth. This truth is adequately testified to only by the Resurrection. "The faith of Christians," says St. Augustine, "is the resurrection of Christ. It is no great thing to believe that Jesus died; even the pagans believe this, everyone believes it. The truly great thing is to believe that he is risen." 

Keeping to the purpose that has guided us up to this point, we must leave faith aside for the moment and attend to history. We would like to try to respond to the following question: Can Christ's resurrection be defined as a historical event, in the common sense of the term, that is, did it "really happen"? 

There are two facts that offer themselves for the historian's consideration and permit him to speak of the Resurrection: First, the sudden and inexplicable faith of the disciples, a faith so tenacious as to withstand even the trial of martyrdom; second, the explanation of this faith that has been left by those who had it, that is, the disciples. In the decisive moment, when Jesus was captured and executed, the disciples did not entertain any thoughts about the resurrection. They fled and took Jesus' case to be closed. 

In the meantime something had to intervene that in a short time not only provoked a radical change of their state of soul, but that led them to an entirely different activity and to the founding of the Church. This "something" is the historical nucleus of Easter faith. 

The oldest testimony to the Resurrection is Paul's: "For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: That Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he rose again according to the Scriptures; and that he was seen by Cephas, and after that by the eleven. 

"Then he was seen by more than 500 brethren at once, of whom many are still with us and some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen by James, then by all the apostles. And last of all, he was seen also by me, as by one born out of due time" (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). 

These words were written around A.D. 56 or 57. But the core of the text is constituted by an anterior faith that Paul himself says he received from others. Keeping in mind that Paul learned of these things immediately after his conversion, we can date them to about A.D. 35, that is, five or six years after the death of Christ. It is thus a testimony of rare historical value. 

The accounts of the Evangelists were written some decades later and reflect a later phase in the Church's reflection. But the core of the testimony remains unchanged: The Lord is risen and was seen alive. To this a new element is added, perhaps determined by an apologetic preoccupation, and so of minor historical value: The insistence on the fact of the empty tomb. Even for the Gospels, the appearances of the Risen Christ are the decisive facts. 

The appearances, nevertheless, testify to a new dimension of the Risen Christ, his mode of being "according to the Spirit," which is new and different with respect to his previous mode of existing, "according to the flesh." For example, he cannot be recognized by whoever sees him, but only by those to whom he gives the ability to know him. His corporeality is different from what it was before. It is free from physical laws: It enters and exits through closed doors; it appears and disappears. 

According to a different explanation of the Resurrection, one advanced by Rudolf Bultmann and still proposed today, what we have here are psychogenetic visions, that is, subjective phenomena similar to hallucinations. But this, if it were true, would constitute in the end a greater miracle than the one that such explanations wish to deny. It supposes that in fact different people, in different situations and locations, had the same impression, the same halucination. 

The disciples could not have deceived themselves: They were specific people -- fishermen -- not at all given to visions. They did not believe the first ones; Jesus almost has to overpower their resistance: "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe!" They could not even want to deceive others. All of their interests opposed this; they would have been the first to feel themselves deceived by Jesus. If he were not risen, to what purpose would it have been to face persecution and death for him? What material benefit would they have drawn from it? 

If the historical character of the Resurrection -- that is, its objective, and not only subjective, character -- is denied, the birth of the Church and of the faith become an even more inexplicable mystery than the Resurrection itself. It has been justly observed that "the idea that the imposing edifice of the history of Christianity is like an enormous pyramid balanced upon an insignificant fact is certainly less credible than the assertion that the entire event -- and that also means the most significant fact within this -- really did occupy a place in history comparable to the one that the New Testament attributes to it." 

Where does the historical research on the Resurrection arrive? We can see it in the words of the disciples of Emmaus: Some disciples went to Jesus' tomb Easter morning and they found that things were as the women had said who had gone their before them, "but they did not see him." History too must take itself to Jesus' tomb and see that things are as the witnesses have said. But it does not see the Risen One. It is not enough to observe matters historically. It is necessary to see the Risen Christ, and this is something history cannot do; only faith can. 

The angel who appeared to the women Easter morning said to them: "Why do you seek the living among the dead?" (Luke 24:5). I must confess that at the end of these reflections I feel that this rebuke is also directed at me. It is as if the angel were to say to me: "Why do you waste time seeking among dead human and historical arguments, the one who is alive and at work in the Church and in the world? Go instead and tell his brothers that he is risen." 

If it were up to me, that is the only thing I would do. I quit teaching the history of Christian origins 30 years ago to dedicate myself to proclaming the Kingdom of God, but now when I am faced with radical and unfounded denials of the truth of the Gospels, I have felt obliged to take up the tools of my trade again. 

This is why I have decided to use these commentaries on the Sunday Gospels to oppose a tendency often motivated by commercial interests and help those who may read my observations to form an opinion about Jesus that is less influenced by the clamor of the advertising world. 

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The Women at the Cross 

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 6, 2007 (zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Good Friday sermon delivered today by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa during the Celebration of the Lord's Passion in St. Peter's Basilica, and in the presence of Benedict XVI. 

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There were also some women 

"Standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene" (John 19:25). Let us leave Mary his mother aside this time. Her presence on Calvary needs no explanation. She was his mother, and this by itself says everything; mothers do not abandon their children, not even one condemned to death. But why were the other women there? Who were they and how many were there? 

The Gospels tell us the names of some of them: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, Salome, the mother of the sons of Zebedee, a certain Joanna and a certain Susanna (Luke 8:3). Having come with Jesus from Galilee, these women followed him, weeping, on the journey to Calvary (Luke 23:27-28). Now, on Golgotha, they watched "from a distance" (that is from the minimum distance permitted them), and from there, a little while later, they accompanied him in sorrow to the tomb, with Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:55). 

This fact is too marked and too extraordinary to hastily pass over. We call them, with a certain masculine condescension, "the pious women," but they are much more than "pious women," they are "mothers of courage"! They defied the danger of openly showing themselves to be there on behalf of the one condemned to death. Jesus said: "Blessed is he who is not scandalized by me" (Luke 7:23). These women are the only ones who were not scandalized by him. 

There has been animated discussion for quite some time about who it was that wanted Jesus' death: Was it the Jews or Pilate? One thing is certain in any case: It was men and not women. No woman was involved, not even indirectly, in his condemnation. Even the only pagan woman named in the accounts, Pilate's wife, dissociated herself from his condemnation (Matthew 27:19). Certainly Jesus died for the sins of women too, but historically they can say: "We are innocent of this man's blood" (Matthew 27:24). 

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This is one of the surest signs of the honesty and the historical reliability of the Gospels: The poor showing of the authors and inspirers of the Gospels and the marvelous figure cut by the women. Clearly the authors and inspirers of the Gospels saw the story they were telling as infinitely greater than their own miserableness and were thus drawn to be faithful to it. Otherwise, who would have allowed the ignominy of their own fear, flight, and denial -- which was made to look worse by the very different conduct of the women -- recorded for posterity. 

It has always been asked why it was the "pious women" who were the first to see the Risen Christ and receive the task of announcing it to the apostles. This was the more certain way of making the Resurrection credible. The testimony of women had no weight and much less that of a woman, like Mary Magdalene, who had been possessed by demons (Mark 16:9). It is probably for this reason that no woman figures in Paul's long list of those who had seen the Risen Christ (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:5-8). The same apostles took the words of the women as "an idle tale," an entirely female thing, and did not believe them (Luke 24:11). 

The ancient authors thought they knew the answer to this question. Romanos the Melode exhorts the apostles to not be offended by the precedence accorded to the women. They were the first to see the Risen Christ, he said, because a woman, Eve, was the first to sin![1] The real answer is different: The women were the first to see him because they were the last to leave him for dead after his death when they came to bring spices to his tomb to anoint him (Mark 16:1). 

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We must ask ourselves about this fact: Why were the women untroubled by the scandal of the cross? Why did they stay when everything seem finished, and when even his closest disciples had abandoned him and were secretly planning to go back home? 

Jesus had already given the answer to this question when, replying to Simon, he said of the woman who had washed and kissed his feet: "She has loved much" (Luke 7:47)! The women had followed Jesus for himself, out of gratitude for the good they had received from him, not for the hope of getting some benefit from him or having a career from following him. "Twelve thrones" were not promised to them, nor had they asked to sit at his right hand in his kingdom. They followed him, it is written, "to serve him" (Luke 8:3; Matthew 27:55); they were the only ones, after Mary his mother, to have assimilated the spirit of the Gospel. 

They followed the reasoning of the heart and this had not deceived him. In this there presence near to the crucified and risen Christ contains a vital teaching for today. Our civilization, dominated by technology, needs a heart to survive in it without being dehumanized. We have to give more room to the "reasons of the heart," if humanity is not to fail in this ice age. 

In this, quite differently than in other areas, technology is of little help to us. For a long time now there has been work on a computer that "thinks" and many are convinced that there will be success. But (fortunately!) no one has yet proposed inventing a computer that "loves," that is moved, that meets man on the affective plane, facilitating love, as computers facilitate the calculation of the distance between the stars, the movement of atoms, and the memorizing of data. 

The improvement of man's intelligence and capacity to know does not go forward at the same rate as improvement in his capacity to love. The latter does not seem to count for much and yet we know well that happiness or unhappiness on earth does not depend so much on knowing or not-knowing as much as it does on loving or not loving, on being loved or not being loved. It is not hard to understand why we are so anxious to increase our knowledge but not so worried about increasing our capacity to love: Knowledge automatically translates into power, love into service. 

One of the modern idolatries is the "IQ" idolatry, of the "intelligence quotient." Numerous methods of measuring intelligence have been proposed, even if all have so far proved to be in large part unreliable. Who is concerned with the "quotient of the heart"? And yet what Paul said always remains true: "Knowledge puffs up, love builds up" (1 Corinthians 8:1). Secular culture is no longer able to draw this truth from its religious source, in Paul, but perhaps it is ready to underwrite it when it returns in literary garments. Love alone redeems and saves, while science and the thirst for knowledge, by itself, is able to lead Faust and his imitators to damnation. 

After so many ages had spoken of human beings by taking names from man -- "homo erectus," "homo faber," and today's "homo sapiens-sapiens" -- it is good for humanity that the age of woman is finally dawning: an era of the heart, of compassion, of peace, and this earth ceases to be "the threshing floor which makes us so fierce."[2] 

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From every part there emerges the exigency to give more room to women in society and in religion. We do not believe that "the eternal feminine will save us."[3] Everyday experience shows us that women can "lift us up," but they can also cast us down. She too needs to be saved, neither more nor less than man. But it is certain that once she is redeemed by Christ and "liberated" on the human level from ancient subjugations, woman can contribute to saving our society from some profound evils that threaten it: inhuman cruelty, will to power, spiritual dryness, disdain for life. 

But we must avoid repeating the ancient gnostic mistake according to which woman, in order to save herself, must cease to be a woman and must become a man.[4] Pro-male prejudice is so deeply rooted in society that women themselves have ended up succumbing to it. To affirm their dignity, they have sometimes believed it necessary to minimize or deny the difference of the sexes, reducing it to a product of culture. "Women are not born, they become," as one of their illustrious representatives has said.[5] 

This tendency seems to have been overcome. In postmodern thought the ideal is no longer indifference but equal dignity. Difference in general is beginning to be seen as creative, whether for men or for women. Each of the two sexes represents "the other" and stimulates openness and creativity, since what defines the human person is precisely his being in relation. "Man is prideful," writes the poet Claudel; "There was no other way to get him to understand his neighbor, to get inside his skin; there was no other way to get him to understand dependence, necessity, the need for another than himself, than through the law of being different [a man or a woman]."[6] 

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How grateful we must be to the "pious women"! Along the way to Calvary, their sobbing was the only friendly sound that reached the Savior's ears; while he hung on the cross, their gaze was the only one that fell upon him with love and compassion. 

The Byzantine liturgy honored the pious women, dedicating a Sunday of the liturgical year to them, the second Sunday after Easter, which has the name "Sunday of the Ointment Bearing Women." Jesus is happy that in the Church the women who loved him and believed in him when he was alive are honored. Of one of them -- the woman who poured the perfumed oil on his head -- he made this prophecy that has come true over the centuries: "Wherever in the whole world this Gospel is preached what she has done will be told in memory of her" (Matthew 26:13). 

The pious women must not only be admired and honored, but imitated. St. Leo the Great says that "Christ's passion is prolonged to the end of ages"[7] and Pascal wrote that "Christ will be in agony until the end of the world."[8] The passion is prolonged in members of the Body of Christ. The many religious and lay women are the heirs of the "pious women" who today are at the side of the poor, those sick with AIDS, prisoners, all those rejected by society. To them, believers and nonbelievers, Christ repeats: "You have done this for me" (Matthew 25:40). 

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The pious women are examples for Christian women today not only for the role they played in the Passion but also for the one they played in the Resurrection. From one end of the Bible to the other we meet the "Go!" of the missions ordered by God. It is the word addressed to Abraham and Moses ("Go, Moses, into the land of Egypt"), to the prophets, to the apostles: "Go out to all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature." 

They are all "Go's!" addressed to men. There is only one "Go!" addressed to women, the one addressed to the ointment bearers the morning of the resurrection: "Jesus said to them, 'Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me'" (Matthew 28:10). With these words they were made the first witnesses of the resurrection. 

It is a shame that, because of the later erroneous identification of Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman who washed Jesus' feet (Luke 7:37), she ended up giving rise to numerous ancient and modern legends and she has entered into the devotions and art in "penitent" garments, instead of as the first witness of the resurrection, the "apostolorum apostola" (apostle of the apostles), according to St. Thomas Aquinas' definition.[9] 

"The women departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples" (Matthew 28:8). Christian women, continue to bring the successors of the apostles and to us priests, who are their collaborators, the good news: "The Master lives! He has risen! He precedes you into Galilee, that is, wherever you go!" Continue to give us courage, continue to defend life. Together with the other women of the world you are the hope of a more human world. 

To the first among the "pious women," and their incomparable model, the mother of Jesus, we repeat this ancient prayer of the Church: "Holy Mary, succor of the miserable, support of the fearful, comfort of the weak: pray for the people, intervene for the clergy, intercede for the devoted female sex" (Ora pro populo, interveni pro clero, intercede pro devoto femineo sexu).[10] 

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[1] Romanos the Melode, "Hymns," 45, 6. 
[2] Dante Alighieri, Paradiso, 22, v.151. 
[3] W. Goethe, "Faust," finale, part II. 

[4] Cf. Coptic Gospel of Thomas, 114; Excerpts of Theodotus, 21,3. 
[5] Simone de Beauvoir, "The Second Sex," 1949. 
[6] P. Claudel, "The Satin Slipper," act III, scene 8. 

[7] St. Leo the Great, Sermon 70, 5 (PL 54, 383). 
[8] B. Pascal, "Pensées," n. 553 Br. 
[9] St. Thomas Aquinas, Commentary on the Gospel of John, XX, 2519. 

[10] Antiphon to the Magnificat, Common of Virgins. 
ZE07040627

The Historical Jesus of the Passion

ROME, MARCH 30, 2007 (zenit.org).- Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings for this Sunday's liturgy. 

* * * 

A Historical Look at the Passion of Christ 
Palm Sunday 
Isaiah 50:4-7; Philippians 2:6-11; Luke 22:14-23, 56 

On Palm Sunday we will hear in its entirety St. Luke's account of the Passion. Let us pose the crucial question, that question which the Gospels were written to answer: How is it that a man like this ended up on the cross? What were the motives of those responsible for Jesus' death? 

According to a theory that began to circulate last century, after the tragedy of the Shoah, the responsibility for Christ's death falls principally -- indeed perhaps even exclusively -- on Pilate and the Roman authorities, whose motivation was of a more political than religious nature. The Gospels supposedly vindicated Pilate and accused the Jewish leaders of Christ's death in order to reassure the Roman authorities about the Christians and to court their friendship. 

This thesis was born from a concern which today we all share: to eradicate every pretext for the anti-Semitism that has caused much suffering for the Jewish people at the hands of Christians. But the gravest mistake that can be made for a just cause is to defend it with erroneous arguments. The fight against anti-Semitism should be put on a more solid foundation than a debatable (and debated) interpretation of the Gospel accounts of the Passion. 

That the Jewish people as such are innocent of Christ's death rests on a biblical certainty that Christians have in common with Jews but that for centuries was strangely forgotten. "The son shall not be charged with the guilt of his father, nor shall the father be charged with the guilt of his son" (Ezekiel 18:20). Church teaching knows only one sin that is transmitted from father to son, original sin, no other. 

Having made it clear that I reject anti-Semitism, I would like to explain why it is not possible to accept the complete innocence of the Jewish authorities in Christ's death and along with it the claim about the purely political nature of Christ's condemnation. 

Paul, in the earliest of his letters, written around the year 50, basically gives the same version of Christ's condemnation as that given in the Gospels. He says that "the Jews put Jesus to death" (1 Thessalonians 2:15). Of the events that took place in Jerusalem shortly before his arrival, Paul must have been better informed than we moderns, having at one time tenaciously approved and defended the condemnation of the Nazarene. 

The accounts of the Passion cannot be read ignoring everything that preceded them. The four Gospels attest -- on nearly every page, we can say -- a growing religious difference between Jesus and an influential group of Jews (Pharisees, doctors of the law, scribes) over the observance of the Sabbath, the attitude toward sinners and tax collectors, and the clean and unclean. 

Once the existence of this contrast is demonstrated, how can one think that it had no role to play in the end and that the Jewish leaders decided to denounce Jesus to Pilate -- almost against their will -- solely out of fear of a Roman military intervention? 

Pilate was not a person who was so concerned with justice as to be worried about the fate of an unknown Jew; he was a hard, cruel type, ready to shed blood at the smallest hint of rebellion. All of that is quite true. He did not, however, try to save Jesus out of compassion for the victim, but only to score a point against Jesus' accusers, with whom he had been in conflict since his arrival in Judea. Naturally, this does not diminish Pilate's responsibility in Christ's condemnation, a responsibility which he shares with the Jewish leaders. 

It is not at all a case of wanting to be "more Jewish than the Jews." From the reports about Jesus' death present in the Talmud and in other Jewish sources (however late and historically contradictory), one thing emerges: The Jewish tradition never denied the participation of the religious leaders of the time in Christ's condemnation. They did not defend themselves by denying the deed, but, if anything, they denied that the deed, from the Jewish perspective, constituted a crime and that Christ's condemnation was an unjust condemnation. 

So, to the question, "Why was Jesus condemned to death?" after all the studies and proposed alternatives, we must give the same answer that the Gospels do. He was condemned for religious reasons, which, however, were ably put into political terms to better convince the Roman procurator. 

The title of "Messiah," which the accusation of the Sanhedrin focused on, becomes in the trial before Pilate, "King of the Jews," and this will be the title of condemnation that will be affixed to the cross: "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews." Jesus had struggled all his life to avoid this confusion, but in the end it is this confusion that will decide his fate. 

This leaves open the discussion about the use that is made of the accounts of the Passion. In the past they have often been used (in the theatric representations of the Passion, for example) in an inappropriate manner, with a forced anti-Semitism. 

This is something that everyone today firmly rejects, even if something still remains to be done about eliminating from the Christian celebration of the Passion everything that could still offend the sensibility of our Jewish brothers. Jesus was and remains, despite everything, the greatest gift of Judaism to the world, a gift for which the Jews have paid a high price ... 

The conclusion that we can draw from these historical considerations, then, is that religious authorities and political authorities, the heads of the Sanhedrin and the Roman procurator, both participated, for different reasons, in Christ's condemnation. 

We must immediately add to this that history does not say everything and not even what is essential on this point. By faith we know that we are all responsible for Jesus' death with our sins. 

Let us leave aside historical questions now and dedicate a moment to contemplating him. How did Jesus act during the Passion? Superhuman dignity, infinite patience. Not a single gesture or word that negated what he preached in his Gospel, especially the beatitudes. He dies asking for the forgiveness of those who crucified him. 

And yet nothing in him resembles the stoic's prideful disdain of suffering. His reaction to suffering and cruelty is entirely human: he trembles and sweats blood in Gethsemane, he wants this chalice to pass from him, he seeks the support of his disciples, he cries out his desolation on the cross: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 

There is one among the traits of this superhuman greatness of Christ that fascinates me: his silence. "Jesus was silent" (Matthew 26:63). He is silent before Caiaphas, he is silent before Pilate, he is silent before Herod, who hoped to see Jesus perform a miracle (cf. Luke 23:8). "When he was reviled he did not revile in return," the First Letter of Peter says of him (2:23). 

The silence is broken only for a single moment before death -- the "loud cry" from the cross after which Jesus yields up his spirit. This draws from the Roman centurion the confession: "Truly this man was the Son of God." 
ZE07033028

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Merciful Jesus

VATICAN CITY, APRIL 1, 2007 (zenit.org).- Here is a translation of the Lenten sermon delivered Friday by Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa in the presence of Benedict XVI and officials of the Roman Curia. The Pontifical Household preacher delivered this final Lenten reflection of the year in the Redemptoris Mater Chapel of the Apostolic Palace. 

* * * 

1. The mercy of Christ 

The beatitude on which we would like to reflect in this last Lenten meditation is the fifth in the order of St. Matthew's Gospel: "Blessed are the merciful for they shall find mercy." As we have done in all our meditations this Lent, we will take as our point of departure the affirmation that the beatitudes are a self-portrait of Christ, and, following the procedure we have used in the past, we will ask how Jesus lived mercy. What does Jesus' life tell us about this beatitude? 

In the Bible, the word "mercy" has two basic meanings: The first indicates the attitude of the stronger part (in the covenant, this would be God himself) toward the weaker part and it usually expresses itself in the forgiveness of infidelities and of faults; the second indicates the attitude toward the need of the other and it expresses itself in the so-called works of mercy. (In this second sense the term appears often in the Book of Tobit.) There is, so to say, a mercy of the heart and a mercy of the hands. 

Both forms of mercy shine forth in Jesus' life. He reflects God's mercy toward sinners, but he is also moved by all human sufferings and needs; he gives the crowds to eat, heals the sick, frees the oppressed. The Evangelist says of him: "He has taken on our infirmities and borne our sicknesses" (Matthew 8:17). 

In the beatitude we are considering, the prevalent sense is certainly the first one, that of forgiving and remitting sins. This is what we conclude from considering the beatitude and its reward: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall find mercy," that is, with God, who remits their sins. Jesus' admonition, "Be merciful as your Father is merciful," is immediately explained with "forgive and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:36-37). 

We know of Jesus' acceptance of sinners in the Gospel and the opposition this earns him from the defenders of the law, who accuse him of being "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34). One of Jesus' sayings which is best attested to historically is: "I have not come to call the just, but sinners" (Mark 2:17). Feeling accepted and not condemned by him, sinners listen to him gladly. 

But who are the sinners in question? In line with the widespread tendency today to get the Pharisees of the Gospel entirely off the hook, attributing the negative image to a later doctoring by the Evangelists, someone has claimed that these "sinners" were only "the deliberate and impenitent transgressors of the law,"[1] in other words, the common delinquents of the time and those who had gone outside the law. 

If this were so, then Jesus' adversaries would have been entirely right to be scandalized and see him as an irresponsible and socially dangerous person. It would be as if a priest today were to regularly frequent members of the mafia and criminals and accept their invitations to dinner with the pretext of speaking to them of God. 

In reality, this is not how things are. The Pharisees had their vision of the law and of what conformed to it or was contrary, and they considered reprobate all those who did not follow their practices. Jesus does not deny that sin and sinners exist; he does not justify Zacchaeus' frauds or the deed of the woman caught in adultery. The fact that he calls them "sick" shows this. 

What Jesus condemns is the relegating to oneself the determination of what true justice is and considering everyone else to be "thieves, unjust, adulterers," denying them the possibility of conversion. The way that Luke introduces the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is significant: "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others" (Luke 18:9). Jesus was more severe with those who condemned sinners with disdain than he was with sinners themselves.[2] 

2. A God who prides himself on having mercy 

Jesus justifies his behavior toward sinners saying that this is how the heavenly Father acts. He reminds his adversaries of God's word to the prophets: "It is mercy that I want and not sacrifice" (Matthew 9:13). Mercy toward the people's infidelity, "hesed," is the most salient trait of the God of the covenant and it fills the Bible from one end to the other. A psalm speaks of it in the course of a litany, explaining all the events in the history of Israel: "For your mercy is eternal" (Psalm 136). 

Being merciful appears in this way as an essential aspect to being "in the image and likeness of God." "Be merciful, as your heavenly Father is merciful" (Luke 6:36) is a paraphrase of the famous: "Be holy for I the Lord your God am holy" (Leviticus 6:36). 

But the most surprising thing about God's mercy is that he feels joy in being merciful. Jesus ends the parable about the lost sheep saying: "There will be more joy in heaven over one converted sinner than for ninety-nine just people who have no need to convert" (Luke 15:7). The woman who finds her lost coin calls out to her friends: "Rejoice with me." In the parable of the prodigal son also the joy overflows and becomes a feast, a banquet. 

We are not dealing with an isolated theme but one deeply rooted in the Bible. In Ezekiel God says: "I do not rejoice over the death of the wicked person but (I rejoice!) in his desisting from his wickedness and living" (Ezekiel 33:11). Micah says that God "takes pride in having mercy" (Micah 7:18), that is he takes pleasure in being merciful. 

But why, we ask ourselves, must one sheep count more on the scales than all the others put together, and to count more it must be the one that went away and caused the most problems? I have found a convincing explanation in the poet Charles Péguy. Getting lost, that sheep, like the younger son, made God's heart tremble. God feared that he would lose him forever, that he would be forced to condemn him and deprive him eternally. This fear made hope blossom in God and this hope, once it was realized brought joy and celebration. "Each time a man repents, a hope of God is crowned."[3] This is figurative language, as is all our language about God, but it contains a truth. 

The condition that makes this possible in us men is that we do not know the future and therefore we hope; in God, who knows the future, the condition is that he does not want (and, in a certain sense, cannot) realize what he wants without our consent. Human freedom explains the existence of hope in God. 

What should we say about the ninety-nine prudent sheep and the older son? Is there no joy in heaven for them? Is it worthwhile to live one's entire life as a good Christian? Remember what the father said to his older son: "Son, you are with me always and all that I have is yours" (Luke 15:31). The older son's mistake is to have thought that staying always at home and sharing everything with the father was not an incredible privilege but a merit; he acts more like a mercenary than a son. (This should put all of us older brothers on guard!) 

On this point reality is better than the parable. In reality, the older son -- the First Born of the Father, the Word -- did not remain in the Father's house; he went into "a far off land" to look for the younger son, that is, fallen humanity; he was the one that brought the younger son back home and procured the new clothes for him and a feast to which he can sit down at every Eucharist. 

In one of his novels Dostoyevsky describes a scene that has the air of having been witnessed in reality. A woman holds a baby a few weeks old in her arms and -- for the first time, according to her -- he smiles at her. All contrite, she makes the sign of the cross on his forehead and to those who ask her the reason for this she says: "Just as a mother is happy when she sees the first smile of her child, God too rejoices every time a sinner gets on his knees and addresses a heartfelt prayer to him."[4] 

3. Our mercy, cause or effect of God's mercy? 

Jesus says: "Blessed are the merciful, for they will find mercy," and in the Our Father he has us pray: "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us." He also says: "If you do not forgive men, neither will your Father forgive your sins" (Matthew 6:15). These statements might make us think that God's mercy toward us is an effect of our mercy toward others and that it is proportionate to it. 

If it were this way, then the relationship between grace and good works would be totally reversed, and the purely gratuitous character of divine mercy would be destroyed. God solemnly announced the gratuitous character of his grace to Moses: "I will give grace to whomever I wish, and will have mercy on whomever I choose to have mercy" (Exodus 33:19). 

The parable of the two servants (Matthew 18:23ff) is the key for correctly interpreting the relationship between God's mercy and ours. There we see how it is the king who, in the first instance, without conditions, forgives an enormous debt to the servant (ten thousand talents!) and it is precisely his generosity that should have moved the servant to have pity on the other servant who owed him the tiny sum of one hundred denarii. 

We must be merciful because we have received mercy, not in order to receive mercy; but we must be merciful, otherwise God's mercy will have no effect on us and will be taken back, just as the king in the parable took back the mercy he had shown to the pitiless servant. "Prevenient grace" is always what creates the duty: "As the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive," St. Paul writes to the Colossians (Colossians 3:13). 

If in the beatitudes God's mercy toward us seems to be the effect of our mercy toward our brothers it is because Jesus links it to the perspective if the last judgment ("they will find mercy," in the future!). "The judgment," writes St. James in fact, "will be without mercy for those who have not been merciful; yet mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13). 

4. Experiencing divine mercy 

If divine mercy is the beginning of everything and it demands mercy among men and makes it possible, then the most important thing for us is to have a renewed experience of God's mercy. We are drawing near to Easter and this is the Easter experience par excellence. 

The author Franz Kafka wrote a novel called "The Trial." In it there is a man who is put under arrest without anyone knowing the reason why. The man continues his normal life and work but also carries out extensive research to find out the reasons, the court, the charges and the procedure. But no one knows what to tell him except that he really is on trial. In the end two men come to carry out the sentence, execution. 

During the course of the story it comes to be known that there are three possibilities for this man: true absolution, apparent absolution, pardon. Apparent absolution and pardon would not resolve anything; with them the man would remain in mortal uncertainty all his life. In the true absolution "the trial procedures will be completed eliminated, the whole thing would disappear; not only the charge but also the trial and the sentence would be destroyed, all will be destroyed." 

But it is not known whether there have ever been any of these true absolutions; there are only rumors about them, nothing more than "beautiful stories." The novel ends, as all the others of this author do: Something is glimpsed from far away; it is anxiously pursued like in a nightmare, but there is no possibility of reaching it.[5] 

At Easter the Church's liturgy conveys the unbelievable news that true absolution exists for man; it is not just a legend, something beautiful but unattainable. Jesus has "canceled the bond that stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Colossians 2:14). He has destroyed everything. "There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus," exclaims St. Paul (Romans 8:1). No condemnation! Nothing at all! For those who believe in Christ Jesus! 

In Jerusalem there was a miraculous pool and the first one to climb into it when the waters were stirred up was healed (John 5:2ff). The reality, even here, is infinitely greater than the symbol. From the cross of Christ there flowed water and blood, and not just one but all who step into this fountain will leave it healed. 

After baptism, this miraculous pool is the sacrament of reconciliation and this last meditation would like to serve as a preparation for a good Easter confession. A confession different from the usual ones, in which we truly allow the Paraclete to "convince us of sin." We could take as a mirror the beatitudes meditated on during Lent, beginning now and repeating the ancient expression, which is so beautiful: "Kyrie eleison!" "Lord have mercy!" 

"Blessed are the pure of heart": Lord, I see all the impurity and hypocrisy that is in my heart, the double life I live before you and before others. … Kyrie eleison! 

"Blessed are the meek": Lord, I ask your forgiveness for the hidden impatience and violence in me, for rash judgments, for the suffering I have caused those around me. … Kyrie eleison! 

"Blessed are the hungry": Lord, forgive my indifference toward the poor and the hungry, my constant search for comfort, my bourgeoisie lifestyle. … Kyrie eleison! 

"Blessed are the merciful": Lord, often I have asked for and quickly received your mercy, without reflecting on the price you paid for it! Often I have been the servant who was forgiven but who did not know how to forgive. … Kyrie eleison! Lord have mercy! 

There is a particular grace when, not only the individual, but the entire community places itself before God in this penitential attitude. From this profound experience of God's mercy we leave renewed and full of hope: "God, rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our sins, he made us alive again in Christ" (Ephesians 2:4-5). 

5. A Church "rich in mercy" 

In his message for Lent this year the Holy Father writes: "May Lent be for every Christian a renewed experience of God's love given to us in Christ, love that every day we must, for our part, return to our neighbor." This is how it is with mercy, the form that God's love takes in relation to sinful man: After we have had an experience of it we must, for our part, show it to our brothers, and do this at the level of the ecclesial community and at a personal level. 

Preaching from this same table during the retreat for the Roman Curia in the Jubilee Year 2000, Cardinal François Xavier Van Thuân, alluding to the rite of the opening of the Holy Door, said in a meditation: "I dream of a Church that is a 'Holy Door,' open, that welcomes all, full of compassion and understanding for the pain and suffering of humanity, completely ready to console it."[6] 

The Church of the God who is "rich in mercy," "dives in misericordia," cannot itself fail to be "dives in misericordia." We can draw some criteria from the attitude of Christ toward sinners that we examined above. He does not make light of sin, but he finds the way to not alienate sinners but to draw them to himself. He does not see in them only what they are, but what they can become if reached by divine mercy in the depths of their misery and desperation. He does not wait for them to come to him; often it is he who goes in search of them. 

Today, exegetes are fairly in agreement in admitting that Jesus did not have a hostile attitude toward the Mosaic law, which he himself scrupulously observed. What he opposed in the religious elite of his time was a certain rigid and sometimes inhuman manner of interpreting the law. "The Sabbath," he said, "is for man and not man for the Sabbath" (Mark 2:27), and what he says about the Sabbath rest, one of the most sacred laws of Israel, holds for every other law. 

Jesus is firm and rigorous about principles but he knows when a principle must give way to the higher principle of God's mercy and man's salvation. How these criteria drawn from Christ's actions can be concretely applied to new problems in society depends on patient study and definitively on the discernment of the magisterium. Even in the life of the Church, as in Jesus' life, the mercy of the hands and of the heart must shine forth together with the works of mercy, which are the essence of mercy. 

6. "Put on mercy" 

The last word in regard to the beatitudes must always be the one that touches us personally and moves each of us to conversion and action. St. Paul exhorts the Colossians with these words: 

"Put on, then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, forbearing one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive" (Colossians 3:12-13). 

"We human beings," said St. Augustine, "we are vessels of clay that are damaged by the slightest nick" ("lutea vasa quae faciunt invicem angustias").[7] We cannot live together in harmony, in the family and in any type of community, without the practice of reciprocal forgiveness and mercy. Mercy ("misericordia") is a word composed of "misereo" and "cor"; it means to be moved in your heart, to be moved to pity, in the face of suffering or by your brother's mistake. This is how God explains his mercy when he sees the people going astray: "My heart is overwhelmed, my pity is stirred" (Hosea 11:8). 

It is a question of responding not with condemnation but with forgiveness and, when it is possible, excusing. When we consider ourselves, this saying is correct: "He who excuses himself, God accuses. He who accuses himself, God excuses." When it is a matter of other people the contrary must be held: "He who excuses his brother, God excuses him. He who accuses his brother, God accuses him." 

For a community, forgiveness is what oil is for a motor. If one drives a car without a drop of oil, after a few kilometers everything will go up in flames. Forgiveness that lets others go is like oil. There is a psalm that sings of the joy of living together as reconciled brothers; it says that this "is like perfumed oil on the head" that runs down into Aaron's beard and clothing to the very hem (cf. Psalm 133). 

Our Aaron, our High Priest, the fathers of the Church would have said, is Christ; mercy and forgiveness is the oil that runs down from the "head" raised up on the cross, it runs down along the body of the Church to the edges of her robes to those who live on her margins. Where we live in this way, in reciprocal forgiveness and mercy, "the Lord gives his blessing and life forever." 

Let us try to see where, in all our relationships, it seems necessary to let the oil of mercy and reconciliation run down. Let us pour it out silently, abundantly, this Easter. Let us unite ourselves with our Orthodox brothers who at Easter do not cease to sing: 

"It is the day of the Resurrection! 
Let us radiate joy through this feast, 
embracing all. 
Let us call even those who hate us 'brother,' 
forgiving all for the love of the Resurrection."[8] 

* * * 

[1] Cf. E.P. Sanders, "Jesus and Judaism," London: SCM, 1985, p. 385. 
[2] Cf. J.D.G. Dunn, "Gli albori del cristianesimo," I, 2, Brescia: Paideia, 2006, pp. 567-572. 
[3] Ch. Péguy, "Il portico del mistero della seconda virtù," in Oeuvres poétiques complètes, Paris: Gallimard, 975, pp. 571 ff. 

[4] F. Dostoevskij, "L'Idiota," Milano, 1983, p. 272. 
[5] F. Kafka, "Il processo," Garzanti, Milano, 1993, pp. 129 ff. 
[6] F.X. Van Thuân, "Testimoni della speranza," Roma: Città Nuova, 2000, p.58. 

[7] St. Augustine, Sermons, 69, 1 (PL 38, 440) 
[8] Stichirà di Pasqua, testi citati in G. Gharib, Le icone festive della Chiesa Ortodossa, Milano 1985, pp. 174-182. 
ZE07040110

Jesus, the woman, and the family 
Fifth Sunday of Lent 
Isaiah 43:16-21; Philippians 3:8-14; John 8:1-11 

The Gospel of the Fifth Sunday of Lent is about the woman surprised in adultery whom Jesus saves from stoning. Jesus does not intend to say with his gesture that adultery is not a sin or that it is a small thing. There is an explicit, even if delicate, condemnation of adultery in the words addressed to the woman at the end of the scene: "Do not sin anymore." 

Jesus does not intend to approve the deed of the woman; his intention is rather to condemn the attitude of those who are always ready to look for and denounce the sin of others. We saw this last time in our look at Jesus' general attitude toward sinners. 

As we have been doing in these commentaries on the readings for the Sundays of Lent, we will now move from this passage to expand our horizon and consider Christ's general attitude toward marriage and the family, as this can be discerned in all the Gospels. 

Among the strange theses about Jesus advanced in recent years, there is also one about a Jesus who supposedly repudiated the natural family and all familial relationships in the name of belonging to a different community in which God is the father and all the disciples are brothers and sisters. This Jesus is supposed to have proposed an itinerant life like that of the philosophical school known as the Cynics in the world outside Israel. 

There are words of Christ about familial bonds that actually perplex at first glance. Jesus says: "If someone comes to me and does not hate his father, his mother, wife, children, brothers, and sisters, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26). 

These are certainly hard words but already the Evangelist Matthew is careful to explain the meaning that the word "hate" has in this context: "Whoever loves his father and mother ... son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:37). 

Jesus does not ask us therefore to hate our parents and children, but to not love them to the point of refusing to follow Jesus on their account. 

There is another perplexing episode. One day Jesus says to someone: "Follow me." And the man responds: "Lord, let me go first and bury my father." Jesus replies: "Let the dead bury the dead; you go and proclaim the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:59ff). 

Some critics let loose on this. In their eyes, this is a scandalous request, disobedience to God who orders us to care for our parents, a clear violation of filial duties! 

The scandal of these critics is for us a precious proof. Certain words of Christ cannot be explained as long as he is considered a mere man, even if an exceptional one. Only God can ask that we love him more than our father and that, to follow him, we even renounce attending our father's burial. 

For the rest, from a perspective of faith like Christ's, what was more important for the deceased father: that his son be at home in that moment to bury his body or that he follow the one sent by God, the God before whom his soul must now present itself? 

But maybe the explanation in this case is even more simple. We know that the expression, "Let me go and bury my father," was sometimes used (as it is today) to say: "Let me go and be with my father while he is still alive; after he dies I will bury him and come follow you." 

Jesus would thus only be asking not to indefinitely delay responding to his call. Many of us religious, priests and sisters, find ourselves faced with the same choice and often our parents have been happier for our obedience to Jesus. 

The perplexity over these requests of Jesus arises in large part from a failure to take into account the difference between what he asked of all indistinctly and what he asked only of those who were called to entirely share his life dedicated to the kingdom, as happens in the Church even today. 

There are other sayings of Jesus which could be examined. Someone might even accuse Jesus of being the cause of the proverbial difficulty in agreement between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law since he said: "I have come to separate son from father, daughter from mother, daughter-in-law from mother-in-law" (Matthew 10:35). 

But it will not be Jesus who divides; it will be the different attitude that each member of the family takes toward him that will determine the division. This is something that painfully occurs even in many families today. 

All of the doubts about Jesus' attitude toward the family and marriage will fall away if we take into account the whole Gospel and not only those passages that we like. Jesus is more rigorous than anyone in regard to the indissolubility of marriage, he forcefully confirms the commandment to honor father and mother to the point of condemning the practice of denying them help for religious reasons (cf. Mark 7:11-13). 

Just consider all the miracles that Jesus performed precisely to take away the sorrows of fathers (Jairus and the father of the epileptic), of mothers (the Canaanite woman, the widow of Nain!), and of siblings (the sisters of Lazarus). 

In these ways he honors familial bonds. He shares the sorrow of relatives to the point of weeping with them. 

In a time like our own, when everything seems to conspire to weaken the bonds and values of the family, the only thing that we have not set against them yet is Jesus and the Gospel! 

But this is one of the many odd things about Jesus that we must know so that we are not taken in when we hear talk of new discoveries about the Gospels. Jesus came to bring marriage back to its original beauty (cf. Matthew 19:4-9), to strengthen it, not to weaken it. 
ZE07032329

Jesus Confronts Evil

ROME, FEB. 23, 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. 

* * * 

He was tempted by the devil 
First Sunday of Lent 
Deuteronomy 26:4-10; Romans 10:8-13; Luke 4:1-13 

The Gospel of Luke, which we read this year, was written, as he says in the introduction, so that the believing reader would be able to "know the truth concerning the things of which you have been informed." This purpose is quite relevant today. 

Faced as we are with attacks on the historical veracity of the Gospels from every quarter and with the continual manipulation of the figure of Christ, it is more important than ever that the Christian and the honest reader of the Gospel know the truth of the teachings and reports that the Gospel contains. 

I have decided to use my commentaries on the Gospels from the beginning of Lent to the Sunday after Easter for this purpose. Taking each Sunday Gospel as our point of departure, we will consider different aspects of the person and the teaching of Christ to determine who Jesus truly is, whether he is a simple prophet and great man, or something more and different than these. 

In other words, we will be doing some religious education. Such phenomena as Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code," with the imitators and discussions it has given rise to, have shown to us the alarming religious ignorance that reigns in our society. This ignorance provides ideal terrain for every sort of unscrupulous commercial venture. 

Tomorrow's Gospel, for the first Sunday of Lent, treats of Jesus' temptation in the desert. Following the plan I have announced, I would like to begin from this Gospel and expand the discussion to focus on the general question of Jesus' attitude toward demonic forces and those people possessed by demons. 

It is one of the most historically certain and undeniable facts that Jesus freed many people from the destructive power of Satan. We do not have the time here to refer to each of these episodes. We will limit ourselves to throwing light on two things: The first is the explanation that Jesus gave about his power over demons; the second is what this power tells us about Jesus and his person. 

Faced with the clamorous liberation of one possessed person which Jesus had performed, his enemies, unable to deny the fact, say: "He casts out demons in the name of Beelzebul, the prince of demons" (Luke 11:15). Jesus shows that this explanation is absurd. If Satan were divided against himself, his reign would have ended long ago, but instead it continues to prosper. The true explanation is rather that Jesus casts out demons by the finger of God, that is, by the Holy Spirit, and this shows that the kingdom of God has arrived on earth. 

Satan was "the strong man" who had mankind in his power, but now one "stronger than him" has come and is taking his power away from him. This tells us something quite important about the person of Christ. With his coming there has begun a new era for humanity, a regime change. Such a thing could not be the work of a mere man, nor can it be the work of a great prophet. 

It is essential to note the name or the power by which Jesus casts out demons. The usual formula with which the exorcist turns to the demon is: "I charge you by...," or "in the name of ... I order you to leave this person." He calls on a higher authority, generally God, and for Christians, Jesus. But this is not the case for Jesus himself: His words are a dry "I order you." 

I order you! Jesus does not need to call upon a higher authority; he is himself the higher authority. 

The defeat of the power of evil and of the demons was an integral part of the definitive salvation (eschatological) proclaimed by the prophets. Jesus invites his adversaries to draw the conclusions of what they see with their eyes. There is nothing more to wait on, to look forward to; the kingdom and salvation is in their midst. 

The much discussed blasphemy against the Holy Spirit has its explanation here. To attribute to the spirit of evil, to Beelzebul, or to magic that which is so manifestly the work of the Spirit of God meant to stubbornly close one's eyes to the truth, to oppose oneself to God himself, and therefore to deprive oneself of the possibility of forgiveness.

The historical approach that I wish to take in these commentaries during Lent should not keep us from seeing also the practical importance of the Gospel we are treating. Evil is still terribly present to us today. We witness manifestations of evil that often exceed our ability to understand; we are deeply disturbed and speechless when faced with certain events reported by the news. The consoling message that flows from the reflections we have made thus far is that there is in our midst one who is "stronger" than evil. 

Some people experience in their lives or in their homes the presence of evil that seems to be diabolical in origin. Sometimes it certainly is -- we know of the spread of satanic sects and rites in our society, especially among young people -- but it is difficult in particular cases to determine whether we are truly dealing with Satan or with pathological disturbances. Fortunately, we do not have to be certain of the causes. The thing to do is to cling to Christ in faith, to call on his name, and to participate in the sacraments. 

Tomorrow's Gospel suggests a means to us that is important to cultivate especially during the season of Lent. Jesus did not go into the desert to be tempted; his intention was to go into the desert to pray and listen to the voice of the Father. 

Throughout history there have been many men and women who have chosen to imitate Jesus as he withdraws into the desert. But the invitation to follow Jesus into the desert is not made only to monks and hermits. In a different form it is made to everyone. 

The monks and hermits have chosen a place of desert. We have chosen a desert time. To pass time in the desert means to create a little emptiness and silence around us, to rediscover the road to our heart, to remove ourselves from the noise and external distractions, to enter into contact with the deepest source of our being and our faith. 
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Jesus Who Prayed

 

ROME, MARCH 4, 2007 (Zenit) - Here is a translation of a commentary by the Pontifical Household preacher, Capuchin Father Raniero Cantalamessa, on the readings from today's liturgy. 

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He went up the mountain to pray 
Second Sunday of Lent 
Genesis 15:5-12, 17-18; Philippians 3:17-4:1; Luke 9:28b-36 

Sunday's Gospel narrates the Transfiguration. In his Gospel Luke gives the reason why Jesus "went up the mountain" that day: He went up "to pray." 

It was prayer that made his raiment white as snow and his countenance splendid like the sun. Following the program we announced in our commentary for last Sunday, we would like to take this episode as a point of departure for examining how prayer takes up Christ's whole life and what this prayer tells us about the profound identity of his person. 

Someone has said: "Jesus is a Jewish man who does not regard himself as identical with God. Indeed, one does not pray to God if one is God." Leaving aside for a moment what Jesus thought about himself, this claim does not take account of an elementary truth: Jesus is also a man and it is as a man that he prays. 

God, of course, could not have hunger or thirst either, or suffer, but Jesus hungers and thirsts and suffers because he is human. 

On the contrary, it is precisely Jesus' prayer that allows us to consider the profound mystery of his person. It is a historically attested fact that in prayer Jesus turns to God calling him "Abba," that is, dear father, my father, papa. This way of addressing God, although not unknown before Jesus' time, is so characteristic of Jesus that we are obliged to see it as evidence of a singular relationship with the heavenly Father. 

Let us listen to this prayer of Jesus reported by Matthew: "At that time Jesus said in reply, 'I give praise to you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to mere children. Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will. All things have been handed over to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and anyone to whom the Son wishes to reveal him'" (Matthew 11:26-27). 

Between Father and Son there is, as we see, total reciprocity, "a close, familiar relationship." In the parable of the murderous tenants of the vineyard this singular relationship of father and son that Jesus has with God again clearly emerges; it is a relationship different from all the others who are called "servants" (cf. Mark 12:1-10). 

At this point, however, an objection is made: Why then did Jesus never openly give himself the title "Son of God" during his life, but instead always spoke of himself as the "Son of man"? The reason for this is the same as that for which Jesus never calls himself the Messiah, and when others call him this name he is reticent, or even forbids them to spread it around. Jesus acted in this way because those titles were understood by the people in a very precise way that did not correspond to the idea that Jesus had of his mission. 

Many were called "Son of God": kings, prophets, great men. The Messiah was understood to be the one sent by God who would lead a military fight against Israel's enemies and rulers. It was in this direction that the demon tried to push Jesus in the desert. 

His own disciples did not understand this and continued to dream of a destiny of glory and power. Jesus did not understand himself to be this type of Messiah: "I did not come to be served," he said, "but to serve." He did not come to take anyone's life away, but rather "to give his life in ransom for many." 

Christ first had to suffer and die before it was understood what kind of Messiah he was. It is symptomatic that the only time that Jesus proclaims himself Messiah is when he finds himself in chains before the High Priest, about to be condemned to death, without any other possibility of equivocations. "Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed God?" the High Priest asks him, and he answers: "I am!" (Mark 14:61ff). 

All the titles and categories with which men, friends and enemies, try to saddle Jesus during his life appear narrow, insufficient. He is a teacher, "but not like other teachers," because he teaches with authority and in his own name. He is the son of David, but also David's Lord; he is greater than a prophet, greater than Jonah, greater than Solomon. 

The question that the people posed, "Who on earth is he?" expresses well the sentiment that surrounded him like a mystery, something that could not be humanly explained. 

The attempt of some scholars and critics to reduce Jesus to a normal Jew of his time, who would not have in fact said or done anything special, is in total contrast to the most certain historical data that we have of him. Such views can only be understood as guided by a prejudicial refusal to admit that something transcendent could appear in human history. These reductive approaches to Jesus cannot explain how such an ordinary being became -- as these same critics say -- "the man who changed the world." 

Let us now go back to the episode of the Transfiguration to draw from it some practical teaching. Even the Transfiguration is a mystery "for us," it hits close to home. 

In the second reading St. Paul says: "The Lord Jesus transfigured our miserable body, conforming it to his glorious body." Tabor is an open window on our future; it assures us that the opacity of our body will one day be transformed into light. But Tabor also tells us something about the present. It highlights what our body already is, beneath its miserable appearance: the temple of the Holy Spirit. 

For the Bible the body is not an inessential element of human beings; it is an integral part. Man does not have a body, he is a body. The body was created directly by God, assumed by the Word in the incarnation and sanctified by the Spirit in baptism. 

The man of the Bible is enchanted by the splendor of the human body: "You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother's womb. I praise you, so wonderfully you made me" (Psalm 139). The body is destined to share the same glory in eternity as the soul. "Body and soul: either they will be two hands joined in eternal adoration or two wrists bound together in eternal captivity" (Charles Péguy). 

Christianity preaches the salvation of the body, not salvation from the body, as the Manichean and Gnostic religions did in antiquity and as some Eastern religions do today. 

And what can we say to those who suffer? What can we say to those who witness the deformation of their own bodies or those of loved ones? The most consoling message of the Transfiguration is perhaps for them. "He will transfigure our miserable body, conforming it to his glorious body." 

Bodies humiliated by sickness and death will be ransomed. Even Jesus will be disfigured in the passion, but will rise with a glorious body with which he will live for eternity and, faith tells us, with which he will meet us after death.

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Jesus the Preacher
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday's Readings 

ROME, MARCH 9, 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. 

* * * 

Jesus the Preacher 
Third Sunday of Lent 
Exodus 3:1-8a,13-15; 1 Corinthians 10:1-6,10,12; Luke 13:1-9 

The Gospel for the Third Sunday of Lent offers us an example of Jesus' preaching. He takes his cue from some recent news (Pontius Pilate's execution of some Galileans and the death of twelve persons in the collapse of a tower) to speak about the necessity of vigilance and conversion. 

In accord with his style he reinforces his teaching with a parable: "A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard...." Following the program that we have set out for this Lent, we will move from this passage to look at the whole of Jesus' preaching, trying to understand what it tells us about the problem of who Jesus was. 

Jesus began his preaching with a solemn delcaration: "The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the Gospel" (Mark 1:15). We are used to the sound of these words and we no longer perceive their novelty and revolutionary character. With them, Jesus came to say that the time of waiting is over; the moment of the decisive intervention of God in human history, which was announced by the prophets, is here; now is the time! Now everything is decided, and it will be decided according to the position that people take when they are confronted with my words. 

This sense of fulfillment, of a goal finally reached, can be perceived in different sayings of Jesus, whose historical authenticity cannot be doubted. One day, taking his disciples aside, he says: "Blessed are the eyes which see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear and did not hear it" (Luke 10:23-24). 

In the sermon on the mount Jesus said among other things: "You have heard that it was said (by Moses!) ... but I say to you." The impression that these words of Christ had on his contemporaries must have been fairly uniform. Such claims leave us few options for explanation: Either the person was crazy or simply spoke the truth. A lunatic, however, would not have lived and died as he did, and would not have continued to have such an impact on humanity 20 centuries after his death. 

The novelty of the person and preaching of Jesus comes clearly to light when compared to John the Baptist. John always spoke of something in the future, a judgment that was going to take place; Jesus speaks of something that is present, a kingdom that has come and is at work. John is the man of "not yet"; Jesus is the man of "already." 

Jesus says: "Among those born of woman there is none greater than John and yet the littlest one of the kingdom of God is greater than him" (Luke 7:28); and again: "The law and the prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached and everyone enters it violently" (Luke 16:16). These words tell us that between the mission of John and Jesus there is a qualitative leap: The littlest one in the new order is in a better position that the greatest one of the old order. 

This is what brought the disciples of Bultmann (Bornkamm, Konzelmann, et al.) to break with their master, putting the great parting of the waters between the old and the new, between Judaism and Christianity, in the life and preaching of Christ and not in the post-Easter faith of the Church. 

Here we see how historically indefensible is the thesis of those who want to enclose Jesus in the world of the Judaism of his time, making him a Jew just like the others, one who did not intend to make a break with the past or to bring anything substantially new. This would be to set back the historical research on Jesus to a stage that we left behind quite some time ago. 

Let us go back, as we usually do, to this Sunday's Gospel passage to glean some practical guidance. Jesus comments on Pilate's butchery and the collapse of the tower thus: "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." We deduce a very important lesson from this. Such disasters are not, as some think, divine castigation of the victims; if anything, they are an admonition for others. 

This is an indispensable interpretive key which allows us to see that we should not lose faith when we are confronted with the terrible events that occur every day, often among the poorest and most defenseless. Jesus helps us to understand how we should react when the evening news reports earthquakes, floods, and slaughters like that ordered by Pilate. Sterile reactions like, "Oh those poor people!" are not what is called for. 

Faced with these things we should reflect on the precariousness of life, on the necessity of being vigilant and of not being overly attached to that which we might easily lose one day or the next. 

The word with which Jesus begins his preaching resounds in this Gospel passage: conversion. I would like to point out, however, that conversion is not only a duty, it is also a possibility for all, almost a right. It is good and not bad news! No one is excluded from the possibility of changing. No one can be regarded as hopeless. In life there are moral situations that seem to have no way out. Divorced people who are remarried; unmarried couples with children; heavy criminal sentences ... every sort of bad situation. 

Even for these people there is the possibility of change. When Jesus said that it was easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven, the apostles asked: "But who can be saved?" Jesus' answer applies even to the cases I have mentioned: "For men it is impossible, but not for God."
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Jesus and Sinners

By Father Ranerir Cantalamessa, OFM Cap.
Fourth Sunday of Lent 
Joshua 5:9a, 10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:17-21; Luke 15:1-3, 11-32 

The Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Lent is one of the most celebrated pages of Luke's Gospel and of all four Gospels: the parable of the prodigal son. Everything in this parable is surprising; men had never portrayed God in this way. This parable has touched more hearts than all the sermons that have been preached put together. It has an incredible power to act on the mind, the heart, the imagination, and memory. It is able to touch the most diverse chords: repentance, shame, nostalgia. 

The parable is introduced with these words: "All the tax collectors and sinners were drawing near to him to listen to him. The Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, 'This man receives sinners and eats with them.' So he told them this parable ..." (Luke 15:1-2). Following this lead, we would like to reflect on Jesus' attitude toward sinners, going through the whole Gospel, guided also by our plan for these Lenten commentaries, that is, to know better who Jesus was, what can be historically known about him. 

The welcome that Jesus reserves for sinners in the Gospel is well known, as is the opposition that this procures him on the part of the defenders of the law who accuse him of being "a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Luke 7:34). Jesus declares in one of his better historically attested to sayings, "I have not come to call the just but sinners" (Mark 2:17). Feeling welcomed and not judged by him, sinners listened to him gladly. 

But who were the sinners, what category of persons was designated by this term? Someone, trying to completely justify Jesus' adversaries, the Pharisees, has argued that by this term is understood "the deliberate and impenitent transgressors of the law," in other words, the criminals, those who are outside the law. If this were so, then Jesus' adversaries would have been entirely right to be scandalized and see him as an irresponsible and socially dangerous person. It would be as if a priest today were to regularly frequent members of the mafia and criminals and accept their invitations to dinner with the pretext of speaking to them of God. 

In reality, this is not how things are. The Pharisees had their vision of the law and of what conformed to it or was contrary, and they considered reprobate all those who did not follow their rigid interpretation of the law. In their view, anyone who did not follow their traditions or dictates was a sinner. Following the same logic, the Essenes of Qumran considered the Pharisees themselves to be unjust and violators of the law! The same thing happens today. Certain ultraorthodox groups consider all those who do not think exactly as they do to be heretics. 

An eminent scholar has written: "It is not true that Jesus opened the gates of the kingdom to hard-boiled and impenitent criminals, or that he denied the existence of 'sinners.' What Jesus opposed were the walls that were erected within Israel and those who treated other Israelites as if they were outside the covenant and excluded from God's grace" (James Dunn). 

Jesus does not deny the existence of sin and sinners. This is obvious from the fact that he calls them "sick." On this point he is more rigorous than his adversaries. If they condemn actual adultery, Jesus condemns adultery already at the stage of desire; if the law says not to kill, Jesus says that we must not even hate or insult our brother. To the sinners who draw near to him, he says "Go and sin no more"; he does not say: "Go and live as you were living before." 

What Jesus condemns is the Pharisees' relegating to themselves the determination of true justice and their denying to others the possibility of conversion. The way that Luke introduces the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector is significant: "He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others" (Luke 18:9). Jesus was more severe with those who condemned sinners with disdain than he was with sinners themselves. 

But the novel and unheard of thing in the relationship between Jesus and sinners is not his goodness and mercy toward them. This can be explained in a human way. There is, in his attitude, something that cannot be humanly explained, that is, it cannot be explained so long as Jesus is taken to be a man like other men. What is novel and unheard of is Jesus' forgiveness of sins. 

Jesus says to the paralytic: "My son, your sins are forgiven you." 

"Who can forgive sins but God alone?" Jesus' horrified adversaries cry out. And Jesus replies: "'So that you might know that the Son of Man has the authority to forgive sins, Get up!' he said to the paralytic, 'Pick up your mat and go home.'" No one could verify whether the sins of that man were forgiven but everyone could see that he got up and walked. The visible miracle attested to the invisible one. 

Even the investigation of Jesus' relationship with sinners contributes therefore to an answer to the question: Who was Jesus? A man like other men, a prophet, or something different still? During his earthly life Jesus never explicitly affirmed himself to be God (and we explained why in a previous commentary), but he did attribute to himself powers that are exclusive to God. 

Let us now return to Sunday's Gospel and to the parable of the prodigal son. There is a common element that unites the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son, which are told in succession in Chapter 15 of Luke's Gospel. What do the shepherd who finds the lost sheep and the woman who finds her coin say? "Rejoice with me!" And what does Jesus say at the end of each parable? "There will be more joy in heaven for a converted sinner than for ninety-nine just people who do not need to convert." 

The leitmotiv of the three parables is therefore the joy of God. (There is joy "before the angels of God," is an entirely Jewish way to speak of joy "in God.") In our parable joy overflows and becomes a feast. That father is overcome with joy and does not know what to do: He orders the best robe for his son, a ring with the family seal, the killing of the fatted calf, and says to all: "Let us eat and make merry, for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found." 

In one of his novels Dostoyevsky describes a scene that has the air of having been witnessed in reality. A woman holds a baby a few weeks old in her arms and -- for the first time, according to her -- he smiles at her. All contrite, she makes the sign of the cross on his forehead and to those who ask her the reason for this she says: "Just as a mother is happy when she sees the first smile of her child, God too rejoices every time a sinner gets on his knees and addresses a heartfelt prayer to him" ("The Idiot"). 

Who knows whether a person who is listening does not decide finally to give this joy to God, to smile at him before he dies ... 
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