Still needs editing, I think.
I doubt that it would surprise anyone with a brief familiarity with the works of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger to discover that the very best summary of his most recent book on Our Lord is contained in another of his works. Indeed, the essence of Jesus of Nazareth can be found in the first paragraph of his first Encyclical as Pope. Benedict XVI writes:
"Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice, or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction." (Deus Caritas Est #1).
Within the pages of Jesus of Nazareth, the Holy Father beautifully crafts the argument that any dichotomy between the Jesus of history, and the Christ of faith is in disaccord with reason, for what this Jesus proclaims, he is presently. He is a real man located concretely in human history. As the Council Fathers stated in Gaudium et Spes, "He worked with human hands, He thought with a human mind, acted by human choice and loved with a human heart." (para #22). The Christian is in pursuit of a person, and his pilgrim hymn is from the Psalter: My heart hath said to thee: My face hath sought thee: thy face, O Lord, will I still seek. Turn not away thy face from me (Psalm 26:8-9). To see the face of Jesus of Nazareth is to see the face of the Lord, and in that vision, the Christian rests his heart happily.
And yet, so many hearts are troubled. The modern man is not satisfied with merely knowing someone. He is tempted to qualify a person by his function. So his question to Jesus of Nazareth is not simply, “Who are you?” but “What can you do for me? How much are you worth?” The Holy Father demonstrates that the Lord is the fulfilment of the hopes of every man in superabundance, if he would only make a “u-turn” against the drift of the via mundi (p 98).
The Lord had promised Israel a great prophet through the lips of Moses. A man in his likeness would be raised up whom the people would heed (Deut 18:15). Greater than Moses, the Lord would know him face to face (Deut 34:10). St John knew Jesus face to face. His countenance shone with a mysterious intercommunion of glory, that glory of the Father, and which He, closest to the Father’s heart, really and fully possessed, and communicated to His friends (Jn 1:14,16,18). The Holy Father draws the logical conclusion of such a bewildering encounter from the reflections of a present day Jewish rabbi pursuing to speak to Jesus, face to face; the rabbi questions the little band, “I ask you again – is your master, God?” (p 110).
Jesus of Nazareth is sent by the Father to draw His friends into that blessed communion of life and love that is His. He teaches them to pray so that their gaze may remain steadfast upon the Lord and that their wills not falter. He forms them, and instructs them with authority. The Sermon on the Mount is not a political program for constructing a city-state or instigating radical social reform. The criminal Barabbas typifies the strains for freedom through worldly prosperity. Instead, Jesus of Nazareth declares the New Torah, which is written in His very person. The Kingdom of God is a person. It is the Lordship of Jesus of Nazareth, and it demands discipleship. It is more than imitation; it means to be caught up in a Life (pp 73-74). The Sermon on the Mount is the litany of the Apostle (cf 2 Cor). It “brings what is pure and noble to the fore and gives a proper ordering to our lives.” (p 98).
Our Jewish friend turns from the Mount with eyes downcast, “I now realise, only God can demand of me what Jesus is asking.” (p 115).
The Successor of St Peter has composed something remarkable in response to pickled relativism. Jesus of Nazareth confidently answers the questions of modern man with a purity of academic enquiry. The Holy Father has shared the fruits of his contemplation, and perhaps inadvertently, provided a valuable companion to works presently issuing from the Holy See. This volume concentrated upon events from Our Lord’s Baptism to His Transfiguration. These events are telling signposts for an introduction to the Prophet whom men would heed, and know face to face. We await the concluding volume with great enthusiasm.
Finally, let us heed the words of the Holy Father, lest we fall into the snare of a vague spirituality and forget the essence of the Christian life:
“[Our Lord] has brought God, and now we know His face, now we can call upon Him. Now we know the path that we human beings have to take in this world…It is only because of our hardness of heart that we think this is too little…The earthly kingdoms that Satan was able to put before the Lord at that time have all passed away…But the glory of Christ, the humble, self-sacrificing glory of His love, has not passed away, nor will it ever do so.” (p 44).
Tu es Christus, Filius Dei vivi.