Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Humility and Suffering Reveal God's Transcendence As Pure Relation [Not Substance]

Peter refused to have Christ wash his feet. We shrink at the blood letting barbarities of the Passion and Crucifixion. Yet, our own refusal to accept footwashing from Him Who is Master and Lord, and our recoil at the atrocious pain and suffering of the scourging, crowning and crucifixion is due to the fact that we are working on a different level.

On the footwashing, Benedict writes: “John 13 recounts two exchanges between Jesus and Peter, in which two aspects of this danger become visible. Initially, Peter does not want to have his feet washed by Jesus. This goes against his understanding of the relationship between master and disciple and against his image of the Messiah, whom he recognizes in Jesus. His resistance to the foot-washing has ultimately the same meaning as his protest against Jesus’ prophecy of the Passion after the great confession at Caesarea Philippi: ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you’ was how he put it on that occasion (Mt. 16, 22).”[1] Secondly, Peter plays the hero and brandishes the sword cutting off the right ear of the servant. On both occasions, Peter fails to understand the pure relationality that is the divine Person. As total self-gift to the Father, the Person of the Son is humility and gift. In Himself, He is nothing. That is, He is not what we understand by “substance.” He is subsisting relation as Subject. Peter and we have been created in the image and likeness of this. Our full achievement as person depends on our becoming like this.

Benedict gives the interpretation: “Not telling God what to do, but learning to accept him as he reveals himself to us; not seeking to exalt ourselves to God’s level, but in humble service letting ourselves be slowly refashioned into God’s true image.”[2] Notice that being in Hell will consist in a free act of rejection of Christ’s forgiveness. In his “Eschatology,” Benedict writes: “The true Boddhisattva, Christ, descends into Hell and suffers it in all its emptiness [“My God {El, not Abba}, My God {El, not Abba}, why have you forsaken me?” Mt. 27, 45]; but he does not, for all that, treat man as an immature being deprived in the final analysis of any responsibility for his own destiny. Heaven reposes upon freedom, and so leaves to the damned the right to will their own damnation…. Human life is fully serious.”[3]

So also with the shout of the “whole people” in Mt, 27. 25 saying “his blood be on us and on our children” (Mt. 27, 25). Benedict explains that we need this Blood on us and on our children, as we need to have our feet washed. The Blood of Christ is the reality symbolized in the paschal lamb that protected the Jews from the devastation of the avenging angel. May this Blood be on us! He wrote: “Jesus’ blood speaks a different language from the blood of Abel (Heb 12, 24): it does not cry out for vengeance and punishment; it brings reconciliation. It is not poured out against anyone; it is poured out for many, for all. ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… God put [Jesus] forward as an expiation by his blood’ (Rom. 3, 23, 25). Just as Caiaphas’ words about the need for Jesus’ death have to be read in an entirely new light from the perspective of faith, the same applies to Matthew’s reference to blood: read in the light of faith, it means that we all stand in need of the purifying power of love which is his blood. These words are not a curse, but rather redemption, salvation [my underline]. Only when understood in terms of the theology of the Last Supper and the Cross, drawn from the whole of the New Testament, does this verse from Matthew’s Gospel take on its correct meaning.”[4]

Robert Moynihan comments: “Not that the Jewish crowds did not say this; but that they did not have any comprehension, not the slightest inkling, of what they are actually crying out for: that they would have upon them or over them a protection of innocent, sacrificial blood, the blood of this sinless, rejected king, who, though reject4ed, would not, in the end, be a curse to them, but a blessing, not their condemnation, but their salvation. This is a profound religious and mystical insight on the Pope’s part, and, as far as I know, completely original.”[5]

[1] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth” [II], Ignatius (2011) 70.
[2] Ibid 72.
[3] J. Ratzinger, “Eschatology,” CUA (1988) 216.
[4] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth” [II], op. cit. 187-188.
[5] “Inside the Vatican,” April 2011, 17.

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