Monday, March 28, 2011

Insight into the Parameters of World History: Conversion to Christ

The world will not end until the conversion of the Jews. But the Jews will no convert until the full number of the Gentiles has converted to Christ. One can know this in a passing way. But reading “Jesus of Nazareth” II drove it home for me. Benedict XVI lays down the parameters of world history and removes it from an “objectified” order and places it in the reality of the Subject: the Person of Christ. World history must be understood in terms of Jesus Christ as Person. I copy: “A superficial reading or hearing of Jesus’ eschatological discourse would give the impression that Jesus linked the end of Jerusalem chronologically to the end of the world, especially when we read in Matthew: ‘Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened…; then will appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven…’ (24, 29-30). This direct chronological connection between the end of Jerusalem and the end of the whole world seems to be further confirmed when we come across these words a few verses later ‘Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away till all these things take place…’ (24, 34). “On first glance, it seems that Luke was the only one to downplay this connection. In his account we read ‘They will fall by the edge of the sword, and he be led captive among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled’ (21, 24). Between the destruction of Jerusalem and the end of the world, ‘the times of the Gentiles’ are here inserted. Luke has been accused of thereby shifting the temporal axis of the Gospels and of Jesus’ original message, recasting the end of time as the intermediate time and, thus, inventing the time of the Church as a new phase of salvation history. But if we look closely, we find that these ‘times of the Gentiles’ are also foretold, in different terms and at a different point, in the versions of Jesus’ discourse recounted by Matthew and Mark. “Matthew quotes the following saying of Jesus: ‘And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole world, as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come’ (24, 14). And in Mark we read: ‘The gospel must first be preached tro all nations’ (13, 10)…. “From the content, it is clear that all three Synoptic Gospels recognize a time of the Gentiles: the end of time can come only when the Gospel has been brought to all peoples. The time of the Gentiles – the time of the Church made up of all the peoples of the world – is not an invention of Saint Luke: it is the common patrimony of all the Gospels…. “The restlessness with which Paul journeyed to the nations, so as to bring the message to all and, if possible, to fulfill the mission within his own lifetime – this restlessness can only be explained if one is aware of the historical and eschatological significance of his exclamation: ‘Necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!’ (1Cor. 9, 16). “In this sense, the urgency of evangelization in the apostolic era was predicated not so much on the necessity for each individual to acquire knowledge of the Gospel in order to attain salvation, but rather on this grand conception of history: if the world was to arrive at its destiny, the Gospel had to be brought to all nations. At many stages in history, this sense of urgency has been markedly attenuated, but it has always revived, generating new dynamism for evangelization…. “Here I should like to recall the advice given by Bernard of Clairvaux to his pupil Pope Eugene III on this matter. He reminds the Pope that his duty of care extends not only to Christians, but: ‘You also have obligations toward unbelievers, whether Jew, Greek, or Gentile’ (De Considerations III/1,2). Then he immediately corrects himself and observes more accurately: ‘Granted, with regard to the Jews, time excuses you; for them a determined point in time has been fixed, which cannot be anticipated. The full number of the Gentiles must come in first. But what do you say about these Gentiles?... Why did it seem good to the Fathers… to suspend the word of faith while unbelief was obdurate? Why do we suppose the word that runs swiftly stopped short?’ (De Consideratione III/1.3). “Hildegard Brem comments on this passage as follows: ‘In the light of Romans 11, 25, the Church must not concern her self with the conversion of the Jews, since she must wait for the time fixed for this by God, “until the full number of the Gentiles come in” (Rom. 11, 25). On the contrary, the Jews themselves are a living homily to which the Church must draw attention, since they call to mind the Lord’s suffering (cf. Ep. 363)…’ (quoted in Samtliche Werke, p. 834). “The prophecy of the time of the Gentiles and the corresponding mission is a core element of Jesus’ eschatological message. The special mission to evangelize the Gentiles, which Paul received from the risen Lord, is firmly anchored in the message given by Jesus to his disciples before his Passion. The time of the Gentiles – ‘the time of the Church’ – which, as we have seen, is proclaimed in all the Gospels, constitutes an essential element of Jesus’ eschatological message.”[1] [1] Benedict XVI, “Jesus of Nazareth,” Ignatius (2011)

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