Father Cantalamessa on the Kingdom of God
Pontifical Household Preacher Comments on Sunday's Readings
ROME, JULY 7, 2007 (Zenit) - 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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The Kingdom of God is at Hand!
14th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Isaiah 66:10-14c; Galatians 6:16-18; Luke 10:1-12, 17-20
Again we will comment on Sunday's Gospel with the help of Benedict XVI's book on Jesus. First, however, I would like to make an observation of a general nature. The criticism that has been made of the Pope's book by some is that it sticks to what the Gospels say without taking into account the findings of modern historical research which, according to them, would lead to very different conclusions.
What we have here is a widespread idea that is nourishing a whole literature like Dan Brown's "Da Vinci Code" and popularizing historical works based on the same presupposition.
I think that it is important to shed light on a fundamental equivocation in all of this. The idea of an historical investigation into Jesus that is unified, rectilinear, that moves unswervingly toward completely illuminating him, is a pure myth that some are trying to convince people of but which no serious historian today believes possible.
I quote one of the more well-known representatives of historical research on Jesus, the American Paula Fredriksen: "In recent scholarship, Jesus has been imagined and presented as a type of first-century shaman figure; as a Cynic-sort of wandering wise man; as a visionary radical and social reformer preaching egalitarian ethics to the destitute; as a Galilean regionalist alienated from the elitism of Judean religious conventions (like Temple and Torah); as a champion of national liberation and, on the contrary, as its opponent and critic -- on and on.
"All these figures are presented with rigorous academic argument and methodology; all are defended with appeals to the ancient data. Debate continues at a roiling pitch, and consensus -- even on issues so basic as what constitutes evidence and how to construe it -- seems a distant hope."
Often an appeal is made to new data and recent discoveries which would finally put historical research in an advantageous place with regard to the past. But the variety of the consequences that can be drawn from these new historical sources appears from the fact that they have given rise to two opposed and irreconcilable images of Christ that are still in play. On one hand, a Jesus who "is in all and for all Jewish"; on the other hand, a Jesus who is a child of the Helenized Galilee of his time, strongly influenced the philosophy of cynicism.
In light of this fact I ask: What was the Pope supposed to do, compose yet another historical reconstruction in which all the contrary objections debate and combat each other? What the Pope chose to do was to positively present the figure and teaching of Jesus as he is understood by the Church, taking his point of departure from the conviction that the Christ of the Gospels is, even from the historical point of view, the figure that is the most credible and certain.
After these clarifications, let us turn to this Sunday's Gospel. It is the episode of the sending out of 72 disciples on mission. After having told them how they are supposed to go out (two by two, like lambs, without money), Jesus explains to them what they must say: "Tell them: 'The kingdom of God is at hand.'"
We know that the phrase "The kingdom of God is at hand" is at the heart of Jesus' preaching and is the premise of each of his teachings. The kingdom of God is at hand, so love your enemies; the kingdom of God is at hand, so if your hand is a scandal to you, cut it off. It is better to enter the kingdom of God without a hand than to remain outside of it with both hands. Everything takes its meaning from the kingdom.
There has always been discussion about what, precisely, Jesus meant by the expression "kingdom of God." For some it would be a purely interior kingdom consisting in a life conformed to the law of God; for others, on the contrary, it would be a social and political kingdom to be realized by man, even by struggle and revolution if necessary.
The Pope reviews these various interpretations of the past and points to what they have in common: The center of interest moves from God to man; it is no longer a kingdom of God but a kingdom of man, who is its principal architect. This is an idea of a kingdom that, at the limit, is also compatible with atheism.
In Jesus' preaching the coming of the kingdom of God means that, sending his Son into the world, God has decided, so to speak, to personally take in hand the fortunes of the world, to compromise himself with it, to act in the world from the inside. It is easier to intuit ...
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