St. Peter's Square
Saint Paul (7)
The Relationship with the Historical Jesus.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
In the last Catecheses on St Paul, I spoke of his encounter with the Risen Christ that profoundly changed his life and then of his relationship with the Twelve Apostles called by Jesus - especially his relationship with James, Cephas and John - and of his relationship with the Church in Jerusalem.
Having said this the question still remains: what did St Paul know about Jesus' practical life, his words, his Passion and his miracles? It seems certain that he did not meet him during his earthly life.
In the second place, we can glimpse in a few sentences of the Pauline Letters various allusions to the tradition attested to in the Synoptic Gospels. For example, the words we read in the First Letter to the Thessalonians which say that "the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night" (5: 2), could not be explained with a reference to the Old Testament prophesies, since the comparison with the nocturnal thief is only found in the Gospels of Matthew and of Luke, hence it is indeed taken from the Synoptic tradition. Thus, when we read: "God chose what is foolish in the world..." (1 Cor 1: 27-28), one hears the faithful echo of Jesus' teaching on the simple and the poor (cf. Mt 5: 3; 11: 25; 19: 30). Then there are the words that Jesus spoke at the messianic jubilee: "I thank you, Father, Lord of Heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to babes". Paul knows - from his missionary experience - how true these words are, that is, that the hearts of the simple are open to knowledge of Jesus. Even the reference to Jesus' obedience "unto death", which we read in Philippians 2: 8, can only recall the earthly Jesus' unreserved readiness to do his Father's will (cf. Mk 3: 35; Jn 4: 34). Paul is thus acquainted with Jesus' Passion, his Cross, the way in which he lived the last moments of his life. The Cross of Jesus and the tradition concerning this event of the Cross lies at the heart of the Pauline kerygma. Another pillar of Jesus' life known to St Paul is the "Sermon on the Mount", from which he cited certain elements almost literally when writing to the Romans: "love one another.... Bless those who persecute you.... Live in harmony with one another... overcome evil with good...". Therefore in his Letters the Sermon on the Mount is faithfully reflected (cf. Mt 5-7).
Lastly, it is possible to individuate a third manner in which Jesus' words are present in St Paul's Letters: it is when he brings about a form of transposition of the pre-Paschal tradition to the situation after Easter. A typical case is the theme of the Kingdom of God. It was certainly at the heart of the historical Jesus' preaching (cf. Mt 3: 2; Mk 1: 15; Lk 4: 43). It is possible to note in Paul a transposition of this subject because, after the Resurrection, it is obvious that Jesus in person, the Risen One, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom therefore arrives where Jesus is arriving. Thus the theme of the Kingdom of God, in which Jesus' mystery was anticipated, is transformed into Christology. Yet, the same attitudes that Jesus requested for entering the Kingdom of God apply precisely to Paul with regard to justification through faith: both entry into the Kingdom and justification demand an approach of deep humility and openness, free from presumptions, in order to accept God's grace. For example, the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (cf. Lk 18: 9-14), imparts a teaching that is found exactly as it is in Paul, when he insists on the proper exclusion of any boasting to God. Even Jesus' sentences on publicans and prostitutes, who were more willing to accept the Gospel than the Pharisees (cf. Mt 21: 31; Lk 7: 36-50,) and his decision to share meals with them (cf. Mt 9: 10-13; Lk 15: 1-2) are fully confirmed in Paul's teaching on God's merciful love for sinners (cf. Rm 5: 8-10; and also Eph 2: 3-5). Thus the theme of the Kingdom of God is reproposed in a new form, but always in full fidelity to the tradition of the historical Jesus.
Another example of the faithful transformation of the doctrinal nucleus imparted by Jesus is found in the "titles" he uses. Before Easter he described himself as the Son of man; after Easter it becomes obvious that the Son of man is also the Son of God. Therefore Paul's favourite title to describe Jesus is Kýrios, "Lord" (cf. Phil 2: 9-11), which suggests Jesus' divinity. The Lord Jesus, with this title, appears in the full light of the Resurrection. On the Mount of Olives, at the moment of Jesus' extreme anguish, (cf. Mk 14: 36), the disciples, before falling asleep, had heard him talking to the Father and calling him "Abbà Father". This is a very familiar word equivalent to our "daddy", used only by children in talking to their father. Until that time it had been unthinkable for a Jew to use such a word in order to address God; but Jesus, being a true Son, at that moment of intimacy used this form and said: "Abba, Father". Surprisingly, in St Paul's Letters to the Romans and to the Galatians, this word "Abba", that expresses the exclusivity of Jesus' sonship, appears on the lips of the baptized (cf. Rm 8: 15; Gal 4: 6) because they have received the "Spirit of the Son". They now carry this Spirit within them and can speak like Jesus and with Jesus as true children to their Father; they can say "Abba" because they have become sons in the Son.
And finally, I would like to mention the saving dimension of Jesus' death that we find in the Gospel saying, according to which: "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10: 45; Mt 20: 28). A faithful reflection of these words of Jesus appears in the Pauline teaching on the death of Jesus as having been bought at a price (cf. 1 Cor 6: 20), as redemption (cf. Rm 3: 24), as liberation (cf. Gal 5: 1), and as reconciliation (cf. Rm 5: 10; 2 Cor 5: 18-20). This is the centre of Pauline theology that is founded on these words of Jesus.
To conclude, St Paul did not think of Jesus in historical terms, as a person of the past. He certainly knew the great tradition of the life, words, death and Resurrection of Jesus, but does not treat all this as something from the past; he presents it as the reality of the living Jesus. For Paul, Jesus' words and actions do not belong to the historical period, to the past. Jesus is alive now, he speaks to us now and lives for us. This is the true way to know Jesus and to understand the tradition about him. We must also learn to know Jesus not from the human point of view, as a person of the past, but as our Lord and Brother, who is with us today and shows us how to live and how to die.
To special groups
I warmly greet all the English-speaking pilgrims, and in a special way, diaconal candidates from the Pontifical North American College with their families: may the grace of Holy Orders enliven you to preach the Gospel of Christ with conviction and love! I also welcome pilgrims from the Diocese of Hamilton, members of Christ Teens Malaysia, ecumenical pilgrims from Norway, as well as visitors from Indonesia, China, Japan, Australia, Sweden, England, Scotland, Ireland, and The Netherlands. God bless you all!
I greet lastly the young people, the sick and the newlyweds. Dear brothers and sisters, may the month of October, dedicated to the Holy Rosary, be a precious opportunity to appreciate this traditional Marian prayer. I urge you all to recite the Rosary every day, abandoning yourselves with trust in Mary's hands.
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