We will see the last events of Jesus’ life until His resurrection, based on the theology of Joseph Ratzinger (Pope emeritus Benedict XVI), considering that he is the most significant theologian today. From the Last Supper and the Institution of the Eucharist, some essential moments of the life of Jesus will be addressed, without dismissing the effective question of historicity, but based on the truth that the New Testament message happened, in fact, in the real history of this world.
The last supper
According to the Joanine chronology, the Last Supper took place on Thursday afternoon , and it is not a paschal supper, as the synoptics express. Ratzinger points out that exegetes have looked into this issue to reconcile the two chronologies and have shown themselves, based on the sources, to be more favorable to John. The theological meaning of Jesus’ Last Supper is emphasized in these terms:
“One fact is evident throughout the tradition: the essence of this farewell supper was not the old Easter, but the novelty that Jesus realized in this context. Even though this banquet of Jesus with the twelve was not a paschal supper, according to the ritual prescriptions of Judaism, in a retrospective look, with the death and resurrection of Jesus, the intrinsic meaning of the whole became evident: it was the Passover of Jesus. Jesus. And in that sense he celebrated Easter and did not. […] But He had given Himself up, and so He had truly celebrated Easter with them. In this way, the former had not been denied, but – and only in this way could it be – taken to its full meaning ”(RATZINGER, 2016, p. 110).
Regarding the interpretation of the essential theological content of the Last Supper tradition, based on the different words of Mark / Matthew and Paul / Lucas, two specific directions of this prayer stand out, which is praise and thanks for the gift of God, and this praise returns in the form of a blessing on the gift. The breaking of bread represents God the Father, who for the fruitfulness of the earth distributes the bread to everyone, as well as the gesture of hospitality that welcomes everyone in the banquet communion. The phrase pronounced on bread: “This is my Body” – Mark / Matthew, “which is given by you” – Paul / Lucas, institutes the Sacrament “where the dying grain of wheat becomes; and where, through the ages, He distributes Himself to men in the true multiplication of the loaves. ” (RATZINGER, 2016, p. 124).
The phrase pronounced about wine: “This is my Blood, the Blood of the Covenant” summarizes the whole history of previous salvation, described in Ex.24,8; Jr, 31,31 and in Is 53,12, with the promise of the Servant who bears the sins of many, obtaining salvation for them. The repetition found in Paulo / Lucas: “Do this in memory of Me”, brings the character of the institution of liturgical practice. It is observed, therefore, that the Church does not celebrate the Last Supper in Mass, but what the Lord instituted during the Last Supper: the memorial of his death and resurrection.
At the end of this moment with the recitation of the psalms, Jesus goes with his disciples to the Mount of Olives, to a place called Gethsemane. Ratzinger mentions the evangelist John, who, when referring to that place where Jesus suffered, died and rose, calls it “garden” (cf. Jn 18; 19,41), alluding to the account of Paradise and original sin, to affirm that Jesus resumed the story in the garden, accepted the Father’s will and inverted the story.
The Passion of the Lord
The prayer that Jesus uttered in his deep agony: “Abba! The father! Everything is possible for You: Take this cup away from me; but not what I want, but what You want ”(Mk 14.36), has a dense theological meaning, since in the human nature of Jesus is man’s obstinacy and, with his struggle, this recalcitrant nature it is moved to its true essence. The prayer “Do not do My will but Yours” (Lk 22,42) is emphasized by Ratzinger with these words:
“It is truly a prayer of the Son to the Father, in which the natural human will has been completely drawn into the Self of the Son whose essence is expressed precisely in the ‘not I, but You’, in the total abandonment of the Self to the You of God the Father. But this ‘I’ welcomed the opposition of humanity within itself and transformed it in such a way that now, in the obedience of the Son, we are all present, we are all dragged into the condition of children ” (RATZINGER, 2016, p. 150).
This meaningful prayer ends when Judas arrives with guards sent by the Temple authorities and arrest Him and, thus, His death sentence process begins. When faced with the high priest, the supreme instance of the chosen people, the high priest of future goods (cf. Heb 9,11), and being asked whether he was the Son of God, he answered in the affirmative. It is then handed over to the Roman governor for sentencing.
Through Pilate’s question: “Are you a King, then?”, In which Jesus replies: “You say: I am King. For this I was born and came into the world: to bear witness to the truth. Whoever is of the truth hears My voice ”(Jn 18,37), with this Jesus introduces a concept, making accessible the foundation of the power of His royalty: the Truth!
However, in Pilate’s question, the destiny of humanity is at stake: “What is the truth?” (Jn 18,38). In this way, it is understood that witnessing the Truth means putting God and His will in evidence before the interests of the world and his powers. It is observed that the redemption is based on the fact that the Truth became recognizable in Jesus Christ who entered the world and established it in the middle of history.
“The death of Jesus on the cross, which, according to the evangelists, occurred at three o’clock in the afternoon is considered as an essential element of these last events. Jesus truly went to the end, realized the totality of love, gave Himself. ‘In place of all other cultural acts, the cross of Jesus enters as the only true glorification of God, in which He glorifies Himself through Him in whom He gives us His love and thus attracts us towards heights for Si ‘”(RATZINGER, 2016, p. 202).
To understand the meaning of Jesus’ last moments is to understand the meaning of our faith
At this time when the Easter lambs are sacrificed in the Temple, Jesus, the true Lamb who is pure and perfect, is sacrificed. The words of John the Baptist: “Here is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:19), now they become reality. For Jesus, the Lamb of God, on the cross, carries the sin of the world and eliminates it. At the same time that the soldier, instead of breaking his legs, pierces Jesus’ side with the spear, the priests in the Temple immolated the Paschal Lamb, without breaking any bones, as established in the book of Exodus 12. In this sense, John presents Christ as the new Lamb of the new Passover.
The four evangelists narrate that a member of the Sanhedrin, José de Arimateia, asked Pilate for the body of Jesus and wrapped it in linen cloths with aromas – about a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloe – (cf. Jn 19: 39-40) , implying that the way He is buried manifests Him as King.
It is of utmost importance to penetrate the deeper truth of the cross: the death of Jesus as reconciliation (atonement) and salvation. The first Christians first realized that, with the cross of Christ, the ancient sacrifices were completed and the world had obtained atonement, that is, God’s relationship with men had been renewed. They understood that, in Jesus’ passion, the impurity of the world came into contact with the immensely Pure, and if the impure reality through contact contaminated and stained the pure reality, here the opposite happens, the Pure is stronger. Ratzinger highlights this truth as follows:
“In this contact, the filth of the world is really absorbed, canceled, transformed through the suffering of infinite love. Since in man Jesus the infinite good is present, now, in the history of the world, the antagonistic force of all forms of evil is present and active; good is always infinitely greater than the whole mass of evil, however terrible it may be ”(RATZINGER, 2016, p.209).
The Church, over the centuries, has increasingly grasped the mystery of the cross, bearing in mind that it does not allow itself to be reduced to the categories of human reason. On the cross, the obscurity and incoherence of sin meets the holiness of God who, in His splendor, overshadows the eyes and goes beyond logic. However, in the New Testament doctrine and in its experience through the saints, this profound mystery is always dazzling.
Faith in the Risen Christ
In this reflection on the life of Jesus, His resurrection stands out in a peculiar way, taking into account the words of the apostle Paul: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain, our faith is in vain” ( I Cor 15,14). A new reading of Sacred Scripture began after the resurrection by the first Christians – the cross and the resurrection were understood in a new way and, thus, faith in Jesus as Son of God was arrived at.
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Faith in the resurrection does not contradict the reality in which man is inserted, however, it evidences a further reality, beyond human rational knowledge. The resurrection is a fact that occurred in history, however, it breaks the historical scope by surpassing it. Ratzinger highlights the issue of the resurrection as a historical event as follows:
“The essence of the resurrection lies precisely in the fact that it breaks history and inaugurates a new dimension that we habitually call the eschatological dimension. The resurrection opens up the new space that opens history beyond itself and creates the definitive. In this sense, it is true that the resurrection is not a historical event of the same kind as the birth or crucifixion of Jesus. It is something new, a new kind of event ”(RATZINGER, 2016, p. 245).
In short, it is understood that the Man Jesus, with His body, came to belong to the plan of the Eternal, bringing a novelty that changed history: from Him, man has a place in God. We conclude that the resurrection of Jesus, the foundation of the Christian faith, transcends history, so that it leaves witnessed marks as something completely new and sublime. With this event, Jesus inaugurates a new qualitative dimension for the human being, being that, although he was created for immortality, only with His resurrection does such immortality make sense with communion with God, that is, with reconciled humanity.