Author Archives: Mary Healy

About Mary Healy

Mary Healy teaches Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

A Scriptural Rosary for Good Friday

The rosary is, as Pope John Paul II said, a way of contemplating the mysteries in the life of Christ in “the school of Mary”—the one who knows him best. Accompanied by her, we can be present in the events of his life and see them with new eyes. Although the traditional rosary has fifteen mysteries, to which John Paul II added the five Luminous Mysteries, there is no need to limit ourselves to these. Christian tradition considers every event in Christ’s life a “mystery.” “From the swaddling clothes of his birth to the vinegar of his Passion and the shroud of his Resurrection, everything in Jesus’ life was a sign of his mystery. His deeds, miracles and words all revealed that “in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.’” (CCC 515).

Below are five mysteries for contemplating Christ’s passion that I’ll call the “mysteries of Abandonment.” The traditional Sorrowful Mysteries focus primarily on Christ’s physical suffering, but the Gospels also say quite a bit—though in an oblique way—about his interior suffering. One of the keywords of the passion account in the Gospels is “hand over” or “betray” (Greek paradidōmi). Jesus’ whole passion was a process of being repeatedly handed over: Judas handed him over to the Jewish leaders (Mark 14:10), who handed him over to Pilate (Mark 15:1), who handed him over to be crucified (Mark 15:10). This theme evokes Isaiah’s prophecy of the suffering servant, who “handed himself over” (paradidōmi) to death in atonement for the sins of the people (Isa 53:12 LXX). But the greatest mystery is that it is the Father himself who “did not spare his own Son but handed him over (paradidōmi) for us all” (Rom 8:32). The human handing over of Jesus out of sin, betrayal and hardness of heart becomes the instrument of the Father’s handing over of his Son in love for the redemption of the world! And, finally, as he laid down his life Jesus “handed over (paradidōmi) his spirit” (John 19:30)—so that those whom he redeemed might share his own divine life.

These mysteries center on the anguish that Jesus, as man, experienced in being successively handed over, climaxing in his human experience of feeling forsaken even by the Father.

The First Mystery of Abandonment: Judas’ Betrayal

Our Father…

As they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” (Matt 26:21)

Hail Mary…

And they were very sorrowful, and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” (Matt 26:22)

Hail Mary…

He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me.” (Matt 26:23)

Hail Mary…

“The Son of man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed!” (Matt 26:24)

Hail Mary…

“It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” (Matt 26:22)

Hail Mary…

Judas, who betrayed him, said, “Is it I, Master?” He said to him, “You have said so.” (Matt 26:25)

Hail Mary…

Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me. (Ps 41:9)

Hail Mary…

But you, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up. (Ps 41:10)

Hail Mary…

By this I know that you delight in me: my enemy will not shout in triumph over me. (Ps 41:11)

Hail Mary…

But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever. (Ps 41:12)

Hail Mary…

The Second Mystery of Abandonment: The Apostles’ Desertion and Peter’s Denial

Our Father…

They all forsook him, and fled. (Mark 14:50)

Hail Mary…

Peter followed at a distance. (Luke 22:54)

Hail Mary…

When they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and sat down together, Peter sat among them. (Luke 22:55)

Hail Mary…

Then a maid… said, “This man also was with him.” But he denied it, saying, “Woman, I do not know him.” (Luke 22:56)-57

Hail Mary…

Someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.” But Peter said, “Man, I am not.” (Luke 22:58)

Hail Mary…

Still another insisted, saying, “Certainly this man also was with him; for he is a Galilean.” But Peter said, “Man, I do not know what you are saying.” (Luke 22:59)-60

Hail Mary…

And immediately, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed. (Luke 22:60)

Hail Mary…

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. (Luke 22:61)

Hail Mary…

Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the cock crows today, you will deny me three times.” (Luke 22:61)

Hail Mary…

And he went out and wept bitterly. (Luke 22:62)

Hail Mary…

The Third Mystery of Abandonment: The Condemnation of the Sanhedrin

Our Father…

The chief priests and the whole council sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. (Mark 14:55)

Hail Mary…

Many bore false witness against him, and their witness did not agree. (Mark 14:56)

Hail Mary…

More in number than the hairs of my head are those who hate me without cause; mighty are those who would destroy me, those who attack me with lies. (Ps 69:4)

Hail Mary…

The high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, “Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?” (Mark 14:60)

Hail Mary…

But he was silent and made no answer.

Hail Mary…

Again the high priest asked him, “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61)

Hail Mary…

And Jesus said, “I am.” (Mark 14:62)

Hail Mary…

“And you will see the Son of man seated at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (Mark 14:62)

Hail Mary…

The high priest tore his garments, and said, “Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy.” (Mark 14:63)

Hail Mary…

And they all condemned him as deserving death. (Mark 14:64)

Hail Mary…

The Fourth Mystery of Abandonment: The Condemnation of Pilate

Our Father…

They bound Jesus and led him away and handed him over to Pilate. (Mark 15:1)

Hail Mary…

Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” (John 18:29)

Hail Mary…

They answered him, “If this man were not an evildoer, we would not have handed him over to you.” (John 18:30)

Hail Mary…

Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you, Barabbas or Jesus who is called Christ?” … And they said, “Barabbas.” (Matt 27:17)

Hail Mary…

Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with the man whom you call the King of the Jews?” (Mark 15:12)

Hail Mary…

And they cried out again, “Crucify him.” (Mark 15:13)

Hail Mary…

And Pilate said to them, “Why, what evil has he done?” (Mark 15:14)

Hail Mary…

But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him.” (Mark 15:14)

Hail Mary…

Pilate took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” (Matt 27:24)

Hail Mary…

And having scourged Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified. (Mark 15:15)

Hail Mary…

The Fifth Mystery of Abandonment: The Father’s Absence

Our Father…

When the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. (Mark 15:33)

Hail Mary…

And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34)

Hail Mary…

Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning? (Ps 22:1)

Hail Mary…

O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest. (Ps 22:2)

Hail Mary…

All who see me mock me; they make mouths at me; they wag their heads. (Ps 22:7)

Hail Mary…

For dogs encompass me; a company of evildoers encircles me; they have pierced my hands and feet. (Ps 22:16)

Hail Mary…

I can count all my bones—they stare and gloat over me. (Ps 22:17)

Hail Mary…

They divide my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots. (Ps 22:18)

Hail Mary…

But you, O Lord, do not be far off! O you my help, come quickly to my aid! (Ps 22:19)

Hail Mary…

I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you: (Ps 22:22)

Hail Mary…


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“When you have lifted up the Son of Man…”

“When you have lifted up the Son of man, then you will know that I am he.” (John 8:28)

Just as in the Synoptic Gospels, so in the Gospel of John Jesus three times solemnly prophesies his passion (John 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). But the passion predictions in John are unique in that Jesus speaks of his crucifixion as a “lifting up,” alluding to the biblical story of the bronze serpent lifted up on a pole (Num 21:4-9; cf. John 3:14). Of all the images to use to reveal the meaning of his paschal mystery, why would Jesus choose this strange and disturbing one? The readings for Mass today, Num 21:4-9 and John 8:21-30, invite us to reflect on this question.

The story in Numbers 21 is rich and suggestive.

They set out from Mount Hor by way of the Red Sea in order to circumvent the land of Edom, and the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you led us up from Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no bread and no water, and we are tired of this wretched bread!” Then the Lord sent fiery serpents against the people, and they bit the people so that many of the Israelites died. So the people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned, for we have spoken against the Lord and against you. Pray to the Lord to remove the serpents from us.” And Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a serpent and set it on a pole. And anyone who has been bitten who looks upon it will live.” So Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on a pole. And if a serpent bit anyone and he looked upon the bronze serpent, he lived.

The narrative presents us, first of all, with the figure of Moses, the model intercessor for God’s people. As Israel’s divinely-appointed leader, Moses routinely bears the brunt of the people’s complaints against God. Yet he perseveres as a passionate intercessor who repeatedly wins pardon for the very people who had insulted and rebelled against him (Exod 15:24-25; 17:3-4; 32:11; Num 11:2). His humility and self-effacement emerges most clearly in those incidents where the people’s hostility is directed against himself—when Moses is blamed for the Egyptian taskmasters’ cruelty (Ex 5:15-23), when Aaron and Miriam grumble against him (Num 12:1-15), when the unruly mob attempts to depose and stone him (Num 14:1-23), and when he is accused of causing the death of Korah and his followers (Num 16:41-50).

In fact, Numbers implies that it is precisely because he is the target of the people’s anger that Moses’ intercession is efficacious. As he himself endures the people’s rebellion along with the Lord, Moses displays the total lack of ambition and self-interest that alone has power to move God’s heart. Each time God threatens to destroy his people, it becomes clear that God does not truly desire to do so, but is only waiting for someone to plead their case (just as in the story of Abraham’s intercession in Gen 18:22-33). When God tells Moses, “now let me alone, that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; but of you I will make a great nation” (Ex 32:10), he receives precisely the answer he was looking for: “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you led forth out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?… Turn from your fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against your people.” The story of the bronze serpent incident portrays Moses once again willing to plead for the people the moment they repent.

The story also portrays the profound connection between sin and its consequences. The mysterious fiery serpents (nechashim sepharim) who bite the rebellious Israelites recall the primordial deception by the serpent (nachash) in Gen 3:1-6. The people have succumbed to the perennial temptation that originated with the serpent in the Garden of Eden—the temptation to distrust and disobey God—and they thus experience the serpent’s own bitter toxin: death.

More surprisingly, the method of cure devised by God is also symbolically linked to the sin. That which heals is shaped like that which caused the wound. God did not remove the fiery serpents, as requested by the people. Instead he instructed that a bronze serpent be held aloft on a “pole” (the Hebrew word, nēs, actually means “ensign” or “standard”; cf. Isa 11:10, 12). The bronze serpent is a visible sign confronting the people with both their own rebellion and God’s gratuitous mercy. Thus the bronze image is able to stir up the repentant faith in God that is the necessary condition for the cure.

How, then, does the bronze serpent serve as a prefigurement of Christ, shedding light on his paschal mystery?

Jesus is the new Moses, who surpasses the leader of old in his role as suffering intercessor and advocate for his people. In fact, in comparison to Jesus it is now Moses who stands as accuser (John 5:45)! Moses is powerless to bestow the unconditional forgiveness and mercy that are needed in the face of the people’s transgression of the law (cf. John 1:17; 7:19). On the cross, Jesus brings to perfect fulfillment the role of the intercessor who stands solidarity with his people, accepting God’s just punishment. Jesus, in effect, says like Moses, “But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written” (Exod 32:32). Whereas Moses only expressed his willingness to share his people’s fate, Jesus actually took upon himself the just penalty of death in place of the people (cf. John 11:51-52).

The bronze serpent is fulfilled in Christ who is himself “lifted up” like an ensign on the cross. The expression “lifted up” signifies both his physical crucifixion and his simultaneous glorification as the obedient Son of the Father. The link with the bronze serpent is even closer in that the Hebrew term for “lift up” (nasa) is often associated with a standard (nēs) in the prophetic literature. Isaiah links God’s lifting up of a standard with the gathering of his scattered people: “He will lift up a standard for the nations, and will assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth” (Isa 11:12). This prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus’ crucifixion, the means by which God will gather all people to himself: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to myself” (John 12:32; cf. 11:51). Despite its external appearance as an image of pain and punishment (like the bronze serpent), the cross is the supreme “sign” that reveals the Father’s merciful love. It is a sign of death that paradoxically brings healing and life.

The sign value of the cross leads to one other dimension hinted at in John’s bronze serpent typology, namely, the necessity of “seeing” the sign. In Numbers 21, it is not simply the bronze serpent itself that heals, but the act of looking upon it. God requires his people to cooperate—in however passive a manner—in his healing action. John accents this aspect of human cooperation by replacing “sees” with “believes” in 3:15. The notion of “seeing” Jesus is one of the central themes of the Gospel. To “see” Jesus is not merely physical but a contemplative gaze that penetrates into the mystery of who he is. It is thus closely associated with believing: “everyone who sees the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life” (John 6:40; cf. 19:35; 20:8).

This theme culminates at the crucifixion, where the Son’s divine glory is most hidden from sight and yet, paradoxically, most revealed to those who believe. John quotes Zech 12:10: “They shall look on him whom they have pierced” (John 19:37), suggesting a graced moment of revelation by which the rejected One is suddenly recognized and accepted in faith as the Messiah who is vicariously suffering for the people’s sins. As the people in the desert were restored to life by looking upon that which God provided for their healing, so those who look upon the Son with the interior gaze of faith are given the fullness of life.

Just as the image of the people’s punishment, lifted up on a pole and gazed upon, became the source of their recovery, so Christ, bearing upon himself the very apex of human malice and rebellion against God, lifted up on the cross and gazed upon, becomes the source of limitless divine mercy and healing.


Filed under Gospel of John, Lectionary, Mary Healy, Uncategorized

Quenching the Thirst of God

Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman in John 4, one of the longest dialogues in all Scripture, is full of Johannine symbolism and hidden layers of meaning.

The setting, Jacob’s well, provides an initial clue to the meaning of the story. As ancient Jews steeped in the Old Testament would recognize, a well is the place where, in a seemingly chance encounter, bridegroom meets bride. Isaac, Jacob and Moses all found their brides-to-be at a well (Gen 24; 29; Exod 2:15-21). These parallels suggest that so too, Jesus’ meeting with the woman of Samaria is a divinely appointed encounter, a meeting of love.

Jesus, thirsty from his long journey, asks the woman for a drink—thereby breaking the powerful social barriers that stood between men and women, Jews and Samaritans.

When the woman expresses her surprise, he answers:

“If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

This makes clear that the real purpose of Jesus’ request was that he might quench her thirst with “living water.” Living water (or flowing water) is a biblical image for the divine life for which human beings yearn, as in Ps 42:1-2:

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so longs my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and behold the face of God?

The Samaritan woman is intrigued.

“Sir, you have nothing to draw with, and the well is deep; where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well, and drank from it himself, and his sons, and his cattle?”

She thinks Jesus is referring to flowing spring water in contrast to stagnant water. Like Nicodemus (3:4) and later the disciples (11:11-12), the woman misconstrues Jesus’ words about a spiritual reality in a literalistic way. But this gives Jesus an opportunity to explain further:

“Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Later in the Gospel, John explicitly identifies the “living water” as the Holy Spirit.

On the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now he said this about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive (John 7:37-39).

The feast mentioned here is Tabernacles, when the Jews commemorated the water that miraculously came forth from the rock that Moses struck (Exod 17:1-6). Jesus, then, is himself the life-giving Rock (cf. 1 Cor 10:3-4), the source of the Holy Spirit, and the way we drink his living water is by believing in him. The passion narrative portrays how this Rock is “struck”: after Jesus had died, “one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water” (John 19:34). From Jesus’ wounded heart flows divine life, the Holy Spirit, given to us in the sacraments of baptism (signified by the water) and the Eucharist (signified by the blood). As Paul expressed it, “God has poured his love into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Rom 5:5).

Jesus promises the Samaritan woman that his water will not only quench her thirst but become “a spring welling up” within her. This suggests that to the degree we drink from the inexhaustible fountain of God’s love, we become a fountain of life for others.

At this point the woman is finally ready to ask for the gift Jesus longs to give her:

“Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.”

She still does not understand; she is glad at the prospect of never again having to trek out to the well. Yet her request, like that of the Jews for the bread of life (John 6:34), is sincere. On a symbolic level, without knowing it she is asking for baptism (cf. John 3:5).

But Jesus’ reply is unexpected.

“Go, call your husband, and come here.”

Why this apparent digression? Now that her request has provided an opening, Jesus probes this woman’s heart, uncovering the place where she is wounded. Only the truly thirsty, who are willing to acknowledge what is parched and lifeless within them, are able to drink the living water. This woman’s brokenness, like that of so many others, is in the area of love. In fact, her life is a history of broken relationships.

Her reply, “I have no husband,” is somewhat evasive, but Jesus brings to light her true moral state.

“You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband; this you said truly.”

Although this revelation is painful, the woman recognizes Jesus’ total lack of condemnation (cf. 4:39). He exposes sin not for the sake of condemnation but forgiveness and freedom.

At this point it is becoming clear that the dialogue is not merely personal. The woman’s life story, in fact, embodies the history of the people of Israel. According to 2 Kings, when the Assyrians invaded the Kingdom of Israel they planted precisely five foreign nations there, each with its god (2 Kg 17:24-31; cf. Josephus, Antiquities, 9.288). Through the prophets, God had revealed himself as the bridegroom of Israel, the true God whose love for his chosen people was passionate and utterly faithful. Yet instead of being reciprocated, his love had met with continuous betrayal in the form of idolatry, the worship of alien gods. The gentile nations imported into Samaria had only intensified the infidelity.

Surely, as a faithless wife leaves her husband, so have you been faithless to me, O house of Israel, says the Lord (Jer 3:20).

But God had promised that he would use even the national calamity of conquest and exile to eventually bring about the healing of Israel’s adultery.

In that day, says the Lord, you will call me, “My husband,” and no longer will you call me, “My Baal.” For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be mentioned by name no more. And I will make for you a covenant on that day…. And I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness; and you shall know the Lord. (Hos 2:16-20)

Against this biblical background the deeper significance of the story comes to light: Jesus, the Word made flesh, is the divine Bridegroom proposing marriage to Samaritan people! He is inviting this woman, and her whole nation, to return to their first and true husband, the living God.

At the end of the dialogue, after discovering that Jesus is indeed the promised Messiah, the woman hurries back into town bursting with the news of what has happened to her. Her encounter with Jesus has overflowed in a desire to share with others what she has experienced. The narrative thus portrays the movement from personal encounter to evangelization, a pattern that remains foundational to the Church’s mission today. By making ourselves present to this story, we too can be drawn into the same movement, experiencing more deeply the “gift of God” and being empowered to proclaim it with a new dynamism.


Filed under biblical theology, Lectionary, Mary Healy

Jesus of Nazareth Part II

The fact that Benedict XVI has spent what little time he can squeeze out of his papal schedule continuing work on his three-volume Jesus of Nazareth indicates the tremendous importance he attributes to the renewal of theology, and in particular, biblical theology.

The second volume of Jesus of Nazareth, covering the events of Holy Week, will be released tomorrow, March 10. (The pope is already working on the third volume, a “prequel” covering the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke.) I have read the preview copy of volume 2 sent to me by the publisher, and it is as theologically rich and insightful as the first volume.

It seems to me that Benedict’s deepest goal is to provide a model of what biblical theology can look like when the tools of modern scholarship are integrated with faith in Scripture as a living word from God. The pope is seeking to reunite what has long been split apart—Scripture and theology, biblical exegesis and Christian faith. He is not afraid to do things that are considered taboo in some biblical circles:

  • He synthesizes reflections based on each of the four gospels (and even Paul) into a single coherent whole rather than only looking at, say, the christology of Mark or the christology of John.
  • He interprets Scripture from within the living tradition of the Church, rather than as a supposedly neutral bystander.
  • He holds that the real, historical Jesus is none other than the Jesus of the gospels.
  • He takes as the purpose of his biblical investigations that both he and his readers might encounter Jesus and grow in friendship with him.

Yet at the same time the pope takes very seriously questions of history and the gradual development in the early church’s understanding. The result is a reflection in which each detail of the passion accounts opens up unexpected depths; each detail interconnects with the whole mystery of Jesus’ identity and messianic mission. Even the differences in perspectives among the evangelists only bring out the figure of Jesus in clearer relief.

Benedict’s book is totally unprecedented in that he writes as pope, yet truly wants to be read as a theologian whose contribution is evaluated and even critiqued by fellow theologians. In the foreword to the first volume he stated, “this book is in no way an exercise of the magisterium, but is solely an expression of my personal search ‘for the face of the Lord’ (cf. Ps 27:8). Everyone is free, then, to contradict me.”

Following are my own reflections on one of the sections that can be discussed before the book is released tomorrow. I’ll post more later.

When was the Last Supper?

The pope goes into some depth on this subject that has been a matter of controversy ever since the patristic era, since there are apparent contradictions in the Gospel accounts. (For a good succinct summary, see the Ignatius Catholic Study Bible, p. 188.) The Synoptic Gospels indicate that the Last Supper was a Passover meal on the Thursday evening before Christ died (Mk 14:12-17). The Gospel of John, on the other hand, indicates that the Passover began on Friday evening that year, which implies that the Last Supper could not have been a Passover meal. Here, in brief, are the main solutions proposed:

  1. The Synoptic Gospels are historically accurate. John tweaks the details for the sake of theological symbolism: at the very hour the Passover lambs were being slaughtered in the temple, Jesus, the true Lamb of God, died on the cross.
  2. John’s account is historically accurate. The Synoptics portray the Last Supper as a Passover meal although this was not historically the case.
  3. John is right in that the Passover was on Friday according to the official Jewish lunar calendar; however, the Essenes and perhaps other Jews used a different (solar) calendar, according to which the Passover was on Tuesday evening. Jesus celebrated the Passover on Tuesday according to this alternative calendar.
  4. John is accurate regarding the official Passover, but Jesus celebrated an anticipated Passover on Thursday evening (a day early), knowing that this would be his only chance to do so before he died.
  5. When read correctly, John is not actually saying that the Passover was on Friday evening. Rather, “eat the Passover” (18:28) refers to the feasting that would continue throughout the whole feast of Unleavened Bread, the “octave” of Passover, so to speak, which began on Thursday evening. And “day of preparation of the Passover” (19:14) means the Friday within Passover week. Therefore there is no contradiction between the Gospels, and the Last Supper was a Passover meal as indicated in the Synoptics.

After considering various proposals, the pope adopts the solution offered by John Meier, number 4 on the list above. He writes:

The answer given by Meier is astonishingly simple and in many respects convincing: Jesus knew that he was about to die. He knew that he would not be able to eat the Passover again. Fully aware of this, he invited his disciples to a Last Supper of a very special kind, one that followed no specific Jewish ritual but, rather, constituted his farewell; during the meal he gave them something new: he gave them himself as the true Lamb and thereby instituted his Passover….

One thing emerges clearly from the entire tradition: essentially, this farewell meal was not the old Passover, but the new one, which Jesus accomplished in this context. Even though the meal that Jesus shared with the Twelve was not a Passover meal according to the ritual prescriptions of Judaism, nevertheless, in retrospect, the inner connection of the whole event with Jesus’ death and Resurrection stood out clearly. It was Jesus’ Passover. And in this sense he both did and did not celebrate the Passover: the old rituals could not be carried out — when their time came, Jesus had already died. But he had given himself, and thus he had truly celebrated the Passover with them. The old was not abolished; it was simply brought to its full meaning

Without having studied the question in depth, I am more inclined to solution 5 on the list above. The idea of an anticipated Passover makes it difficult to explain, for instance, the question recorded in Mk 14:12, which assumes Jesus’ adherence to the official calendar: “And on the first day of Unleavened Bread, when they sacrificed the passover lamb, his disciples said to him, ‘Where will you have us go and prepare for you to eat the passover?’”

But the more important point is what the pope draws out of this discussion: Jesus’ paschal mystery as the interpretive key of all Scripture. At one and the same time Jesus fulfills all that belongs to the old covenant and yet brings a radical and unexpected newness. This Christ-centered understanding of Scripture was foundational the New Testament and most of Christian tradition, yet is rarely addressed in biblical scholarship today. With his careful biblical-theological work, Benedict has given that ancient conviction a new credibility.

If I have one complaint about the book it is that, very understandably, the pope takes as his interlocutors mainly German exegetes of his own generation. It would have been great to see him interact, for instance, with more recent British scholarship (for instance, N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, James Dunn, who tend to be less skeptical of the biblical accounts and have put forward some convincing new arguments for the historical reliability of the gospels). But no doubt Benedict had to interrupt his biblical studies to meet a few heads of state, appoint bishops, deal with abuse scandals, and try to revive the faith in historic Catholic countries like Spain. I for one am grateful that he found enough time to continue the work in biblical theology at which he is extraordinarily gifted.


Filed under Mary Healy