Tuesday, November 01, 2005

King of the Jews

Ratzinger's discussion of the identity and meaning of Christ is full of insight. Here, he writes about what was gained by the ancient Jews' hope for a powerful earthly king being frustrated and seemingly denied.
The application of the oriental ritual of coronation to the king of Israel, as it occurs in the Psalm (2:7), must have seemed like a cruel mockery in the face of the actual situation of Israel. When people called out to Pharaoh or to the king of Babylon at his enthronement, "The nations are your heritage, the ends of the earth your possession; you shall break them with a rob of iron, and dash them to pieces like a potter's vessel", there was some sense in it. Such claims corresponded to these kings' claims to world power. But when what was meaningful for the great powers of Babylon and Egypt is applied to the king on Mount Zion, it turns into pure irony, for the kings of the earth do not tremble before him; on the contrary, he trembles before them. Mastery of the world, declared as it was by a petty prince must have sounded ridiculous... The mantle of the psalm... was far too big for the shoulders of the real king on Mount Zion. So it was historically inevitable that this psalm... should grow more and more into a profession of hope in him of whom it would one day really be true... "royal" theology... turned from a theology of election into a theology of hope in the king to come... At this point the new application of the passage by the original Christian community begins. The words of the psalm were probably first applied to Jesus in the framework of the belief in his Resurrection. The event of Jesus' awakening from the dead, in which the community believed, was conceived by the first Christians as the moment at which the happenings of Psalm 2 had become factual reality... What does the application of the Psalm mean? It implies the conviction that to him who died on the Cross, to him who renounced all earthly power (and this must be heard against the of the talk about kings trembling and being broken with a rod of iron!), to him who laid aside the sword and, instead of sending others to their death (as earthly kings do), himself went to his death for others, to him who saw the meaning of human existence not in power and self assertion, but in existing utterly for others - who indeed was, as the Cross shows, existence for others - to him alone God has said, "You are my son, today I have begotten you." In the crucified Christ those who believe see the meaning of that oracle, what the meaning of being chosen is: not privilege and power for oneself, but service to others.

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