11/20/2012, 00.00
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Infancy Narratives, a real story that still resonates with us today, pope says

The third book by Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, Infancy Narratives was released today. The first edition will be available in more than a million copies, and eventually translated into 20 languages in 72 countries. It covers Jesus' genealogy, Annunciation, the Bethlehem event, Magi, and the three-day disputation in the temple with the 'doctors'.

Vatican City (AsiaNews) - The Gospels about Jesus' infancy are "not stories but tell a real story." It is in not a story set in the past, done and over; it is a story that still resonates with us today. In the Gospel of Mark, Jesus asks his disciples, "But who do you say that I am?" That is the crucial question Joseph Ratzinger, Benedict XVI, asks in his third book on the Saviour, which is centred on Jesus' infancy. This is not, according to the preface, a third volume but a kind of "small antechamber" to the previous two books on Jesus of Nazareth and his message.

Based on a rigorous historical and textual interpretation of the Gospels, Joseph Ratzinger-Benedict XVI's third book about Jesus is a major publishing story. It is being released in nine editions-Italian, German, Portuguese (Brazilian and Portuguese), Croatian, French, English, Polish and Spanish-in 50 countries with more than a million copies in its first edition. This will be followed over the next few months by 20 more editions in 72 countries.

"The first chapter is dedicated to the Saviour's genealogies in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, which are very different, although both place Jesus in history and his true origin as a new beginning of world history.

In Matthew, Jesus' genealogy presents four women, none Jewish, the pope writes. Through them, nations come into Jesus' genealogy, increasing the visibility of his mission towards Jews and pagans. Thus, the pagan world enters Jesus' genealogy, because Abraham has to come to redeem all.

The genealogy described in the Gospels embodies a promise that is not limited to the family or people in which Jesus is born, but embraces the whole of humanity. Jesus takes on himself the humankind, its history, and gives it a new direction and a new way of being human. Jesus' origin thus becomes that of the men and women who are born in the world.

The second chapter is centred on the Annunciation. For the pope, in the interaction between Mary and the Archangel Gabriel, "God seeks to enter the world anew" through a woman. Only through her consent can the salvation story begin.

As theologian Maria Clara Bingemer noted this morning, during the book's presentation, the pope presents the Annunciation to Mary to show that the mother of Jesus as the embodiment of the attitudes believers have vis-à-vis the overwhelming presence of God who comes and offers himself.

"At this point, we have in my opinion the most beautiful passage in the book," she said, when the author, following Bernard of Clairvaux, emphasises God's respect for human freedom.

"He knocks on Mary's door. He needs human freedom. [. . .] By creating freedom, God, in a certain way, has come to rely on man. His power is tied to a 'yes' that is not forced upon man."

"It is remarkable to find a child and a woman at the centre," said Paolo Mieli, head of the RCS MediaGroup book division. It is a book about women. It is important to note that in receiving the Annunciation, Mary receives her freedom, and accepts to participate and be a protagonist in Jesus' birth.

Chapter three is about the birth in Bethlehem at the time of Augustus, with a government and empire that extends from East to West and whose universal dimension allows for the entry into the world of 'a universal Saviour'. "It is indeed the fullness of time," when the history of the Roman Empire and that of Salvation come together.

There was no ox or ass in the manger. The Gospel does not mention animals or comets. It speaks however of "star," of Jesus' birth in a cave, lying in a manger, a scene that emphasises his utter otherness, beyond what anyone can think or want. Yet, his birth's poverty becomes an epiphany, a manifestation of the divine. "Poverty is the true sign of God."

The fourth chapter is dedicated to the three Magi, who saw the star of the 'King of the Jews' and had come to adore the child, and to the flight into Egypt.

Why, the pope asks, did the Magi come to a king that brought a salvation that did not concern them? Why, unlike King Herod who feared for his kingdom, did no scripture scholar in Palestine perceive the star the Magi followed. "It is surprising that scripture scholars drew no conclusions from the star's arrival." Yet, "creation interpreted through scriptures began to talk about man again."

The Epilogue is dedicated to the last episode in Jesus' childhood, the three days during the Passover pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem, in which 12-year-old Jesus leaves Mary and Joseph and stays in the Temple to discuss with the "doctors".

When Mary and Joseph came to get him, they do not understand his words or the explanations for his behaviour.

"Jesus' words are always greater than our reason, always greater than our intelligence. The temptation to reduce and manipulate them to our size is understandable."

However, the right humility needed to respect this greatness is part of the right exegesis. Such greatness has its own demands, and often goes beyond us. Not reducing Jesus' words to the issue of what we can believe is part of the same.

God believes we are capable of greatness, warns the pope. This is what believing also means.


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