Knights of Columbus Bible Study
Jewish Roots of the Catholic Faith
15 May 2012 to 26 June 2012
Knights of Columbus Hall on Hwy 90
15 May 2012 Study notes: Jesus and His Jewish roots
Opening Prayer: Psalm 2 – A psalm for a Royal coronation
Scripture Reading: St. Matthew 16: 13-20
The identity of Jesus
Peter’s confession of faith begins as a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples. It takes place near Caesarea Philippi and marks the initial step of the journey that will issue in Jesus’ passion and death in Jerusalem. When Jesus asks concerning popular speculations regarding his identity, the disciples list some current opinions (v.14). According to 14:2, Herod Antipas thought that Jesus was John the Baptist restored to life. The return of Elijah was expected to accompany the coming of God’s kingdom (Mal 4:5-6). The reference to Jeremiah is found only in St. Matthew’s Gospel, and it indicates that the similarities between the prophet Jeremiah and Jesus were recognized.
In the second stage of the dialogue (vv. 15-16), Jesus asks not for popular speculations but rather for the disciples’ own assessment. Peter appears as the spokesman for the group and proclaims Jesus as the Messiah. (Messiah is a Hebrew word that means “anointed one”; its Greek translation is “Christos”.) Peter’s confession of Jesus as the Messiah reflects the disciples’ hope that Jesus would deliver Israel from its enemies and establish God’s kingdom on earth
The blessing in verse 17 declares that Peter’s confession was a revelation from God, and verse 18 promises that Peter is the rock on which the Christian Catholic community will be built after Jesus’ death and resurrection. No power opposed to God will be able to destroy that community.
It was not by accident or coincidence that Jesus asked his disciples about who they and others thought of him and his identity in the “district of Caesarea Philippi (Matt 16:13). A mostly pagan area almost twenty-five miles north of the Sea of Galilee, the region orginally named “Panion” or “Paneas” after the Greco-Roman deity Pan, an ancient diety of the natural world. It was eventually renamed by Philip, the son of Heard the Great, in honor of Tiberius Caesar and himself. There at the base of Mount Hermon – which marked the northern border of Israel – water flowed underground and surfaced in a cave at the base of a high limestone cliff. At the time of Christ it was a place of devoted pagan worship (especially to Baal), with niches cut into the cliff holding statues of numerous deities. Pagans believed it marked the spot where the netherworld met the material world. At the top of this cliff stood a temple in honor of Ceasar.
It was, in other words, a veritable and visually arresting display of “Who’s Who” among the papgan gods. “Who,” asked Jesus of his disciples, “do men say that the Son of Man is?” After hearing the responses – John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets – Jesus ask the question he asks of every one: “ But who do you say that I am?” He stands before the false gods of this world and asks for our decision; he comples a choice.
Who is Jesus?
Jesus of Nazareth was a Jew. He was born of a Jewish mother, received the Jewish sign of circumcision, and grew up in a Jewish town in Galilee. As a young man, he studied the Jewish Torah. When he was thiry years old, he began to preach in the Jewish synagogues about the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures, proclaiming the kingdom of God to the Jewish people. At the very end of his life, he celebrated the Jewish Passover, was tried by the Jewish council of priests and elders known as the Sanhedrin, and was crucified outside the great Jewish city of Jerusalem. Above his head hung a placard that read in Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews” (John 19:19).
The Jewishness of Jesus is a historical fact. Is this important? If Jesus was a real person who really lived in history, then the answer must be “Yes”. Jesus was a historical figure, living in a particular time and place. Therefore, any attempt to understand his words and deeds must reckon with the fact that Jesus lived in an ancient Jewish context. Jesus revealed himself to a Jewish audience that he was the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.
Jesus is the constant point of reference, the beginning and the end of the Christian Catholic faith. The centeral claim of the Catholic Church is that God become human. The creator of the cosmos, who transcends any definition or concept, took to himself a nature like ours, becoming one of us. Catholicism is a relationship to the person of Jesus Christ, to the God-Man. The incarnation is what makes Catholism, among all of the competing philosophies, ideologies, and religions of the world distinctive. The incarnation and enfleshment of God (Jn 1:14) is the Catholic Thing!
In order to understand Jesus in our twenty first centurey world we must ask the following question:
1. What were first-century Jews waiting for God to fulfill and do?
2. What did the Jews think the Messiah would be like?
3. What did they believe would happen when the Messiah finally came?
In the course of our Bible Study we will explore the above questions and examin our Catholic faith through the eyes of the first century Jewish context. We will examin how Jesus saw himself and what he proclaimed, especially through the Passover meal he celebrated with his disciples. We will explore Jesus and the Jewish roots of the Eucharist.
Recommended Book: Jesus and the Jewish roots of the Eucharist by Brant Pitre