More than a decade ago I was visiting Rome, and I overheard a world-renowned theologian say, “The only American this city takes seriously is Thomas Weinandy.”
Father Weinandy, a Capuchin Franciscan theologian, certainly speaks with authority. He is a member of the Vatican’s International Theological Commission. He has held many prestigious teaching posts. He was, for many years, the chief theological adviser to the U.S. bishops. Most of his books have, in one way or another, been systematic explorations of Jesus’ person and nature.
His most recent book, however, is different. He has put aside all the scholarly apparatus and simply written a book about Jesus — chronologically following the three “Synoptic Gospels” (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) through the Lord’s earthly ministry.
The result is a stunning, genre-bending book that will be much talked about in the coming years — and perhaps still read centuries from now. Father Weinandy took time to talk with Angelus News.
Mike Aquilina: You’re a systematic theologian. How did you come to write a book on the Gospels?
Father Thomas Weinandy: I did not intend to write this book. I had planned to write a book on systematic theology — examining all the various doctrines of the Church. My plan was to give a nod to Scripture and then move on to the Fathers, Aquinas, and then to contemporary issues.
However, when I began writing the first chapter on the Incarnation, I started to examine the infancy narrative in Matthew and Luke. After six weeks I was still writing on the narrative.
I said to myself, “What is happening to my systematic book?” I thought the Lord said to me, “Just stay with the Scriptures.” So that is what I did. I ended up writing a theological commentary on the Synoptic Gospels.
Aquilina: But you’re not a Scripture scholar.
Weinandy: It is not my field of expertise. However, I wrote from the perspective of a systematic theologian, and so it is a great deal more theological than most normal biblical commentaries.
I think doing this has great advantages, because people want to know not just all the ins and outs of scriptural studies, but also what were the authors attempting to teach us theologically.
Do the Gospels teach us that Jesus is God and man? What do the Gospels tell us about the Trinity? What do they say about baptism and Eucharist? Why did Jesus have to die and rise? So I tried to show that what we believe as Christians and Catholics is thoroughly scriptural. It is all there in the Gospels.
Aquilina: The book has a curious title. Why “Jesus Becoming Jesus” and not “Jesus Being Jesus”? Wasn’t he always Jesus?
Weinandy: One of the main emphases of my book is the importance of actions. Jesus did all kinds of things — worked miracles, forgave sins, expelled demons, came forward to be baptized, transfigured, instituted the Eucharist, sacrificed his life on the cross, rose from the dead and ascended into heaven, and poured out the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
The angel Gabriel told Mary, and subsequently an angel told Joseph in a dream, that the child to be born was to be named Jesus, which means YHWH-Saves. [YHWH is the Hebrew name for God.]
The first saving act was the Son of God becoming man in his conception by the power of the Holy Spirit. However, Jesus was Jesus still in embryo. He needed to grow up and to perform the deeds of salvation before he would truly become Jesus — YHWH-Saves.
It is only through his saving acts, his being baptized, his miracles, his entering into Jerusalem, his passion, death and resurrection, that Jesus becomes Jesus. Jesus was not truly and fully Jesus until he saved us.
Actually, he is not fully Jesus until he comes again in glory at the end of time, for only then will we be saved and become like Jesus presently is — glorious in body and soul. So my book emphasizes how Jesus in saving us becomes Jesus.
Aquilina: You say that Jesus enacted the kingdom when he enacted the Beatitudes. How is this so?
Weinandy: The Beatitudes are the principles of living the Christian life and the rewards that flow from living such a Christian life. However, we cannot live this Christian life apart from living in Jesus.
Jesus first had to enact the Beatitudes and reap their rewards before we could live the Beatitudes and so reap in Christ their rewards. For example: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
No one is more poor in spirit that Jesus. He humbled himself in becoming man. He lived a poor and lowly life. He died a criminal on the cross. In being the most poor in spirit, Jesus is most blessed because he established the kingdom of God as the kingdom’s king.
Or, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will obtain mercy.” Again, no one is more merciful than Jesus. He was merciful to the sick, the possessed, the hungry, and forgave sinners. So merciful was he that he died for us who are sinful men and women.
In being so merciful, the Father, in his mercy, raised Jesus from the dead. And again, in Jesus we can be merciful to others, even to those who hate us, and in so doing the Father, in his mercy, will be merciful to us, and so raise us into glory with Jesus.
Jesus literally embodies all the blessings of the Beatitudes and by living in him we too live the Beatitudes and so reap their blessings.
Aquilina: It’s at the Last Supper that you see Jesus “definitively” becoming Jesus? Why then and not at his crucifixion, resurrection, or ascension?
Weinandy: The definitive saving acts of Jesus are, in one sense, his death on the cross and his resurrection.
Through his sacrificial death on the cross Jesus reconciled us to the Father, and in his resurrection he destroyed death and won for us eternal life. However, we need to participate in those saving acts if we are to reap their saving benefits.
In baptism we die and rise with Christ, and so the humanity we inherited from Adam is put to death and we rise bearing the humanity of the new Adam — Jesus Christ. This empowers us to be even more fully united to him in the Eucharist.
In the Mass we are united to Jesus’ one saving sacrifice, and in receiving the body and blood of Jesus we are fully united to the risen Jesus. Only by sharing with us his risen body and blood, and so uniting us to his divinity as the Son of God, does Jesus more fully become Jesus here on earth, for he is uniting us to himself in the fullness of who he is.
This, again, finds its completion in heaven when, in the Holy Spirit, we will fully live in the glorified Jesus and so fully become glorified children of the Father.
Aquilina: How does your book compare with the “Jesus of Nazareth” series by Pope Benedict XVI?
Weinandy: Pope Benedict, in writing his series of books, wanted to give an example of how Scripture can imbue theology.
The Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation, taught that Scripture should be the soul of theology — Scripture is what should give theology life. I have tried to follow the example of Benedict as well as to take to heart what the Council taught.
My book differs from Benedict’s in that it is a more thorough theological study of the Synoptic Gospels, and it also attempts to conceive and articulate the great mysteries of our faith as they are found in the Gospels, such as the Incarnation, the Trinity, salvation and the sacraments.
In this sense Benedict’s book and my book are complementary. However, I must say that I know of no other book quite like my own. It is a rather unique genre. The reason for this is that I wrote my theological interpretation as a systematic theologian and not as a Scripture scholar.
Aquilina: Is there a spiritual dimension to your writing? Do you have habits of prayer that help with the writing of a book like this?
Weinandy: I have attempted to write a book of theology, but one that is thoroughly biblical in nature. My goal was that in articulating how Jesus becomes Jesus as found in the Synoptic Gospels the reader would not only come to know Jesus better, but also to love him more.
I am convinced that if a book does not help the reader come to love Jesus, no matter how theological it is, it has failed. In this sense my book has a spiritual dimension.
I think my book can easily be used in the preparation of homilies and sermons. I also think that the laity would find it helpful in their theological understanding of the Catholic faith as well as aiding them in their spiritual life.
As for my habits of prayer — I pray each time before I begin writing. One cannot know and love the mysteries of our faith without the help of the Holy Spirit. It was in being baptized in the Holy Spirit in 1975 that the Spirit gave me a love for Scripture, and that love has increased ever since. This book is, in many ways, the fruit of that Spirit-filled love.
Mike Aquilina is a contributing editor to Angelus and the author of many books, including “The Fathers of the Church” (Our Sunday Visitor, $24).
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