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Jesus Christ, Son of God

Catechesis by Pope John Paul II on Jesus Christ
General Audience, Wednesday 13 May 1987 - in Italian & Spanish  

"1. As we saw in the previous reflections, the name "Christ" in the language of the Old Testament meant "Messiah." Israel, the People of God of the old covenant, lived in expectation of the realization of the promise of the Messiah, which was fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. Therefore, from the very beginning Jesus was called Christ, the "Messiah," and was accepted as such by all who "received him" (Jn 1:17).

2. We have seen that, according to the old covenant tradition, the Messiah is king and this messianic king is also called Son of God. In the sphere of the Yahwist monotheism of the old covenant, this title has an exclusively analogical meaning, or even metaphorical. In those books it does not mean the Son generated by God, but one chosen by God and entrusted with a particular mission or ministry.

3. In this sense even the entire people is sometimes called son, as in Yahweh's words addressed to Moses: "You shall say to Pharaoh...Israel is my first born son...let my son go that he may serve me!" (Ex 4:22-23; cf. also Hos 11:1; Jer 31:9). If then the king is called "Son of God" in the old covenant, it is because in the Israelite theocracy he is a particular representative of God.

We see it, for instance, in Psalm 2, in relation to the enthronement of the king: "He said to me, 'You are my son, today I have begotten you'" (Ps 2:7). We also read in Psalm 88, "He (David) shall cry to me, 'You are my Father....' And I will make him the first-born, the highest of the kings of the earth" (Ps 89:26-27). Later the prophet Nathan will say in regard to the offspring of David, "I will be his father and he shall be my son. When he commits iniquity, I will chasten him..." (2 Sam 7:14).

However, in the Old Testament the analogical and metaphorical meaning of the expression Son of God seems to include another which remains obscure. Thus in Psalm 2 God says to the king, "You are my son, today I have begotten you" (Ps 2:7), and in Psalm 110, "Before the daystar like the dew, I have begotten you" (v. 3).

4. One must bear in mind this biblical-messianic background in order to realize that Jesus' way of acting and of expressing himself indicated the awareness of a completely new reality.

Even though the Synoptic Gospels do not describe Jesus as Son of God (nor as Messiah), nevertheless in different ways he stated and made it understood that he is Son of God, and not in an analogical or metaphorical sense, but in the natural sense.

5. Indeed, he emphasized the exclusiveness of his relationship of Son of God. Never did he say of God, "our Father," but only "my Father," or else he made the distinction, "my Father, your Father." He did not hesitate to declare, "All things have been delivered to me by my Father" (Mt 11:27).

This exclusiveness of the relation of sonship to God is manifested particularly in prayer. Jesus addressed God as Father, using the Aramaic word Abba, which denotes the special closeness of a son to his father. On Jesus' lips it expresses his total surrender to the Father's will: "Abba, Father, all things are possible to you; remove this cup from me" (Mk 14:36).

On other occasions Jesus used the expression "your Father"; for example, "as your Father is merciful" (Lk 6:36); "your Father who is in heaven" (Mk 11:25). In this way he underlined the specific nature of his own relationship to the Father, while desiring that this divine Fatherhood should be communicated to others, as shown by the prayer "our Father" which Jesus taught his apostles and followers.

6. The truth about Christ as Son of God is the converging point of the whole New Testament. The Gospels, especially John's Gospel, and the writings of the apostles, particularly St. Paul's letters, provide us with explicit testimonies. In the present reflection we shall concentrate merely on some particularly significant statements. In a certain sense these open the way for the discovery of the truth about Christ as Son of God and bring us nearer to a correct understanding of his sonship.

7. It is important to note that Jesus' conviction of his divine sonship was confirmed by a voice from heaven during his baptism in the Jordan (cf. Mk 1:11) and on the mountain at the moment of the transfiguration (cf. Mk 9:7). The evangelists tell us that on both occasions the Father proclaimed Jesus to be "his beloved Son" (Mt. 3:17; Lk 3:22).

The apostles had a similar confirmation also from the unclean spirits who cried out against Jesus: "What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God" (Mk 1:24). "What have you to do with me...Son of the Most High God?" (Mk 5:7).

8. When we consider the testimony of the apostles and others, Simon Peter's profession of faith near Caesarea Philippi merits particular attention: "You are the Christ, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16:16). It is to be noted that this profession was confirmed in an unusually solemn way by Jesus: "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven" (Mt 16:17).

This is not an isolated fact. In the same Gospel of Matthew we read that on seeing Jesus walking on Lake Gennesaret, calming the wind and saving Peter, the apostles worshipped the Master, saying, "Truly you are the Son of God" (Mt 14:33).

9. Therefore, what Jesus did and taught convinced the apostles that he was not only the Messiah, but also the true "Son of God." And Jesus confirmed that conviction.

It was precisely some statements made by Jesus that gave rise to the charge of blasphemy made against him. There were some particularly dramatic moments as narrated in John's Gospel where we read that the Jews " kill him, because he not only broke the sabbath but also called God his Father, making himself equal to God" (Jn 5:18).

The same problem was raised in the trial of Jesus before the Sanhedrin. The high priest Caiaphas said to him: "I adjure you by the living God, tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God." To this Jesus replied quite simply, "You have said so," that is to say, "Yes, I am" (cf. Mt 26:63-64). Again in the trial before Pilate, although there was a different charge, namely, that he proclaimed himself king, the Jews nevertheless repeated the basic charge: "We have a law, and by that law he ought to die, because he has made himself the Son of God" (Jn 19:7).

10. Thus we can say that in the last analysis Jesus died on the cross for the truth about his divine sonship. Even though the inscription placed on the cross as an official declaration of his condemnation stated, "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews," nevertheless St. Matthew observed that "those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying...'If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross'" (Mt 27:39-40). And again: "He trusted in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him; for he said, 'I am the Son of God!'" (Mt 27:43).

This truth is at the center of the event of Golgotha. Although it would be the object of the conviction, proclamation and testimony of the apostles, now it is the object of derision. However, even here, the Roman centurion watched over the agony of Jesus and heard the words which he addressed to the Father at the moment of death. The centurion, a pagan, gave a final surprising testimony to Christ's divine identity: "Truly this man was the Son of God!" (Mk 15:39).

11. The words of the Roman centurion on the fundamental truth of the Gospel and of the whole New Testament remind us of the angel's words to Mary at the annunciation, "Behold, you will conceive and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High" (Lk 1:31-32). When Mary asked, "How can this be?" the angel replied: "The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God" (Lk 1:34-35).

12. Because Jesus was aware that he was Son of God in the real and natural sense of the word, he "called God his Father" (Jn 5:18). With the same conviction he did not hesitate to say to his adversaries and accusers: "Truly, truly, I say to you before Abraham was, I am" (Jn 8:58).

In this "I am" there is the truth of the divine sonship which precedes not only the time of Abraham, but all time and all created existence.

St. John will say at the end of his Gospel, "These (signs that Jesus did) have been written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (Jn 20:31)."

After the Catechesis, Pope John Paul II greeted the pilgrims in various languages

Ai pellegrini di lingua francese

Chers Frères et Sœurs,

je suis heureux de saluer les pèlerins de langue française, notamment de plusieurs diocèses de France, de paroisses, de collèges. Je redis au groupe de Paray-le-Monial la joie que j’ai eue de célébrer la messe chez eux, en méditant, devant les familles, sur l’amour du Cœur du Christ. A tous, je donne ma Bénédiction Apostolique.

Ai gruppi di lingua inglese

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

i extend a cordial welcome to the Christian Brothers taking part in an International Renewal Programme in Rome and to the Missionary Benedictine Sisters of Tutzing who have come from various countries for a spiritual renewal course. Dear Brothers and Sisters, may this time spent in Rome truly be for each of you a rediscovery of the beauty and significance of your religious consecration. May the Risen Lord sustain you in joy and peace.

* * *

My greeting goes also to the participants in the Seventieth Course of the NATO Defense College. I express the hope that you will always see your professional duties in the light of man’s high calling to build a world of peace and justice. May the course you are following serve also to strengthen the spiritual and moral force of your commitment to the cause of peace.

* * *

A special word of welcome to the many groups from Sweden: the parish groups from Stockholm and Linneryd, the members of the Educational Association of the Swedish Church who are studying Ancient Rome and the early Christian Church, the special children and their leaders from the Manila School, and the "Fredens Kyrkas Kör" from Stockholm. May God bless you all. I WISH ALSO to extend a special welcome to the members of the Marte Welfare Association from Finland. I encourage you in your commitment to helping those in need. And upon all the English-speaking visitors and pilgrims from England, Scotland, Sweden, Finland, the Philippines, Canada and the United States I invoke abundant divine blessings.

Ai fedeli di lingua tedesca

Liebe Brüder und Schwestern!

Mit dieser kurzen Betrachtung grüße ich aufrichtig alle heutigen Audienzteilnehmer deutscher Sprache. Darunter besonders den Sozialdienst Katholischer Frauen aus der Bundesrepublik Deutschland. Ich ermutige dessen Mitglieder zu unermüdlicher Sorge für Frauen und Kinder in Not, zum Kampf gegen leichtfertige Abtreibungspraxis und zur Hilfeleistung für jene, die von der AIDS-Krankheit bedroht sind. Ihnen und allen Pilgern erteile ich von Herzen meinen besonderen Apostolischen Segen.

Ai fedeli spagnoli e latinoamericani

Amadísimos hermanos y hermanas,

deseo presentar ahora mi más cordial bienvenida a todos los peregrinos y visitantes de lengua española.

En particular, a los peregrinos de la parroquia de Santo Tomás, de Haro (La Rioja), que celebran el 50 aniversario de la fundación de la a Escuela Nocturna de Obreras ”¡ igualmente saludo al grupo argentino de Renovación Carismática Católica, a los peregrinos de la parroquia de la Virgen de Guadalupe de Tegucigalpa, de la parroquia de Torrelodones (Madrid) y de Castelló de Ampurias.

A todos imparto con afecto la Bendición Apostólica.

Ai pellegrini polacchi

Serdecznie witam Księży Biskupów z Gdańska i z Pelplina. Witam pielgrzymów z parafii Ofiarowania Matki Bożej w Wadowicach, parafii mojej rodzinnej; z parafii Nawiedzenia Maryj Panny z Tuchowa, ojcowie redemptoryści, diecezja tarnowska; z parafii Najczystszego Serca Maryi z Olszynski Grochowskiej (Warszawa); z parafii Matki Bożej Częstochowskiej-Wołomin, archidiecezja warszawska; z parafii św. Jacka-Piotrków Trybunalski, diecezja łódzka; z parafii św. Jana Chrzciciela-Janów Lubelski; pielgrzymów z archidiecezji poznańskiej, w szczególności z Rawicza; z Poznania, z dekanatu św. Stanisława Kotski; współpracowników misyjnych księży pallotynów z całej Polski; prócz tego grupę nauczycieli z Poznania oraz uczestników różnych grup turystycznych, jako też inne osoby nie objęte tymi grupami.

Ai vari gruppi italiani

Desidero porgere il mio saluto ad un gruppo di missionari e missionarie, provenienti da diversi Istituti e Paesi, che stanno compiendo a Roma un Corso di Rinnovamento teologico-pastorale.

Siate sempre riconoscenti al Signore per la vostra vocazione missionaria e vivete con generosità il dono di essere stati chiamati ad annunciare il Vangelo, come apostoli della verità e della grazia. Continuate con coraggio e con soprannaturale fiducia il vostro ministero, perché il Cristo Risorto vi è vicino e cammina con voi.

* * *

Saluto poi i pellegrini della parrocchia di San Pio X in Cesena, e sarò lieto di incoronare l’immagine della Madonna di Fatima, tanto venerata nella loro chiesa.

* * *

Saluto anche i giovani della parrocchia di San Lorenzo Martire, in Dovera, diocesi di Lodi, e benedico la loro fiaccola votiva per i festeggiamenti in onore della Vergine.

* * *

Il mio pensiero va poi ai membri del gruppo Famiglie Nuove, del Movimento dei Focolari, e mi compiaccio con loro per l’impegno assunto di studiare la spiritualità della vita coniugale.

Con loro saluto anche le partecipanti al Movimento Italiano Casalinghe, mentre desidero incoraggiare il loro proposito di mettere in chiara luce i valori insiti nella condizione della casalinga, a vantaggio della vita familiare.

* * *

Una parola di sostegno e di augurio va, infine, ai partecipanti al convegno promosso dalla Federazione Nazionale delle Associazioni Diabetici; al gruppo dei pellegrini dell’UNITALSI di Macerata, ed al gruppo dell’Associazione Italiana per la lotta alle Sindromi Atassiche, tutti qui presenti con alcuni dei loro assistiti. A voi in particolare esprimo il mio desiderio di conforto, invocando da Dio per tutti voi la sua grazia e protezione.

A tutti il mio cordiale saluto e la mia Benedizione.

Ai giovani

Carissimi giovani, mi rivolgo con particolare affetto a voi, convenuti a Roma in questo periodo che ci invita a meditare sul Mistero della Pasqua.

Quell’amore per Dio Nostro Padre e per l’umanità intera, che ha guidato Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo in ogni istante della Sua Missione Redentrice, fino al sacrificio supremo della Croce, sia l’elemento capace di trasformare dall’interno la vostra vita e di fare di voi degli autentici operatori di pace e di riconciliazione.

Vi assista la Vergine Santissima, della quale ricordiamo oggi la prima apparizione a Fatima.

Agli ammalati

Desidero rivolgere un saluto particolare agli ammalati che, pellegrini, sono venuti a venerare le Tombe dei Santi Apostoli Pietro e Paolo.

Carissimi, i Principi degli Apostoli che qui, con il Martirio, hanno dato la suprema testimonianza della loro fede e del loro amore a Cristo, siano per tutti voi, guida, conforto ed esempio nell’affrontare ogni situazione anche dolorosa della vita, in adesione totale, fiduciosa e d’amore al Signore Risorto. Vi sostenga la Vergine Santissima, che durante questo mese di maggio non mancherete di pregare con particolare intensità.

Agli sposi novelli

Infine saluto voi, carissimi sposi novelli, che da poco, nel Sacro Rito Nuziale, avete ricevuto la Grazia sacramentale, a voi donata dal Signore della Pasqua.

Al mistero della Risurrezione di Cristo, inteso come mistero di vita e di amore e come strumento di Redenzione, sappiate sempre attingere, come ad inesauribile ed insondabile sorgente, le grazie necessarie a vivere in modo autenticamente umano e cristiano la vita coniugale e familiare che voi avete da poco iniziata.

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