| || ||
Seeing Jesus in the Gospel of John | An Excerpt from On
The Way to Jesus Christ | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
The farewell discourses of Jesus, as the Gospel of John presents them
to us, hover in a singular way between time and eternity, between the
of the Passion and the new presence of Jesus that is already dawning,
because the Passion itself is at the same time his "glorification" as
well. On the one hand, the darkness of the betrayal, of the denial, of
the abandonment of Jesus to the ultimate ignominy of the Cross weighs
upon these discourses; in them, on the other hand, it seems that all of
this has already been overcome and resolved into the glory that is to
Thus Jesus describes his Passion as a going away that leads to a new and
fuller comingas a state of being-on-the-way with which the disciples
are already acquainted. Thereupon Thomas, surprised, asks the question,
"Lord, we do not know where you are going; how can we know the way?" Jesus
answers with a statement that has become one of the central texts of Christology:
"I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father,
but by me."
This revelation of the Lord, however, elicits a new question now-or rather,
a request, which this time is made by Philip: "Lord, show us the Father,
and we shall be satisfied." Again Jesus replies with a revelatory word,
which leads from another perspective into the very depths of his self-consciousness,
into the very depths of the Church's faith in Christ: "He who has seen
me has seen the Father" (Jn 14:2-9). The primordial human longing to see
God had taken, in the Old Testament, the form of "seeking the face of
God". The disciples of Jesus are men who are seeking God's face. That
is why they joined up with Jesus and followed after him. Now Philip lays
this longing before the Lord and receives a surprising answer, in which
the novelty of the New Testament, the new thing that is coming through
Christ, shines as though in crystallized form: Yes, you can see God. Whoever
sees Christ sees him.
This answer, which characterizes Christianity as a religion of fulfillment,
as a religion of the divine presence, nevertheless immediately evokes
a new question. "Already and not yet" has been called the fundamental
attitude of Christian living; what this means becomes evident precisely
in this passage. For the next question is now (for all of post-apostolic
Christianity, at least): How can you see Christ and see him in
such a way that you see the Father at the same time?
This abiding question is placed in the Gospel of John, not in the discourses
in the Cenacle, but rather in the Palm Sunday account. There it is related
that some Greeks, who had made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship, came
to Philipthat is, to the disciple who in the Cenacle would voice
the request to see the Father. These Greeks present their request to Philip,
who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, an extensively Hellenized part of the
Holy Land: "Sir, we wish to see Jesus"' (Jn 12:20-21). It is the request
of the pagan world, but it is also the request of the Christian faithful
of all times, our request: We want to see Jesus. How can that happen?
Jesus' response to this request, which was conveyed
to the Lord by Philip together with Andrew, is mysterious, like most of
the answers that Jesus gives in the fourth Gospel to the great questions
of mankind that are posed to him. It is not recorded whether there was
an actual encounter between Jesus and those Greeks. Jesus' answer, instead,
opens up a horizon that is completely unexpected at this point. For Jesus
sees in this request an indication that the moment of his glorification
has come. He suggests in greater detail in the following words how this
glorification will come about: "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the
earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit"
The glorification occurs in the Passion. This is what will produce "much
fruit"which is, we might add, the Church of the Gentiles, the encounter
between Christ and the Greeks, who stand for the peoples of the world
in general. Jesus' answer transcends the moment and reaches far into the
future: Indeed, the Greeks shall see me, and not only these men who have
come now to Philip, but the entire world of the Greeks. They shall see
me, yes, but not in my earthly, historical life, "according to the flesh"
(cf. 2 Cor 5:16 [Douay Rheims]); they will see me by and through the Passion.
By and through it I am coming, and I will no longer come merely in one
single geographic locality, but I will come over all geographical boundaries
into the farthest reaches of the world, which wants to see the Father.
Jesus announces his coming from the perspective of his Resurrection, his
coming in the power of the Holy Spirit, and so he proclaims a new way
of seeing that occurs in faith. The Passion is not thereby left behind
as something in the past. It is, rather, the place from which and in which
alone he can be seen. Jesus expands the parable of the dying grain of
wheat that is fruitful only in death into the proper and fundamental pattern
for human existence: "He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates
his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. If any one serves
me, he must follow me; and where I am, there shall my servant be also"
(Jn 12:25-26). The seeing occurs in following after, Following Christ
as his disciple is a life lived at the place where Jesus stands, and this
place is the Passion. In it, and nowhere else, is his glory present.
What does this demonstrate? The concept of seeing has acquired an unexpected
dynamic. Seeing happens through a manner of living that we call following
after. Seeing occurs by entering into the Passion of Jesus. There we see,
and in him we see the Father also. From this perspective the words of
the prophet quoted at the end of the Passion narrative of John attain
their full greatness: "They shall look on him whom they have pierced"
(Jn 19:37; cf. Zech 12:10).
Seeing Jesus, in whom we see the Father at the same time, is a thoroughly
existential act. From the verbal perspective we must add that the concept
of the "face of Christ" is not found in these Johannine texts. Yet they
are implicitly connected with a central theme of the Old Testament, concerning
an essential attitude of piety that is described in a series of texts
as "seeking the face of God". Despite the difference in terminology; there
is a profound continuity between the Johannine "looking on Christ" and
the Old Testament "being on the way" toward looking upon the face of God.
In Paul's Second Letter to the Corinthians the verbal connection is also
to be found, when he writes about the glory of God that appears in the
face of Christ (2 Cor 4:6). We will have to return to this later. Both
John and Paul refer us to the Old Testament. The New Testament texts about
seeing God in Christ are deeply rooted in the piety of Israel; by and
through it they extend through the entire breadth of the history of religion
or, perhaps to put it better: They draw the obscure longing of religious
history upward to Christ and thereby guide it toward his response.
If we want to understand the New Testament theology of the face of Christ,
we must look back into the Old Testament. Only in this way can it be understood
in all its depth.
 Romano Guardini has described this interpretation of the farewell
discourses very beautifully in: The Lord: Reflections on the Person
and the Life of Jesus Christ, trans. Elinor Castendyk Briefs (Chicago:
Henry Regnery, 1954), pp. 374-80.
 For the interpretation of John 19:37, see also Rudolf Schnackenburg,
Das Johannesevangeluin 3 (Herder, 1975), pp. 343-45 [English trans.,
The Gospel according to St. John (New York: Crossroad, 1982)].
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Book Excerpts:
Author Page for Joseph Ratzinger/Pope Benedict XVI
The Truth of the Resurrection |
Excerpts from Introduction to Christianity | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
Seeing Jesus in the Gospel of John |
Excerpts from On The Way to Jesus Christ | Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger
God Made Visible |
A Review of On The Way to Jesus Christ | Justin Nickelsen
A Shepherd Like No Other |
Excerpt from Behold, God's Son! | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
Encountering Christ in the Gospel |
Excerpt from My Jesus | Christoph Cardinal Schönborn
God Made Visible: On the Foreword to Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
A Jesus Worth Dying For |
On the Foreword to Benedict XVI's Jesus of Nazareth | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
The Divinity of Christ | Peter Kreeft
Jesus Is Catholic | Hans Urs von Balthasar
The Religion of Jesus | Blessed Columba Marmion
| From Christ, The Ideal of the Priest
Joseph Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, was for over two decades
the Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith under Pope
John Paul II. He is a renowned theologian and author of numerous books.
A mini-bio and full listing of his books published by Ignatius Press are
available on his IgnatiusInsight.com
If you'd like to receive the FREE IgnatiusInsight.com e-letter (about
every 2 to 3 weeks), which includes regular updates about IgnatiusInsight.com
articles, reviews, excerpts, and author appearances,
please click here to sign-up today!
| || || |