Why do you think Jesus was illiterate?



Tor Vergata University, August 19, 2000


1. "But you, who do you think I am?" (Mt 16,15).

Dear boys and girls, it is with great pleasure that I meet you again today. We hold a prayer vigil in which we want to listen together to Christ, who we feel is present among us. It is he who speaks to us.

"But you, who do you think I am?" Jesus asks this question to his disciples in the Caesarea Philippi area. Simon Peter gives the answer: "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God" (Mt 16.16). The Master, for his part, addressed the surprising words to him: "Blessed are you, Simon Barjona; for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Heavenly Father" (Mt 16,17).

What does this conversation mean? Why does Jesus want to hear what people think of him? Why does he want to know what his disciples think of him?

Jesus wants the disciples to become aware of what lies dormant in their minds and hearts; let them express their beliefs. At the same time, however, he knows that the judgment they will give is not only their own, but that it will reveal what God has poured out into their hearts with the grace of faith.

This event in the area of ​​Caesarea Philippi introduces us, as it were, to the "laboratory of faith". There the secret of the beginning and the maturation of faith is revealed. First there is the grace of revelation: a very intimate and inexpressible devotion of God to man. Then comes the call to answer. In the end there is the answer of the human being - an answer which from now on should give meaning and shape to the whole of life.

So that is what faith consists of! He is the rational and free answer of man to the word of the living God. The questions that Jesus Christ asks, the answers given by the apostles and finally by Simon Peter, are a test of the maturity of the faith of those who are closest to Jesus Christ.

2. The conversation at Caesarea Philippi took place in the pre-Easter period, i.e. before the suffering and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One more event should be recalled in which Christ, the Risen Lord, tested the maturity of the faith of his apostles. It is about the encounter with the apostle Thomas. He was the only one who was not there when Christ entered the Upper Room for the first time after his resurrection. When the other disciples told him they had seen the Lord, he refused to believe. He said, "If I don't see the nail marks on his hands, and if I don't put my finger in the nail marks and my hand in his side, I don't think so" (Joh 20.25). Eight days later his disciples were gathered again and Thomas was there. Jesus came through the locked door and greeted the apostles: "Peace be with you!" (Joh 20.26). Immediately afterwards he turned to Thomas: "Put out your finger - here are my hands! Put out your hand and put it in my side, and don't be unbelieving, but believing!" (Joh 20.27). Thomas replied: "My Lord and my God!" (Joh 20,28).

The Upper Room in Jerusalem was also a kind of "laboratory of faith" for the apostles. But what happened to Thomas there goes in a certain sense beyond what happened in the area of ​​Caesarea Philippi. In the Upper Room we find ourselves in an even more radical dialectic of faith and unbelief and at the same time before an even deeper confession of the truth about Jesus Christ. It was really not easy to believe that the one they had buried in the grave three days earlier should be alive again.

The divine Master announced several times that he would be raised from the dead. Several times he had provided evidence that he was the master of life. Nevertheless, the experience of his death was so strong that everyone needed a direct encounter with him in order to believe in his resurrection: the apostles in the upper room, the disciples on the way to Emmaus, the pious women at the grave ... That also needed Thomas. However, when his unbelief met with the direct experience of the presence of Christ, the doubting apostle uttered those words in which the innermost core of faith is expressed: If it is so, if you - although you have been killed - really live, then that means: You are "my Lord and my God".

With the episode of Thomas, the "laboratory of faith" is enriched by a new element. Divine revelation, the question of Jesus Christ and the answer of man came to perfection in the personal encounter of the disciple with the living Christ, the risen One. That encounter marked the beginning of a new relationship between man and Christ - a relationship in which man existentially recognizes that Christ is Lord and God; not only Lord and God of the world and humanity, but Lord and God of this concrete human existence of mine. St. One day Paul will write: "The word is close to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart. What is meant is the word of faith that we preach, because when you confess with your mouth: 'Jesus is Lord' and in believe in your heart: 'God raised him from the dead' and you will be saved "(Rom 10,8-9).

3. In the readings of today's liturgy we find a description of the building blocks that make up that "laboratory of faith" from which the apostles emerged as men fully conscious of the truth revealed in Jesus Christ: a truth that was their own Life as well as giving shape to the life of the Church throughout history. Today's meeting in Rome is also a kind of "laboratory of faith" for you, dear young people who are the disciples of today, the confessors of Jesus Christ on the threshold of the third millennium.

Each of you can find within yourself the dialectic of question and answer that we have developed above. Anyone can encounter their own belief difficulties and also experience the temptation to disbelieve. But at the same time he can also experience that faith grows step by step, as he becomes conscious of himself and is convinced of the approval he gives. Because in this wonderful laboratory of the human spirit, which is precisely the laboratory of faith, God and man always meet. The risen Christ always enters the Upper Room of our lives and grants everyone the experience of his presence, which leads to the confession: You, O Christ, are "my Lord and my God".

Christ said to Thomas: "Because you have seen me, you believe. Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe" (Joh 20.29). Everyone has something of the Apostle Thomas in them. He is tempted by unbelief and asks the fundamental questions: Does God really exist? Did God Really Create the World? Did the Son of God really become man, died, and rose? The answer comes along with the person's experience of His presence. One must open one's eyes and heart to the light of the Holy Spirit. Then the open wounds of the risen Christ turn to each one: "Because you have seen me, you believe. Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe".

4. Dear friends! Faith in Jesus, the following of Christ in the footsteps of Peter, Thomas, the first apostles and witnesses today also includes a position for Him and not infrequently a kind of new martyrdom: the martyrdom of him who is called today as yesterday, against to swim the current to follow the divine Master, the Lamb wherever it goes (cf. Rev. 14,4). It is not by chance, dear young people, that I wished that during the Holy Year at the Colosseum the witnesses of faith of the twentieth century should be commemorated.

Bloodshed may not be required of you, but faithfulness to Christ is certain! It's about fidelity in everyday life: I think of the betrothed and the difficulty of living purity in today's world in anticipation of marriage. I think of the young married couples and the trials they face as they struggle to be faithful to one another. I think of relationships among friends and the temptation of dishonesty that can creep in.

I also think of those who have embarked on a path of special consecration and of the effort that they sometimes have to make in order to remain faithful in devotion to God and to men. I also think of all who want to live relationships of solidarity and love in a world where apparently only the logic of profit and personal or group interest applies.

I also think of those who work for peace and see new wars emerging and growing in different parts of the world. I think of all those who stand up for human freedom and find that they are still a slave to themselves and to others; I think of all those who fight to ensure that human life is loved and respected, and who have to watch the frequency of attacks on life and denial of the respect it deserves.

5. Dear young people! Is it hard to believe in such a world? Is it hard to believe in 2000? Indeed, it is difficult. One must not hide that. It is difficult, but with the grace of God it is possible. Jesus already explained to Peter: "This was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven" (Mt 16,17).

Tonight I will give you the gospel. It is the gift that the Pope wishes to give you in this unforgettable vigil. The word contained therein is the word of Jesus. If you listen to it silently in prayer and let the wise counsel of your priests and educators help you understand it for your life, then you will meet and follow Christ, giving life to him every day!

Indeed, it is Jesus whom you seek when you dream of happiness; It is He who waits for you when nothing satisfies you with what you find; He is the beauty that so attracts you; It is he who provokes you with that thirst for radicalism that does not allow you to adapt to compromise; It is he who urges you to take off the masks that falsify life; It is he who reads in your hearts the truer choices that others would most like to choke on. It is Jesus who kindles something in you: the longing to make something great out of your life; the will to follow an ideal; the refusal to be devoured by mediocrity; the courage to strive humbly and faithfully to make yourself and society better so that it can become more humane and more fraternal.

Dear young friends, you are not alone in these high tasks. With you go your families, your communities, your priests and educators, and so many of you who, in secret, never tire of loving and believing in Jesus Christ. You are not alone in the fight against sin: many like you fight, and with the grace of the Lord they are victorious!

6. Dear friends! As the third millennium dawns, I see in you "the watchmen for tomorrow" (cf. Isa 21.11-12). As the century went on, young people like you were gathered in huge crowds to learn to hate; they were fired with orders to fight each other. The various doctrines of salvation without God, which tried to replace Christian hope, later turned out to be hells in the truest sense of the word. You have come together here today to affirm that in the new century you do not want to be ready to be instrumentalized for violence and destruction; you should defend the peace and, if necessary, also personally stand up for it. You shouldn't bury your head in the sand in the face of a world in which other people die of hunger, remain illiterate or are unemployed. You should protect life in every moment of its earthly development and use all your might to make this earth more habitable for everyone.

Dear young people of the dawning century! When you say "yes" to Christ, you are saying "yes" to each of your higher ideals. I pray that he will be Lord in your hearts and in humanity of the new century and millennium. Do not be afraid to confide in Him! He will guide you, he will give you the strength to follow him every day and in every situation.

May the Most Blessed Virgin Mary, who said "yes" to God all her life, the holy apostles Peter and Paul and all holy men and women who have shaped the path of the Church through the centuries, may always keep you in this holy endeavor !

I offer my blessings to everyone and everyone with all my heart.



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