Monday, August 22, 2016

The World of Ben Hur by Mike Aquilina

Mike Aquilina, whose books have been recommended on this blog a few times:

A.D. The Bible Continues: Ministers & Martyrs

A.D. the Bible Continues: The Catholic Viewers Guide

The Mass of the Early Christians

The Mass: The Glory, The Mystery, The Tradition

Has come out this a new book, this one on Ben Hur:

By now it is apparent that I enjoy Aquilina's books so I thought I might post an excerpt for my readers to see if they might be interested in this book. I haven't had the chance to read the whole thing, so I can't recommended it directly. However, if the excerpt and topic interest you, I can whole-heartedly recommend the author. It will especially interest those who have seen the 2016 motion picture:
One of the big attractions of Ben-Hur is that it gives us a chance to see Jesus Christ the way other people might have seen him in his own time. In our imagination, we strip away the centuries of accumulated tradition and look at Jesus with fresh eyes. Who was this carpenter from Nazareth? Just describing him that way makes him sound so insignificant: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” as Nathanael asked (John 1:46), probably repeating the punch line of a popular joke. How could an ordinary craftsman from the backwoods hill country change the whole world so completely?In Ben-Hur, we share the baffling, exciting, confusing, upsetting, and life-changing experience of discovering Jesus of Nazareth for the first time. We may be surprised to find him looking so ordinary. But that’s what the Gospels tell us: people who had known Jesus all his life thought of him as just an ordinary workman. When he went back to Nazareth, he could hardly find anyone to listen to him.And on the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue; and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get all this? What is the wisdom given to him? What mighty works are wrought by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor, except in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house.” (Mark 6:2-4) The people around Nazareth had a hard time thinking about Jesus as a teacher or a prophet. They knew him too well. They knew his mother and his cousins. His whole extended family was a familiar sight. To the people of his hometown, Jesus was always a carpenter, the son of a carpenter, a man who worked with saws and planes.We have some of the same problem, except in reverse. We’ve always known Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. We can’t see him as an ordinary craftsman who made things with his hands and sold them to customers. Yes, we know intellectually that he did that — otherwise the Nazareth passage in Matthew and Mark doesn’t make sense. But we can’t imagine him doing it.Ben-Hur helps us imagine Jesus the man, the strangely ordinary carpenter who did and said such extraordinary things. Whenever a prophet who spoke with great confidence and wisdom came around, the people of Judea always began to ask themselves the same thing: Is this the Messiah? Is this the Christ? Is this the Anointed One of God?When John the Baptist started preaching in the wilderness and attracting big crowds, the question naturally came up.And this is the testimony of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed, he did not deny, but confessed, “I am not the Christ.” (John 1:19-20)They believed that the Messiah would liberate them from the power of the Romans and establish the kingdom of Israel as a great power. Naturally, the Romans were always just a little worried about potential messiahs. So were the Sadducees, the upper classes who had much to lose and nothing to gain from a break with Rome.That explains some of Jesus’ behavior in the earlier part of his ministry.“Who do men say that I am?”And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others one of the prophets.”And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.”And he charged them to tell no one about him. (Mark 8:27-30)That last line — repeated many times in the Gospel of Mark — always baffles us. Isn’t the whole point that everyone should know the Messiah has come? But Jesus knew what he was doing. If people thought he was claiming to be the Messiah at the beginning of his ministry, there would never be a rest of his ministry.Throughout the relatively short time he spent preaching in Galilee and Judea, Jesus refused to meet people’s expectations of what the Messiah would do. The rich and the ostentatiously virtuous sneered, “This man receives sinners and eats with them!” (Luke 15:2). It was the poor and lowly who seriously asked, “Can this be the Christ?” (John 4:29).The movie Ben-Hur gives us a good picture of those reactions. Judah, from a rich family, is dubious about the carpenter with all his strange talk about loving one’s enemies. It’s the poor who are enthralled by him. Only when Judah has lost everything does he have a chance to see Jesus of Nazareth for who he really is.Even Jesus’ closest disciples didn’t understand the nature of his kingdom.
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