Saturday, May 2, 2009

Jesus of Israel: Finding Christ in the Old Testament, by Father Richard Veras

$11.99, 142 pages, American Catholic.

Father Veras has written an excellent account of the Old Testament foundations for Christian beliefs about Christ. The author, as a high school teacher, knows how to present difficult and long-winded facts and connections in a simple and clear way. In fact, Jesus of Israel would be an excellent first book for someone curious about basic theology.

One reason for this is obvious: Veras builds his theology on the Hebrew writings. Many Catholic writers often forget these most foundational writings. The entirety of our beliefs rest on the religious thinking of the Israelites. We take this for granted and fail to delve into this culture and its sacred writings.

Ancient Israel's most foundational insight about God revolves around the divinity's loving, prophetic presence in world history. Veras, as the high school teacher, offers an interesting, basic insight into this given:

“God plays favorites. There is no getting around it. God's method in entering history is always to choose a particular person in a particular way. Think of Abraham, Joseph and Moses. Jesus chose twelve apostles from among his disciples, and of those twelve, Peter, James and John were closer to him than the others.”

Veras unearths an ancient spirituality that demands much of us. In this section, he goes on to show that this favoritism leads to great things for many people and “is never to exclude others. Rather, his [God's] design is that through the chosen person others may also be chosen and experience God's preferential love.”

The author then recounts how chosen people, such as a certain Catholic priest, inspired him and helped mature his own vocation.

Unlike many theology books, the words of Jesus of Israel sometimes jump out at the reader. Because Veras, unlike many Catholic writers, gets back to the sources, he has a sense of urgency and directness that refresh the message of the gospel.

Recounting Jesus' meeting his first two disciples (from John 1:38), Veras offers the full meaning of Jesus' ministry and of the entire calling of Israel, something that he succeeds at again and again throughout the book:

“This encounter between two men and God was possible because God took the initiative to enter the world so that these men could bump into him. Jesus Christ is not the fruit of his disciples' ideas; he is a fact. Familiarity with Christ comes from knowledge of him, gained from time and life shared with this carpenter from Nazareth, this Son of God.”

Jesus of Israel offers just what the Church needs in this silly age of deconstruction and disrespect for everything.

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