Ignatius Press offers substantial excerpts from the book on this website, including the section that was the highpoint for me in the reading the book--Ratzinger's meditation on the themes of truth and power, justice and peace, truth and justice woven through the drama of Jesus's trial before Pontius Pilate. Jesus confronts Pilate with quite a challenge and test: to accept truth that claims a higher power and to conduct justice that results in more than peace and security (and Pilate fails both tests):
At this point we must pass from considerations about the person of Pilate to the trial itself. In John 18:34–35 it is clearly stated that, on the basis of the information in his possession, Pilate had nothing that would incriminate Jesus. Nothing had come to the knowledge of the Roman authority that could in any way have posed a risk to law and order. The charge came from Jesus' own people, from the Temple authority. It must have astonished Pilate that Jesus' own people presented themselves to him as defenders of Rome, when the information at his disposal did not suggest the need for any action on his part.
Yet during the interrogation we suddenly arrive at a dramatic moment: Jesus' confession. To Pilate's question: "So you are a king?" he answers: "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Every one who is of the truth hears my voice" ( Jn 18:37). Previously Jesus had said: "My kingship is not of this world; if my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight, that I might not be handed over to the Jews; but my kingship is not from the world" (18:36).
This "confession" of Jesus places Pilate in an extraordinary situation: the accused claims kingship and a kingdom (basileía). Yet he underlines the complete otherness of his kingship, and he even makes the particular point that must have been decisive for the Roman judge: No one is fighting for this kingship. If power, indeed military power, is characteristic of kingship and kingdoms, there is no sign of it in Jesus' case. And neither is there any threat to Roman order. This kingdom is powerless. It has "no legions".
With these words Jesus created a thoroughly new concept of kingship and kingdom, and he held it up to Pilate, the representative of classical worldly power. What is Pilate to make of it, and what are we to make of it, this concept of kingdom and kingship? Is it unreal, is it sheer fantasy that can be safely ignored? Or does it somehow affect us?
In addition to the clear delimitation of his concept of kingdom (no fighting, earthly powerlessness), Jesus had introduced a positive idea, in order to explain the nature and particular character of the power of this kingship: namely, truth. Pilate brought another idea into play as the dialogue proceeded, one that came from his own world and was normally connected with "kingdom": namely, power — authority (exousía). Dominion demands power; it even defines it. Jesus, however, defines as the essence of his kingship witness to the truth. Is truth a political category? Or has Jesus' "kingdom" nothing to do with politics? To which order does it belong? If Jesus bases his concept of kingship and kingdom on truth as the fundamental category, then it is entirely understandable that the pragmatic Pilate asks him: "What is truth?" (18:38).
It is the question that is also asked by modern political theory: Can politics accept truth as a structural category? Or must truth, as something unattainable, be relegated to the subjective sphere, its place taken by an attempt to build peace and justice using whatever instruments are available to power? By relying on truth, does not politics, in view of the impossibility of attaining consensus on truth, make itself a tool of particular traditions that in reality are merely forms of holding on to power?
And yet, on the other hand, what happens when truth counts for nothing? What kind of justice is then possible? Must there not be common criteria that guarantee real justice for all — criteria that are independent of the arbitrariness of changing opinions and powerful lobbies? Is it not true that the great dictatorships were fed by the power of the ideological lie and that only truth was capable of bringing freedom?
Read the rest of this excerpt here. While I found the book very interesting and often surprising--I had never heard before about the theory of a break between Jesus's Preaching of the Kingdom of God in Galilee and his Passion and Death in Jerusalem as though Jesus decided the first effort had failed and dropped back to "Plan B"--but I did not find it a very devotional read. The Pope Emeritus offers much for meditation, but the text is almost academic. Not that that's a bad thing! I don't mean that the book reads like a textbook, but that Joseph Ratzinger shows great erudition, constant study, and currency with the requisite bibliography. He is teaching, not necessarily preaching and he moves between the levels of instruction and exhortation very effectively. Of course I recommend it.
Table of Contents
Chapter 1: The Entrance into Jerusalem and the Cleansing of the Temple
1. The Entrance into Jerusalem
2. The Cleansing of the Temple
Chapter 2: Jesus' Eschatological Discourse
1. The End of the Temple
2. The Times of the Gentiles
3. Prophecy and Apocalyptic in the Eschatological Discourse
Chapter 3: The Washing of the Feet
The hour of Jesus
"You are clean"
Sacramentum and exemplum — gift and task: The "new commandment"
The mystery of the betrayer
Two conversations with Peter
Washing of feet and confession of sin
Chapter 4: Jesus' High-Priestly Prayer
1. The Jewish Feast of Atonement as Biblical Background to the High-Priestly Prayer
2. Four Major Themes of the Prayer
"This is eternal life . . ."
"Sanctify them in the truth . . ."
"I have made your name known to them . . ."
"That they may all be one . . ."
Chapter 5: The Last Supper
1. The Dating of the Last Supper
2. The Institution of the Eucharist
3. The Theology of the Words of Institution
4. From the Last Supper to the Sunday Morning Eucharist
Chapter 6: Gethsemane
1. On the Way to the Mount of Olives
2. The Prayer of Jesus
3. Jesus' Will and the Will of the Father
4. Jesus' Prayer on the Mount of Olives in the Letter to the Hebrews
Chapter 7: The Trial of Jesus
1. Preliminary Discussion in the Sanhedrin
2. Jesus before the Sanhedrin
3. Jesus before Pilate
Chapter 8: Crucifixion and Burial of Jesus
1. Preliminary Reflection: Word and Event in the Passion Narrative
2. Jesus on the Cross
a. The first of Jesus' words from the Cross: "Father, forgive them"
b. Jesus is mocked
c. Jesus' cry of abandonment
d. The casting of lots for Jesus' garments
e. "I thirst"
f. The women at the foot of the Cross — the Mother of Jesus
g. Jesus dies on the Cross
h. Jesus' burial
3. Jesus' Death as Reconciliation (Atonement) and Salvation
Chapter 9: Jesus' Resurrection from the Dead
1. What Is the Resurrection of Jesus?
2. The Two Different Types of Resurrection Testimony
a. The Confessional Tradition
1. Jesus' death
2. The question of the empty tomb
3. The third day
4. The witnesses
b. The Narrative Tradition
1. Jesus' appearances to Paul
2. The appearances of Jesus in the Gospels
3. Summary: The Nature of Jesus' Resurrection and Its Historical Significance
Epilogue: He Ascended into Heaven — He Is Seated at the Right Hand of the Father, and He Will Come Again in Glory
Index of Biblical References
Index of Proper Names and Subjects