Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives
by Pope Benedict XVI
Discussion Questions for Individual Reflection or Group Study
In this third and final installment of the Jesus of Nazareth series, Benedict XVI takes a look at Jesus’s infancy and childhood and shows their timeless relevance. Through the details of Jesus’s early life, great themes of hope, longing, seeking, surrender, service, sacrifice, trust are examined, revealing how Jesus’s life and message is a story for today—one that speaks to the restlessness of the human heart and the search for the truth that leads to true joy.
Chapter I: Where Are You From?
When Pilate was interrogating Jesus, why did he suddenly ask Jesus where he was from? What was he hoping to find out?
Who is Jesus? Where is he from? Why are the answers to these two questions inseparably linked, according to Pope Benedict?
What does Benedict mean when he says all of salvation history, beginning with Abraham and leading to Jesus, is “open to universality”?
How is the universality of Jesus’s mission contained within his origin?
What are the differences in the way Matthew and Luke approach the question of Jesus’s genealogy? What intentions did each of these Gospel writers seek to communicate?
How is Joseph as Jesus’s father treated by Matthew and Luke? What significance do they each bring?
How does John approach Jesus’s genealogy differently than the other Gospel writers? What was his intent?
In what way does John communicate the deepest meaning of Jesus’s genealogy, and how does this help us to understand our own origin?
Chapter II: The Annunciation of the Birth of John the Baptist and the Annunciation of the Birth of Jesus
How did Matthew and Luke come to know the story of the events leading up to Jesus’s birth and his childhood? What were their sources? For example, how would Luke know that Mary “kept all these things in her heart” (Luke 2:51) when there were no other human witnesses present?
Why does Benedict say that the sacred events of Mary’s early life could not be made public while she was still alive?
Explain the reciprocal relationship between interpreting the Word of God and understanding salvation history.
As you look at the story of John the Baptist, what “particularly deep roots” can be found in the Old Testament?
How does John reveal the whole Old Covenant priesthood as a prophecy of Jesus? Why is this important?
How do the Old and New Covenants converge and combine in Zechariah and Elizabeth, forming a single history of God with humanity?
Discuss the differences between the annunciation of John the Baptist and that of Jesus. Why is this significant?
List some of the ways joy appears in the accounts of the annunciation to Mary. What does this signify?
Why does Benedict say that “joy and grace belong together”? What does he mean by this?
How does the revelation of God’s name in the burning bush come to completion in Jesus (see John 17:26)?
Discuss the meaning of the phrase “his kingdom will have no end.” What are the characteristics of this kingdom?
Explain how Mary’s response to the angel Gabriel reveals her fearlessness and her interiority. How do these qualities make her similar to the image of the Catholic Church?
How does Mary’s question to the angel differ from the reaction of Zechariah?
Since Mary was betrothed to Joseph, why would Mary say to the angel, “How shall this be, since I have no husband?”
What do you think about St. Augustine’s idea that Mary had taken a vow of virginity even before her betrothal to Joseph?
How did Bernard of Clairvaux explain the meaning of Mary’s “Yes”?
What did the Church Fathers mean when they said that Mary “conceived through her ear” (through her hearing)?
Consider how Mary must have felt when “the angel departed from her” (Luke 1:38). How do you think she processed the mission just revealed to her?
How does Scripture define a “just man”? List some of the key qualities. Now look at Joseph. How does he fit the description of a just man? How must he have felt when the angel appeared to him?
How do we know that Joseph had the gift of discernment and the ability to perceive the divine?
Why is the forgiveness of sins the foundation of all true healing? How does Jesus demonstrate this? How is the centrality of this communicated to Joseph?
What is the sign promised to Ahaz in Isaiah 7:14? What does St. Matthew (as well as Christian tradition) interpret this sign to mean? Was this the same way the prophet Isaiah understood it? How else might he have understood it?
If the sign was not addressed merely to Ahaz or merely to the nation of Israel, than to whom was it addressed? How might this be interpreted to concern the whole history of humanity? How should we as Christians understand this passage?
How can we be sure that Jesus’s conception from the Virgin Mary is a real historic event rather than just a pious legend drawn from archetypal concepts?
What are the two moments in the story of Jesus when God intervenes directly in the material world? In what way are these two moments a “scandal to the modern spirit”?
If we are not meant to ascribe to God anything nonsensical or irrational, how can we explain the virgin birth and the resurrection from the dead? How are these examples of God’s creative power? And why are both of these events fundamental elements of our faith?
Chapter III: The Birth of Jesus in Bethlehem
Why does Luke place such importance on the context of world history? Why does he say that Jesus entered the world in “the fullness of time”?
Describe the ways that Augustus was regarded as not only a politician but a theological figure. Why was there no distinction between politics and religion in the ancient world?
How did Augustus accomplish his mission to bring global peace?
How did Luke create both a historical and theological framework for the events surrounding Jesus’s birth, and what was his purpose in doing so?
Explain why Matthew and Luke had different theological visions and sometimes provided different historical details.
Prayerfully reflect on the words “there was no room for them in the inn” (Luke 2:6). What parallel might this have with John 1:11 or Matthew 8:20? What meaning can we gain from these verses?
What is the significance of Jesus being born in a manger? What do the ox and the ass signify? And what might the shepherds represent?
In terms of Christ, explain the concept of “first-born.”
What is the relationship between God’s grace and human freedom?
When the shepherds heard the angels’ message, they “went with haste” to find the baby Jesus. How often do you go “with haste” where the things of God are concerned? Where does your spiritual life need a deeper sense of urgency?
The shepherds looked for the baby lying in the manger, and when they found him, they recognized inwardly that he was the Messiah. What kind of signs (or non-signs) does God give you that cause you to recognize Christ’s reality? How healthy is your inner vision?
If God is love, then what is it about God that cause so many to “hate” him? Why is Christ so often regarded as a contradiction?
How is Christ, along with his mother Mary, the image of the fundamental attitude of the Christian faith? What areas of “paganism” (a lack of sensitivity to others) in your life need the Holy Spirit’s transformation?
Chapter IV: The Wise Men from the East and the Flight into Egypt
Benedict tells us that the “Magi” encompass a wide range of meanings, from the wholly positive to the wholly negative. Describe each type of Magi and what they can teach us.
Who were the Magi mentioned in Matthew; what sort of people were they?
According to Benedict XVI, what do the wise men from the East signify (see p. 97)?
In your own words, explain what the star of Bethlehem might have been in terms of astronomy, and then explain what it might signify spiritually.
How is the star both a sign of hope (in a spiritual sense) and a cause for fear and concern (in a physical sense)? In what other ways does God disturb our comfortable day-to-day existence? Include some examples from your own life.
How are the gifts the wise men bring to Jesus symbolic of his royal dignity? To what three aspects of the mystery of Christ do they point?
What does Jesus’s flight to Egypt with Mary and Joseph teach us about the true Exodus? In what sense does he enter into exile in order to lead us home, out of exile?
When Joseph is instructed by the angel to go to Galilee, what does this show about God’s plan for history?
Benedict asks probing questions about the events recorded in the first two chapters of Matthew’s Gospel: How are we to understand all this? Are we dealing with historical events, or is this intended to be understood as a theological meditation presented in story form? What is Benedict’s view?
Epilogue: The Twelve-Year-Old Jesus in the Temple
How can we say that Jesus’s freedom is not that of a liberal, but of a truly devout person? Why is the freedom Jesus brings a totally new kind of freedom?
What does the fact that Joseph and Mary do not miss Jesus until the end of the first day’s journey show us about the holy family and how they were parenting Jesus?
What does Jesus’ absence point to? Is it telling us something about freedom, or is there a different level of meaning here regarding Jesus’s mission?
What two aspects are important to note in Jesus’s reply when Mary tells him they have been looking for him anxiously?
What does the fact that Mary “kept all these things in her heart” reveal to us about her faith? What do they tell us about believing Jesus’s words to us?
In Luke’s telling of this story, explain how he presents Mary as the model believer.
What connection does Luke make between Jesus and Samuel when he writes about Jesus returning to his normal family situation?
What does the fact that Jesus grows not only in stature but also in wisdom tell us about him as a human being? How do both this and the way he dialogued with the temple teachers reveal Jesus as true God and true man?