Raymond BROWN, Christ in the Gospels of the Liturgical Year. Liturgical Press, 2008. Pp. 437. $29.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-8146-1860-8.
Reviewed by Francis BERNA, OFM, La Salle University, 1900 W. Olney Avenue, Philadelphia, PA 19141-1199

This book takes time! The text demands time not for conceptual understanding. No, the text deserves time to be experienced as a collection of scholarly meditations on the person of Christ in the Sunday proclamation. One needs to “ponder these things in the heart.” Additionally, both the scholar and the preacher will benefit from reading the detailed notations. They do not distract from meditation.

To commemorate the tenth anniversary of Raymond Brown’s death, Ronald Witherup edits the previously published ten year work of Brown consisting of six shorter texts. Along with John Donahue the editor provides introductory essays and brings conformity to internal textual references. These essays help the reader appreciate the hermeneutical methodology of Brown as well as to take up the lived experience of Brown connecting sound biblical scholarship to effective gospel preaching. With the stage set one looks forward to pondering the image of Christ through the seasons of the liturgical year and the brief excursions into ordinary time.

A scholar familiar with Brown’s extensive exegetical work will find little new in terms of biblical research. He several times lays out a solid case for the using the historical-critical method in Catholic biblical scholarship. He makes note of divergent opinions in both Catholic and Protestant scholarship. Brown maintains a balanced, well-supported, middle position on most questions.

Reflecting on a “Coming Christ in Advent”, Brown takes the reader through annunciation narratives and genealogies. Preachers and others less immersed in New Testament scholarship will enjoy what might appear as new insights regarding a correlation between the figures of Daniel and Zechariah. Similarly, such readers will appreciate Brown’s connection of Jerusalem with the priestly tradition of Israel and Nazareth with the Davidic tradition. Scholar and preacher alike will enjoy being reminded that “God writes with crooked lines” and “God doesn’t always choose the best.”

Anyone who has suffered through a children’s pageant for Christmas Mass should pick up this text if only to consider “An Adult Christ at Christmas.” These readers might feel disheartened as Brown demythologizes an interpretation of the child in the manger related to homelessness and poverty today. For Luke the shepherds finding the Christ in the manger entails the overturning of God’s complaint against Israel, “The ox knows its owner and the donkey knows the manger of its Lord; but Israel has not known me, and my people have not understood me” (Is 1:3). Brown writes, “God’s people have begun to know the manger of their Lord” (116). Along these lines Brown develops Mary as a true disciple, one who hears the invitation of God and accepts.

Examining the third Christmas story, “The Finding of the Boy Jesus in the Temple” Brown helps the reader appreciate the theological depth of the text. He emphasizes the post-resurrection origin of the gospel texts and notes how the author writes into this story that “The child must have been what the man was known to be” (135). The footnote on page 140 deserves extra attention as the author clarifies what the gospel text says and does not say with regard to Jesus’ knowledge of his divinity – excellent theology deserving of far more than a capsule summary in this review! Finally, Brown helps the reader appreciate how this story serves as a general introduction to the Passion of Jesus.

Focusing on a “Crucified Christ in Holy Week” Brown carefully examines each of the Passion narratives. Again one finds striking imagery to expand one’s well known preconceptions. For example, Brown considers the agonia of Jesus in the Garden in the Gospel of Luke. The preconception familiar to most suggests an agony of suffering and sorrow. Brown, however, contends that Luke wants to suggest “the supreme tension of the athlete covered with sweat at the start of the contest” (177). Jesus then rises from prayer set to enter the contest. In a similar style when examining the resurrection in the Gospel of Mark, Brown proposes that the rhetorical question of the women “Who will roll away the stone?” challenges the reader to consider “the contrast between human incapacity and God’s power” (200).

Moving through Pentecost and ordinary time the author repeatedly helps the reader better appreciate the details and theological importance of gospel narratives. And, he consistently suggests engaging considerations for the contemporary proclaimer and hearer of the message. For the Easter season Brown explores the Acts of the Apostles. He questions if the church today believes it has anything “earthshaking” to proclaim. He takes up four characteristics of the early church – koinonia, prayers, the breaking of bread, and the Teaching of the Apostles - and raises sound questions for the church today. When noting how the church developed a structure long after the historical Jesus, he rightly suggests questions of structure today. Brown appreciates the tensions created in the necessary reality of organized religion and church.

The closing chapter of the text looks at selections from the Gospel of John. Again it captures Brown’s earlier extensive work. Real gems, however, lie in his more practical considerations. In the gospel text Jesus and the Samaritan woman engage in conversation. Brown notes how the woman diverts the line of Jesus’ dialogue by raising a nice religious question about the appropriate place to worship. She wants the focus to be on something beside herself. With this Brown writes, “Even today when we encounter someone who probes our lives, we are often adept at bringing up as a distraction some old religious chestnuts so as to avoid making a decision” (422). As part of the three fold structure of the text the story of the man born blind highlights the need for ongoing growth in faith. The raising of Lazarus suggests the final test and illustrates “the deepening of faith that comes from facing death.” The text takes time. Faith takes time. The reader who gives this text the right time will immerse themselves in words written “so that one may believe.”


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