Recognizing Christ

Question: Please explain why Nathanael (in Jn 1:49) is not considered to be the first disciple to recognize Jesus as Messiah and Son of God when Scripture has him say, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God, you are the King of Israel.” We discount his statement and accept Peter’s statement in Matthew 16:16, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”   

Name withheld, Houston, Texas.

Answer: When you ask why “we” do this, it is important to note it is actually Jesus who does this. At some level we will have to wait and ask Jesus why he responded with great solemnity to St. Peter, and yet seems little more than amused with what St. Bartholomew (Nathanael) says. That said, permit the following provisional answer to your question. 

At one level, the two responses seem similar. But we must note some linguistic differences. Nathanael refers to Jesus as the “King of Israel,” whereas Peter calls him “the Christ.” And though some Scripture scholars think that first-century Jews would have used these terms interchangeably, they are not identical. “Christ” (Greek for Messiah) is more theologically precise. 

Second, we must remember that context is important. Nathanael makes his comment as an early, and almost ecstatic, claim. Peter, however, makes his declaration after Jesus has spent time teaching and leading the apostles. And though the Father inspires his utterance, it is also rooted in the formation Peter has received from Jesus. 

Further there may be many other factors that are unknown to us. For example, there may be significance in the tone of voice or the look on the face of Peter or Nathanael that adds shades of meaning. There may also have been discussions or events before to the utterances that influence the moments. 

We can only trust that Jesus not only experienced all of these contextual things, but also knew the mind and heart of those who spoke. And thus he reacts one way to Nathanael, and another way to Peter. 

Biblical texts supply us with what we need to know, not necessarily everything we want to know.

Embodiment of Gospel

Question: Saying the Rosary and repeating the Hail Mary 50 times seems strange and irrational to me. Are we supposed to concentrate on the prayer we are saying and the mystery all at one time? Please help me understand.  

George Frohmader, Camp Douglas, Wis.

Answer: The Catechism of the Catholic Church speaks of the Rosary as “an epitome of the whole Gospel” (No. 971). In other words, it is a summary or an embodiment of the whole Gospel because it encourages the faithful to meditate upon the fundamental events of salvation history, and the life of Christ.  

These images help to emphasize that the central work of the Rosary is to meditate on the Scriptures, and that Mary’s work, above all, is to lead us to a deeper faith in Jesus.

There are some who find the Rosary a helpful way to pray. Others find it difficult and distracting. Thus the Church, while encouraging the Rosary, does not require it. It is a fact that people are suited to different prayer forms. Saying repeated Hail Marys is appreciated by many as a kind of rhythmic background for the meditation on the Gospel passages, which is the key point of the Rosary.

Msgr. Charles Pope is the pastor of Holy Comforter-St. Cyprian in Washington, D.C., and writes for the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., blog at Send questions to Pastoral Answers, Our Sunday Visitor, 200 Noll Plaza, Huntington, IN 46750 or to Letters must be signed, but anonymity may be requested.