In his work, “Called to Communion,” Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger enthusiastically quoted Joachim Jeremias, the German Lutheran theologian and professor of New Testament studies, from his work “New Testament Theology”:
“We must reduce the whole question quite sharply to a single point: the sole meaning of the entire activity of Jesus is the gathering of the eschatological people of God.” (22)
Ratzinger, of course, is bound by Catholic doctrine to hold to the hierarchical structure of the Roman Church: “Christ, the one Mediator, established and continually sustains here on earth His holy Church, the community of faith, hope and charity, as an entity with visible delineation through which He communicated truth and grace to all. But, the society structured with hierarchical organs and the Mystical Body of Christ, are not to be considered as two realities, nor are the visible assembly and the spiritual community, nor the earthly Church and the Church enriched with heavenly things; rather they form one complex reality which coalesces from a divine and a human element. (Lumen Gentium 8)
But what Ratzinger fails to report is that for Jeremias, “the people of God” has a meaning that’s quite different from what Ratzinger intends:
“Now there is no question that if by ekklesia we understand an organization of the kind that developed in a later period, it would be an anachronism to ascribe to Jesus the intention of founding an ekklesia. But that would be to misunderstand the meaning of ekklesia …” When Jesus said, “I will build my church,” Jeremiah says that “it is more appropriate to translate ekklesia ‘people of God’ than ‘church’.”
Jeremias expands on Jesus’s “favorite of all the images for the new people of God is the comparison of the community of salvation with the eschatological family of God.” “God is the father (Matt 23:9), Jesus the master of the house, his followers the other occupants (Matt 10:25). The older women who hear his word are his mothers, the men and youths his brothers (Mark 3:34).”
Does Ratzinger call people to communion with the hierarchical Roman Church? Or with Jeremias’s version of the “people of God”?