The disciples did not automatically come to full awareness of the true identity of Jesus and the purpose of his mission. Through the Christian Scriptures, contemporary believers can trace their ever-deepening appreciation of who Jesus was. In Mark’s Gospel, for example, the true identity of the Son of Man and Son of God is withheld until a Roman soldier proclaims the dying Jesus to be that holy one. A couple of decades later, when the Gospels of Matthew and Luke achieved their final form, the early believers clearly understood that Jesus was Lord and Christ from the moment of his conception; the infancy narratives attest to this development in Christian faith. By the time the fourth canonical Gospel was completed (circa 90-100), there was no doubt that Jesus was God, the very Word of God made flesh -- an insight given voice in the Johannine prologue.
Today’s psalm refrain says that the hand of the Lord feeds us and answers all our needs. Sometimes that seems hard to believe. When we hear of wars, drought, hurricanes, tornados and starving children, one wonders just where the Lord’s hand is in it all. Today’s readings invite us to reflect on this problem.
Every Sunday night in the minor seminary we were treated to a movie, usually a three-reel, 16-millimeter copy of one that had been in the theaters a year or two before. Since we had just one projector, we took two breaks while the student projectionists loaded the second and third reels. One memorable night, after our first break, we quickly realized we were watching the second reel of a different movie. Whoever packed and sent the movie had made a mistake. But being good seminarians, we dutifully sat through the second reel, took a break and came back to watch the third reel of the original movie.
Today’s Gospel passage brings up several points that, though important for early Christian communities, we later Christians often overlook.
First, Jesus’ disciples realized he wasn’t a “one-man show.” He didn’t expect his followers just to stand around “oohing and ahhing” as he engaged in his ministry. One of the deepest insights the Holy Spirit helped them achieve after his death and resurrection was that they were expected to carry on his ministry. They were to become “other Christs.”
Do you know the “if only” lament? Many of us do, and chant it often. As we move through life, it becomes like background music or a theme song for the weary, the burdened and the worried: “If only I were younger, I’d have more energy.” “If only I were older, I could relax and retire.” “If only I had more time, I’d be able to do so much.” “If only others were more cooperative ...” “If only they could see things my way ...” “If only I were prettier, thinner, smarter, braver, stronger ...” “If only I had a better job, a more understanding boss, nicer coworkers ...” “If only I didn’t have arthritis, cancer, depression ...” “If only others would understand me, appreciate me, welcome me, accept me as I am ...”
Are you a planner? Do you set an agenda for your day? Is your BlackBerry or iPhone programmed to alert you to upcoming appointments? Do you make lists that help structure your time and order your priorities?
As with Jesus, so with John the Baptizer: We must be careful to distinguish the historical person from the Gospel person.
It’s clear from the way the evangelists treat Jesus’ baptism that the Baptizer’s inclusion created problems.
Most biblical prophets eventually develop low expectations. Very few people listen to them; fewer still are willing to change their lives because of the prophets’ message.
At this point, the term remnant enters their preaching.
In an effort to stimulate the table conversation, the hostess at a recent dinner party asked each of her guests to share what they regarded as their favorite or most memorable meal experience. One young man said that the meal memory he most treasured was the grilled cheese sandwich he bought with money he had earned at his very first job. Knowing that he was, at last, paying his own way as an adult filled him with a sense of pride and satisfaction.
God showed me a little thing, the size of a hazelnut, lying in the palm of my hand. It was as round as any ball. ... I thought, ‘What can this be?’ My question was answered in general terms. ... ‘It is everything that is made.’ I marveled at how this could be, for it seemed that it might suddenly fall into nothingness, it was so small. An answer for this was given to my understanding: ‘It lasts and ever shall last because God loves it. And in this fashion, all things have their being by the grace of God.’ In this little thing, I saw three properties. The first is that God made it. The second is that God loves it. The third thing is that God keeps it. And what did I see in this? Truly, the Maker, the Lover and the Keeper.”