He Comes As Yet Unknown

Friday in the Fourth Week of Lent  (Wisdom 2: 1a, 12-24; Psalm 34:15-22; John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30)

For millennia believers who share the faith of Abraham in the one God have tried to describe their ideal Prophet, the One they have hoped for and looked forward to, and looked up to as an exemplar.


The Psalmist describes him this way: “Many are the troubles of the righteous, but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.  He will keep safe all his bones; not one of them shall be broken…the Lord ransoms the life of his servants, and none will be punished who trust in him.”  

Decades before Jesus was born, the author of the Wisdom of Solomon describes how “the ungodly” might view such a person: “Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions…He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord…he calls the last end of the righteous happy, and boasts that God is his father. Let us see if his words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life…”

And, during Jesus’ lifetime, some of the people of Jerusalem said about him, “Is not this the man whom they are trying to kill? And here he is, speaking openly, but they say nothing to him! Can it be that the authorities really know that this is the Messiah?”

Here is how a contemporary of ours tries to describe him: “He comes as yet unknown into a hamlet of Lower Galilee. He is watched by the cold, hard eyes of peasants living long enough at the subsistence level to know exactly where the line is drawn between poverty and destitution. He looks like a beggar yet his eyes lack the proper cringe, his voice the proper whine, his walk the proper shuffle.

He speaks about the rule of God and they listen as much from curiosity as anything else. They know all about rule and power, about kingdom and empire, but they know it in terms of tax and debt, malnutrition and sickness, agrarian oppression and demonic possession.

What, they really want to know, can this Kingdom of God do for a lame child, a blind parent, a demented soul screaming its tortured isolation among the graves that mark the village fringes? Jesus walks among the tombs and, in the silence after the exorcism, the villagers listen once more, but now with curiosity giving way to cupidity, fear, and embarrassment.

He is invited, as honor demands, to the home of the village leader. He goes, instead, to stay in the home of the dispossessed woman. Not quite proper, to be sure, but it would be unwise to censure an exorcist, to criticize a magician… But the next day he leaves them and now they wonder aloud about a divine Kingdom with no respect for proper protocols, a Kingdom, as he had said, not just for the poor like themselves, but for the destitute.

Others say that the worst and most powerful demons are not found in small villages but in certain cities. Maybe, they say, that was where the exorcised demon went, to Sepphoris or Tiberias, or even Jerusalem, or maybe to Rome itself where its arrival would hardly be noticed amidst so many others already in residence. But some say nothing at all and ponder the possibility of catching up with Jesus before he gets too far.” (The Essential Jesus by John Dominic Crossan, page11)

Well, we may never catch up with Jesus. He is always way ahead of us! We may, each of us, describe him in somewhat different ways. But, as we approach this Table, we will all receive him in his fullness, as he truly is. And we can all pray to him in this Lenten season in these words:

“Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name.” Amen.  


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