Point the Way

The gospels tell us about the birth of Jesus, and St. Luke tells us that 40 days after his birth, Mary and Joseph presented him at the temple, as required by law. The story then goes dark until he was about 12 years old, at which time Luke explains that during a festival attended by Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, he wandered away from his parents and was later found by a terrified Mary as he was preaching to some elders. Did you not know this is where you would find me? he asks his mother. I’m pretty sure her reply was something along the lines of if we knew where to find you, that is the first place we would have looked and I wouldn’t have been freaking out for the last three hours young man!

The story again goes dark until Jesus is 30-something, and the real story begins.

I, of course, being the inquisitive sort, would simply love to know what happened during the periods of time about which the gospels are silent. What kind of life did Jesus have with his parents? Did he hang out with neighborhood kids and play whatever passed for baseball in Israel circa 0013? Did he keep his room tidy? Did he like his mother’s cooking? What was his favorite food?

Yesterday, the Catholic Church celebrated the Feast of St. John the Baptist. As you will recall, John was the cousin of Jesus, being the offspring of Mary’s Aunt Elizabeth. Though, as I noted above, the gospels are silent, I would assume that Jesus and John were BFFs. My son Court was my only child, and as such, he was BFFs with his cousin Benjamin Joseph. More than friends, actually; more like brothers, for all intents and purposes. When our entire extended family got together, those two boys were off on their own. It was almost like they had a secret language. From the time they were little, they were each other’s confidants. To this day, I’m certain BJ knows things about Court that I will never (and probably don’t want to) know……

In my imagination, that’s how I envision the relationship between Jesus and his cousin John. Both were only children, or at least arguably so. Jesus had what can only be described as a heavy burden that he carried. Even if he didn’t understand fully what his future looked like, he had to feel different from his friends. There’s no way you can convince me that Jesus and John didn’t sit under an olive tree where Jesus told John that he was afraid of what would happen when he was a grown up. John likely said, I’ll be there for you Cuz!

Cousin John became John the Baptist, and he definitely was there for Jesus. He prepared the Way of the Lord. I am not the Savior, John said over and over again. I am not even worthy enough to fasten his sandals. My cousin Jesus is the Savior. Thus is the life of a prophet.

When we think of prophets, we think of people who can predict the future. But in biblical terms, prophets didn’t actually predict the future. Neither Isaiah nor Jeremiah nor Elijah nor John the Baptist forecasted the weather or suggested in what commodities the Jewish people should invest.  Their jobs were to point to God. Plain and simple. God loves you. God will send you a savior. Trust in God and trust in his son.

So guess what I think this means (having gone out last night and gotten my degree in theology)? I think this means that we are all prophets. Or at least we have the ability to be prophets if we choose, and are courageous enough.

Isaiah said The Lord called me from birth, from my mother’s womb he gave me my name. He made of me a sharp-edged sword and concealed me in the shadow of his arm. He made me a polished arrow, in his quiver he hid me. You are my servant, he said to me, through whom I show my glory.(Isaiah, 49: 1-3)

Just like Isaiah, God knew each of us even in our mothers’ wombs. He knew our names. He gave us strength. He simply asks that we tell others – through words and actions – about his glory.

And that we take care of one another — like BJ and Court and like Jesus and John.

On the Road

Here’s why years from now you will most assuredly not be praying for the intercession of St. Kris: I get caught up in the wrong things when it comes to the bible and completely miss the point. You know, the REAL point.

Take the story of the two fellows walking down the road to Emmaus on the third day after Jesus died. They’re heading to the village which is seven miles from Jerusalem, and are shooting the breeze about what the two women had told them about the body no longer being in the tomb.  Suddenly they are approached by a stranger. So here’s Missing The Point I: Why didn’t they recognize him? Luke says their eyes were prevented from recognizing him. In fact, it wasn’t until they had persuaded him to spend the night at their house, during which time he once again blessed bread, broke bread, and shared bread that they realized who he was. It seems to me – pitiful human that I am – that rather than preventing them from recognizing him, it would have been a more efficient use of time to just allow them to know who he is right off the bat.

Break bread, bless bread, eat bread.

And then, when they realize that it is Jesus, he vanishes. Poof. Bummer.

So they immediately set out again to Jerusalem. Luke says so they set out at once. Missing The Point II: That, in and of itself, isn’t too surprising. After all, had my friend who I had seen die right before my eyes come back and make himself known to me, I would want to tell somebody ASAP. But it’s seven miles, and they had walked seven miles just a short time earlier. Well, good on them, I guess. As for me, my hip starts hurting after a mile-and-a-half or so.

It’s at this point that yesterday’s gospel picked up the story. These two fellows get back to Jerusalem and immediately tell their friends what had happened. About that time, who should appear again? Jesus. They are all understandably afraid and think they are seeing a ghost. To calm them down, Jesus says to them, “Peace be with you.”

Now that makes sense even to me. Jesus is telling them (and us) that whenever we are afraid, we should put our fears aside and feel peace, because he is with us and will take care of us. But then Jesus says something that completely throws me off my spiritual game. Missing The Point III: He asks them if they have anything to eat. Did it throw Peter and his buddies off their game as well? Did they ask themselves – as I did – why on earth do you want to eat right this minute?

But unlike me, the disciples did not sigh loudly and roll their eyes. They instead gave him a piece of baked fish, which he proceeded to eat. And that, my friends, was that for me. I spent the remainder of the Mass wondering why Jesus felt the need for a bite to eat right then. And perhaps as puzzlingly, why did St. Luke feel that point was important enough to put into his gospel?

As we drove home after Mass, I asked Bill that question. Why did Jesus ask for something to eat? To prove to the disciples that he wasn’t a ghost, was Bill’s take on the matter.

I guess I have the advantage of 20/20 hindsight. It’s interesting to think about how startling – terrifying, really – it must have been for Jesus’ followers to see him walking around when they had taken him down from the cross and buried him themselves only a few days earlier. And now here he was walking around showing them his wounds and eating with them.

And maybe that’s the point. They really shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, Jesus himself points out to them that his birth, death, and resurrection had been prophesized for hundreds of years. They had all studied their Torahs. They knew what to expect.

But despite that, without 2000 years of hindsight, it must have been hard to understand the whole business. Quite frankly, even with the benefit of 2000 years of explanation, it’s still hard to understand.

That’s where faith comes in.