In recent weeks we’ve been wondering what it’s like when God comes among us as a human being: as a tiny child at Christmas, as an adult now in these weeks of Ordinary Time.
It’s a great gift given to us to meet the maker of the universe dwindled to infancy, vulnerable and frail. But Jesus is a gift that calls for a response on our part. Last week we heard John’s story of how the first disciples responded to Jesus by seeking him out and spending time with him, just hanging out. They became disciples slowly and gently as Jesus answered a mystery in them.
January 26th, 1997
This year epiphany pursues us. In these weeks each gospel speaks about the way God is discovered in our lives. Today the epiphany takes the form of an awkward encounter. In an unexpected question: “What are you looking for?” In a question given instead of an answer: “Where do you stay?” In an answer that itself is a question: “Come and see.”
You can’t make anything of this prickly conversation without letting yourself get inside it. From the outside it’s just words. Just noise. Just some story of dead people, long dead people. But from the inside it’s alive—it’s epiphany. So step inside with me for a moment or two. Join those two travellers on the road, step inside their skins, and feel what it’s like to be walking the dusty roads, trailing after someone you hardly know, on some fool’s errand, for someone else. Following this guy, trying not to be seen, because, for the life of you, you don’t know what you are supposed to do if he spots you. How long have you been trailing him? Too long perhaps and the midday heat is annoying you and the thirst is annoying you but you don’t want to risk losing him to stop. And then in your daydreaming you almost run into him. He’s stopped. He’s right in front of you, staring right at you. And, scared out of your skin, you are trying to put together some apology or explanation, when he smiles a little and, never taking his eyes off yours, says “What are you looking for?” What are you looking for? What can you say? You start to say something lame but you are still caught by his gaze and you realise you don’t want to lie to him. So what are you looking for? What are you searching for? For a good cool drink? For a place to sit down? For peace and quiet? Oh, for some sense to life, and some security from debt, some safety from disease, some hope for tomorrow, some love to give and receive. What are you looking for? What are you really looking for? For peace on earth? For an end to death and dying? You don’t know! Too small or too big those desires; too easy or too risky. You don’t know what you are looking for but you know you want something, you know the voice that wakes you in the night—in the hour of the wolf—and whispers your name and won’t let you sleep as you chase in circles the fears and the hopes of twilight. You know you are searching—and searching for words to express the search—but all that comes out in the end is “Where do you stay?”
January 19th, 1997
Thirty years have flashed by in a week. Thirty years framed by two great epiphanies. Between the howling baby adored by shepherds and scientists and the silent figure coming to John at the Jordan—between them there is a lifetime of mystery. Somehow that helpless, demanding, fragile, noisy, tiny baby becomes a kid under his mother’s feet, becomes an adolescent under his own, finds friends and loses some, learns life and discovers death, earns a living, negotiates respect, plays and prays and laughs and cries, falls in love, drinks and dances, gets lost, gets hurt, watches things grow, stands by helpless as others wither, smells the bread baked, sees the vine ripen, hears the desert wind of his people, tastes the bitter tang of illness, feels the lash of Roman tongues (and worse), buries a father, worries over a mother, looks up in awe at starry skies, gazes in shame at poverty and neglect and … wonders why he can’t settle, why—happy as he is—he is restless.
Wonders why the words of Isaiah echo inside him the way they do, like his own words, “To open the eyes of the blind, to bring out prisoners from confinement, and from the dungeon, those who live in darkness.” O God, if not now, when? If not us, who? “I Adonai have called you for the victory of justice, I have grasped you by the hand. I have formed you, and set you as a covenant for the nations.” Burning words, aching hopes. “How much longer must we wait Adonai before you show your glory? Will you not rend the skies in two and show yourself as of old?” If not now, when? If not me, who?
January 12th, 1997