Saturday of the 4th Week of Easter
Acts 13:44-52; John 14:7-14
One Sunday in late November, members of a Mormon congregation in suburban Salt Lake City were greeted by a homeless man in the parking lot. As he approached and wished them a Happy Thanksgiving, he got various reactions; most people ignored him, a few gave him money, still others asked him to get off the property. Imagine their surprise when the man not only attended the service with them, but revealed that he was actually a Mormon bishop in disguise.
In the gospel, our Lord said, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip?” (John 14:9). As usual, that question is meant for us, too, but before answering, keep in mind that the word John uses for “know” means “to know by experience.” So, the question is, have we been with Jesus for so long a time and still not experienced him?
We certainly have ample opportunity. For one thing, we experience him in each other. As St. Paul taught, we are the Body of Christ. For another, we experience him in the Scriptures, where he has given us plenty to contemplate. Finally, we have the most profound experience of all – the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus Christ himself – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity. All these experiences have been given to us that we might come to know and love him more deeply.
Still, in the face of all that, we have the deep-seated problem of failing to find Christ when he’s standing right in front of us. I say deep-seated because we’ve been fighting it at least since the time of St. John Chrysostom, who said that if we cannot find Christ in the beggar at the church door, we won’t find Him in the chalice.1 What good is the faith that shows us Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, if in practice we ignore Christ in those around us?
If only it was as simple as mistaking the bishop for the beggar! Although the example shows that we still struggle with it, we are well-trained (rightly so!), to see Christ in the poor, the marginalized, and the suffering: they, as St. Teresa of Calcutta said, are Jesus in his most distressing disguise.2 But what about our Lord’s more subtle disguise – the people we spend so much time with? That can be harder; for, as so many of us know, when it comes to our families, friends, co-workers, and fellow parishioners, familiarity often breeds contempt.
Sadly, contempt has blinded religious people for centuries. It isn’t hard to understand. The first reading is a perfect example; Paul and Barnabas preached to the Jews what sounded an awful lot like heresy. Naturally, that’s going to stir up anger, resentment, and ill will. We expect that. What we don’t expect is the persecution that followed; such behavior hardly reflects the true love or knowledge of God. How could it surprise anyone that separation would result, a wound in God’s people that aches to this day.
But again, the issue is not them, but us. We too disagree, make mistakes, hurt each other, and stir up feelings of resentment, disappointment, or even anger, that threaten to divide us. Constantly, we must go back to the question of Jesus, have you been with me so long and still do not know me? To know Christ is to know the love that unites us one to the other; that forgives as we have been forgiven, and that looks at both beggar and bishop and sees the only thing that matters – the image and likeness of Almighty God.
1This seems a paraphrase of section 4 of Homily 50 on Matthew: https://www.newadvent.org/fathers/200150.htm
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