04 May 2009

Come on, Jesus! Just tell us!

4th Week of Easter (T): Acts 11.19-26; John 10.22-30
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP
Convento SS Domenico e Sisto, Roma

Those among the Jews who flock around Jesus at the Portico of Solomon sound very much like my literature students when we begin reading modern poetry: “Just tell us plainly what all this means!” Growing increasingly impatient with the ambiguity of his metaphors and parables, those following Jesus around town want a straight-forward, plain-spoken declaration that can either be rejected as false or accepted as true. No more vague hints. No more esoteric gibberish. No more stories within stories that excite imagination so that the heart might believe. Like my poetry students, Jesus’ followers want The Answer because they know it’s going to be on The Test. Truly, who can blame them? Unlike my students, however, those among the Jews who have been captivated by our Lord’s preaching and miraculous works are risking their places in heaven by listening to this Nazarean upstart. He is leading them away from the surety and comfort of the temple and the into the potentially deadly desert of faith alone. So, they clamor after him, crying out in frustration: "How long are you going to keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly." As simply and as plainly as he can, Jesus answers: “I told you and you do not believe. The works I do in my Father's name testify to me […] The Father and I are one.”

As the philosopher in the crowd, I would be the one to ask those pestering Jesus for clarity: “Um, he says he and the Father are one. But why would you believe that? You are asking the would-be King to declare himself King so that you might know who is King.” One would hope that there is at least one soul in the crowd who would point out, “He says he and the Father are one. He also acts in a way that shows he and the Father are one.” Even the most hard-headed, cold-hearted philosopher would have to admit that an empirically verifiable demonstration of divinity is worth consideration! But demanding such a demonstration misses the point entirely.

Those demanding clarity from Jesus have witnessed his miracles. They have much more than his allegedly flighty stories on which to base their faith. Jesus tells them that it is not a lack of empirical evidence or verbal clarity that impedes their acceptance of his claim to be the Messiah. What’s preventing them from coming into the fullness of his revelation is their lack of belief. They cannot see his works for what they are because do not believe in their Father’s promises. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”

First, we must hear the Lord’s voice, then we come to believe. Once we believe, empirical evidence supporting the truth of our belief is irrelevant to our relationship with God. We do not base our love for friends and family on verifiable evidence. Jesus did not perform his miracles as evidence for us to witness, evaluate, and then either accept or reject as proof of his divinity. He cured the sick, fed the hungry, and raised the dead out of compassion, out of love for those who suffer. The question that Jesus’ entire life and ministry—from his virgin birth to his sacrificial death and resurrection—the question he poses to us is this: will you follow me to the cross and suffer for the love of your neighbor? That, brothers and sisters, is an unambiguous question. Now, how do you answer?

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