Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Recognizing Jesus

Before my husband's conversion, he used to tell me that he wouldn't believe in God unless God himself came down from Heaven and introduced himself.  He's not the only atheist I've met who has said that same thing.  The problem is that they are assuming that they would 1) Recognize God if they saw Him and 2) Believe what they saw.  To the atheist mind, I suppose, it is to be assumed that God would look so extraordinarily different from regular human beings that He would be instantly recognizable as God.

In today's Mass reading, though, we see exactly why this is a problem.  John 20: 11-18 sets the scene for us.  Here we have Mary Magdalene, one of Christ's closest companions, seeking the body of Christ in the tomb.  It is empty. Instead, two angels sit in the tomb near his burial clothes.  Not understanding what is going on, she turns around and sees a man standing there.  She mistakes him for the gardener and begs him to tell  her where the body of Jesus may be found.  Only when He speaks her name does she recognize Christ as the same man that she walked with just a few days prior.

If one of Christ's closest companions and friends, one who had walked with him and talked with him on a regular basis, did not recognize him when he was standing right in front of her what makes those who spend no time with Him and do not even acknowledge His existence so certain that they would be able to pick Him out from among the crowd? What makes them so certain that they would believe Him if He introduced Himself? Wouldn't it be more likely that they would think the person was crazy?

I know many Christians who believe that they would be sure to recognize Christ if they saw Him, yet pass by the homeless person begging on the street without a second glance. They pass by the person walking with no coat and no umbrella in the rain, too busy to stop and offer a ride.  They pass by the person sitting in 100 plus degree heat with a backpack beside them, in torn and dirty clothing, as quickly as possible thanking God only that it isn't them. If we cannot recognize Christ in these people, what chance have we of recognizing Christ at all? The truth is that recognizing God isn't as simple as it sounds.  He prefers to arrive quietly and to take on the appearance of the ordinary.  He speaks softly and is gracious enough to wait for us to be silent before speaking at all. Often, it isn't until after I've had an encounter with Christ that I realize what happened.

When my son was just 3 1/2 years old I began to allow him to play on the computer with me. My husband and I had a game we loved to play at the time called Transport Tycoon. We thought we knew everything about the game.  One day, I glanced over at my son as he was playing this game and was shocked to discover that his planes were transporting cargo - something neither my husband nor I had ever been able to figure out how to do.  My son did not know how to read, and so he clicked on everything and tried pushing every button.  His acknowledgement of his ignorance allowed him to discover things we, in our arrogance, didn't even know were there to be discovered.  Recognizing Jesus is exactly like that. We must put aside our pre-conceived notions of what He is like, open our hearts and our minds, and be willing to believe what may seem unbelievable.  It requires that we be like little children who do not assume that they know everything but, because they know how little they know, open themselves up to every possibility.

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