Monday, 12 January 2015

JOHN 1: 40-42

Since I last published meditations on the Holy Gospel according to St. John last October the war against ISIS continues, as does the disorder in Ukraine enabled by Russia, there have been terrorist attacks in Canada, Australia and this week in France while Boko Harm continues to slaughter the innocent in Nigeria.

 We have entered into, journeyed through the Holy Season of Advent, marvelled at, loved and adored the newborn Holy Child, the Prince of Peace come to redeem the world and hear the cries of the poor and suffering, namely, of every human being.

How we truly need to hear and heed His knocking at the doors of our hearts [Rv.3:20], open to Him, bid Him enter, and listen to Him, following the example of our ancestors from those first tentative steps taken by the future Apostles [v.40] and the millennia of Martyrs, Saints, of every Christian to this very day who has preceded us.

v. 40 – One of those who heard John speak and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.

Here the Evangelist reveals once more how the Gospel is filled with movement, listening, spoken word, choice, and action.

Such is what will happen if we respond when Jesus knocks at the door of our heart.

Jesus is patient for love is patient.

He will always remain there, always waiting, always ready.

He will never barge in uninvited.

Love is too tender and selfless ever to impose.

A crucial aspect of our response is baptism, gateway of the sacraments, and baptism confers discipleship which is intimate communion of love with, actively living out in and through Him our prime vocation which is to be beloved.

We are, for so we have been created, endowed with free will and so are free to ignore His pleading knock, to ignore the invitation to be one with.

Satan, first renouncer of freedom, choosing pointless hell-bondage forever, is the great and prime enemy of love and love’s freedom.

His modern agents who have given themselves over to the eternal cold darkness of hateful bondage are the terrorists of today.

Yet such is the immensity of Divine Mercy Jesus continues to knock at their hearts too with the same inviting love until their souls leave their bodies.

In verse 40 the Evangelist names the two brothers Andrew and Simon Peter [the latter as such even though as yet St. John has not shown us Jesus giving Simon his new name] and while the Evangelist will mention Philip [1:43] and Thomas [11:16] and later still Judas [14:22] unlike the Synoptic Gospel accounts nowhere in St. John’s account does he give us a complete list of the Apostles.

I have never found an explanation in any referenced commentaries on why this is, it just is, even though St. John records more of the words of Jesus than the Synoptics do.

To be noted here through the example of Andrew come to Jesus through the Baptist and now Simon Peter through his brother Andrew pointing to Jesus this is a crucial aspect of discipleship lived for all Christians, namely not to fall into the trap of thinking evangelization is about talking, rather it is primarily about witnessing, that is simply pointing to Jesus and telling everyone: There He is!

v.42 – and he brought him to Jesus.

Indeed the understandable struggle in evangelization, sometimes a real tension, is between teaching, which sometimes lends itself to a torrent of dogmatic words that can overwhelm and confuse the recipient or an implied, if not declarative, demeaning of the other’s particular current faith or choice to be a non-believer – and – of simple witnessing the Gospel, of the reality of Jesus, with our lives without compromise.

To paraphrase from Ven. Paul VI: if people do indeed listen to teachers teaching about Jesus and the Gospel it is precisely because first and foremost said teachers are witnesses.

In our day a powerful example of witnessing, which is never opposed to teaching but  should always precede teaching, and then the teaching flowing from the witnessing becomes powerful, is that of Pope Francis, embracing the sick, the elderly, the young, children, leading a simplified style of pontifical life, washing the feet of prisoners, Catholic and non.

Parents and grandparents, for example, are delighted when small children bring a gift of a dandelion or a little pebble for the gesture is the child witnessing love even though the child if challenged could not verbally teach the concept, their living action speaks volumes.

If we adults would be humble and ask Jesus for a childlike heart and the courage to live it out there would be less dissonance within human communication.

There is such an unspoken childlikeness and love for his brother, and indeed a burgeoning love for and trust in Jesus, which moves Andrew to bring his brother to Jesus.

v. 42 – Now when Jesus looked at him….

The essential first step in contemplation is to be still enough to gaze upon!

We use various expressions descriptive of what humans can do with our eyes: look, gaze, stare, glance, glare.

We speak of eyes wide open or shut.

Eyes can express delight, fear, yes even negatives such as disdain.

Our eyes can water as a result of some irritation and we can shed tears both of joy and sorrows.

Eyes are known as windows of the soul.

We can choose with these windows to take in images of beauty, which enlighten the soul, or prurient and ugly images which darken the soul and smudge the eyes with the soot of sin.

Sometimes we say someone, or we ourselves, penetrate another with our eyes.

We can choose to look away as gesture of rejection or because we have chanced upon some horror or ugliness we choose not to have seared into our memories through looking.

Love and acceptance, affirmation of the ‘thou’ of other flows from the loving look of parents upon the newborn child, fruit of the original look of love exchanged between the parents.

Undoubtedly it was the eyes of Mary and Joseph who first gave that look of love to God incarnate when Jesus was born.

God as a human being returns the look of love upon each of us and here, as elsewhere in the Gospels, Jesus is spoken of as looking upon, in this case upon Simon.

We should strive when reading and meditating upon the Holy Gospel not to rush past such words as these at the beginning of verse 42 to find out what happens next!

I remember in this moment a story told me by a beloved bishop friend that happened to him when he was a seminarian.

The seminary was part of a monastery and one day walking the cloister he noticed an elderly monk sitting with the open Gospels in his lap, the monk’s finger stopped at a particular line.

About an hour later my friend came by again and the monk was still sitting there, finger not moved, eyes fixated on the same passage and so my friend, then a seminarian, asked of the old monk:” What it is Father, you have not moved in an hour.” “Ah,” came the reply, “ it is such a beautiful word!”

The story is told in the life of St. John Vianney that the villagers were rushing to bring in the harvest and passing the village church looked in to see if there was anyone there who might be added to their number to get the work done and they spied a man sitting before the tabernacle, asked him to join them and he assured he would momentarily.

At dusk as the others were returning from the fields they noticed the man was still there and they asked what he was doing, that kept him from coming to the fields: “Ah, I am gazing upon Him and He is gazing upon me.”

v. 42 - ….He said: “You are Simon, Son of Jonah. You shall be called Cephas.” [which is translated, a stone].

Cephas is most frequently rendered in Latin and English as: rock, hence the interchange of “Petrus/Peter” so commonly known.

Jesus sees clearly the depths of every human heart, soul, and all therein.

Thus when Jesus looks at Simon Peter He sees, reads, and understands, the entire reality of Peter as a person: Peter’s past, present and future.

So it is with us.

God is more intimate to and with us than we are to and with ourselves.

From the moment of our birth to the present moment we take accumulated experiences, ideas, and mostly rather than become increasingly and objectively self-aware, in the light of objective truth, bit by bit construct a subjective self image, one that is frequently encumbered by self-doubt and anxiety about both self and the way we are perceived by others, including those who love us and God Himself.

This process is aided and abetted by the evil one, father of lies.

Jesus alone, God Himself, looks upon us with unconditional love, speaks only truth to us, most of all the truth that we are beloved, just as we are.

In the light of His truth-speaking to our hearts we hear His voice: most clearly and are enlightened and warmed by His look of love, when we open the door of our being to Him.

Then in truth when asking of ourselves, or asked by others, whom we are, we can, as Pope Francis does, give the accurate response: “I am a sinner.”

Which is a good thing: Jesus came to embrace, to love, to save, to sanctify sinners.

To reject self in anyway is to reject God and His primary gift to us, namely breath of life in His image and likeness.

The critical depth of all the encounters Jesus has in the Gospels with Andrew, Peter, the woman at the well, Zaccaheus in the tree, with everyone, is this offer from Jesus for us to step into the light and truth He radiates, and thus to accept ourselves, to be who we are truly.