3/26/2015 9:00:00 AM BISHOP'S COLUMN Discovering Jesus
'No one is in a better position to make God's presence felt than you and I are at the very moment in which we are present to one another....God saves us through one another.'
BY BISHOP EDWARD B. SCHARFENBERGER
How often have we struggled to reach a friend who is feeling that God is somehow just not present!
At moments like this, it is never clearer to us how the burden of God -- who is always present -- is somehow tied to our own humanity, discoverable in our own human experience. As I once heard a priest say during a retreat, "You may be the only Christ some person may ever know."
I would like to suggest that it goes further even than that: Our suffering brother or sister may be the only Jesus that you and I may ever know on this earth!
No one is in a better position to make God's presence felt than you and I are at the very moment in which we are present to one another. To put it another way, God saves us through one another. Jesus is the Savior always, to be sure -- the real Jesus.
Who is the real Jesus? Does not our faith tell us that the real Jesus is dead and risen? And did not Jesus tell us that He was sending us out into the world to tell this Good News? And who or what is the Good News but Jesus Himself: "I am the way and the truth and the life."
Our mission is to bring Jesus Himself!
The real Jesus is not, therefore, somewhere "up there," lost in a cosmos beyond the clouds or entombed in some kind of a graven shrine -- in short, removed from us. Instead, by virtue of His death and resurrection, He is even more present to each and every one of us who have become members of His mystical body through our baptism.
It is the Holy Spirit who bears witness to this. Jesus is exactly where we are when, in faith, we are fully present to one another. God and humanity are intimately bound together because of the incarnation and the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In order to "discover" Jesus, then, we need to be present to one another in faith so that Jesus can reveal Himself to us, through us. And this is how He reveals Himself to us most vividly: through suffering humanity.
One reason we speak of the so-called "preferential option for the poor" is that Christ is actually more "discoverable" in those who are regarded by the world as poor in any way: health, wealth, appearance, social condition, legal status, mental stability, intelligence or any other kind of condition that we would tend to regard as unfortunate.
How do we know this? It could not be more obvious: Just look at the cross! The loving presence of God is just pouring out of those words and wounds that we will contemplate during Holy Week. Just look at the suffering servant! Just look at your suffering brother or sister!
Jesus was crucified as a criminal; a blasphemer (and, therefore, a moral degenerate), for He said He forgave sins; a "liar" (He said He was one with God); ugly and repulsive (from His gaping wounds and muddied body); an outcast rejected by His own people and virtually betrayed by almost all of His disciples. Who could be more cast out of everything, by everyone, than Christ crucified? Should it surprise us to see Christians being cast out and persecuted by insurgencies of power throughout the world?
Anyone who is feeling "out of it" or alienated or rejected comes to us in the image of Christ. We should go to them if we seek "to image" Christ. The friend, neighbor or relative who is feeling that God is absent is actually an image of Jesus to us. He or she is coming to us as Christ crucified.
When you or I choose to be present to that person lovingly, patiently and attentively, we are like the Father affirming His own beloved Son on the cross. We are the instruments of God being present, even as our suffering brother or sister is Jesus present to us.
This is an awesome gift: to be caught up in the saving relationship between God and humanity. God did not have to do any of this. He did not have to send His only Son to suffer, die and rise for us so that we could share in His risen humanity. But He did.
It is still -- as always -- up to us to say "yes" to this gift in faith, allowing God to love His world and His people through us. When we do, then we discover who Jesus really is. He is the one who is always present, who never leaves His people, who always gives Himself to us and for us as forgiving, gratuitous and healing mercy.