Don’t envy the Apostles!

Does it ever seem that the Apostles were so much better off than us because they actually saw Jesus, heard him speak and had him in their physical presence? What an affirmation it must (or should) have been for them to know that they were personally chosen by him to be in his most intimate circle of friends!

If only we were so fortunate as they! Our faith informs us, however, that we are every bit as well off — in fact, even more so — precisely because we have faith, and not all of them really did, at least not at first.

Think about this for a moment. We have all heard the saying, “Seeing is believing.” What does that mean? It implies that what we see with our eyes should be enough to convince us of what is real and true.

But is this always so? How often have we missed realities that are literally staring us in the face! The daily news, for example, is full of stories of people who refuse to leave the scenes of imminent disasters — somehow believing that the fire, the deluge or the roof will not fall on them.

The Scriptures are full of examples in which Jesus expresses his disappointment in the lack of faith even among his most intimate disciples. He wanted to be so much closer to them than they would let him, even though he was physically with them almost all the time.

We know of famous examples of the outright denial of Christ’s reality. Not only was the news of the resurrection greeted with great skepticism by the “inner circle” itself, but even the daily actions of Jesus throughout his earthly life — his teachings, example and miracles — were not enough to win over the minds and hearts of so many of those who followed him around before he died.

During the Sundays of August, we will be reading from chapter six of St. John’s Gospel. We will hear how the crowds were seeking Jesus because of the “signs and wonders” he was doing, but this did not necessarily persuade or “convert” their hearts into faith in him personally.

Even his own Apostles had great difficulty accepting, let alone understanding, who he really was. “Oh, you of little faith,” Jesus said so often.

We know that, for the most part, the relatives of Jesus, and his neighbors in Nazareth, refused to see him as anything out the ordinary. They seemed to be wondering who was giving him tip-offs on what to say and advice on what seemed to them to be the magic tricks that he was doing — or was said to be doing.

Though many people felt an attraction to him, or a least a certain curiosity, few understood what he was really saying and doing. In the Gospels we will be hearing from at Sunday Mass in the coming weeks, as we in the Albany Diocese prepare for our Eucharistic Congress on Sept. 22, the voice of Jesus could not be clearer: “I am the bread of life!”

In everything he was doing and saying, Jesus is communicating who he is. The references in St. John’s Gospel that compare the work he is doing to the work of God himself — and, ultimately, using the same words (“I am”) to describe himself as the God of Israel (“I am who am”) — reveal that Jesus wants to be taken for who he is and who he says he is, not as others might define him. In other words, the real Jesus has his own reality, apart from anyone else’s opinion about who he is or what he does.

Our faith is more than story or a narrative. It leads us to a real, personal and eternal presence.

Many people — as much at the time of Christ’s physical presence on earth as well as now or at any time — misunderstand who Jesus is and what he is here for. It is a good question for each of us to ask ourselves: “Who is Jesus for me?”

This does not mean that we can make Jesus be what he is not, but the first question really is, do we often behave like his disciples, relatives and neighbors? Does what we “make” of Jesus tend to distort or diminish who or what he himself is and says he is?

In no uncertain terms, Jesus reveals himself to us as the Son of God, our Lord and Savior, who has one purpose in mind for each and every member of the human race: to invite us into an intimate relationship with him so that we can live forever.

He wants us each in that true, all-embracing “inner circle” that is his trinitarian relationship with the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is a closer relationship than even many of his disciples — including the Twelve — had with him during his earthly life.

The Scriptures tell us that they often did not grasp what he was offering them; they were weak of faith and they were often too swayed by the opinions of others in their time and circle about whom the Messiah would be like. The cross would be the ultimate scandal and turn-off for many. Were it not for the resurrection and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, there would be no apostolic faith to profess, but only memories and tales, with no promise for the future.

Bottom line: Jesus has his own reality. He is who and what he says he is, regardless of what we or anyone else might think or say of him.

How then can we be sure that we know the real Jesus? For if we do not, then he cannot be our Savior. Prayer, the Scriptures, receiving him at Mass and listening to the teaching Church: All of these are essential to come to know the real Jesus. Our own feelings or the opinions of others, first and foremost, are not reliable guides. They may seem real to us, but they are not more real than he. He has his own reality.

If Jesus is truly our Lord, then he must become the center of our lives, the king of our hearts, the reality beyond any other reality, who commands our belief and worship. Anything less means he is not yet the God of our lives.

(Follow the Bishop at www.facebook.com/AlbanyBishopEd and on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.)