Often, in reading Scripture, we overlook the most fundamental message the author is trying to share with us. We become so good at surfacing the "minutiae" of the text that we ignore the "maxima."

We forget that each biblical writer, one way or another, is telling us how he or she believes God is working in our lives.

That message didn't begin with Jesus and is not limited to the Christian Scriptures. The quest to surface and appreciate God's presence also permeates the Hebrew Scriptures. If it didn't, Jesus, as a reformer, would never have made it the centerpiece of His ministry.

God's power

More than 100 years before Jesus' birth, the author of Wisdom points out how Yahweh is present not just in the punishments evil people receive in this world, but also in the forgiveness they obtain (Wis 12:13, 16-19).

The writer reflects on Yahweh's actions: "Though you are master of might, you judge with clemency, and with much lenience you govern us; for power, whenever you will, attends you. And you taught your people, by these deeds, that those who are just must be kind; and you gave your children good ground for hope that you would permit repentance for their sins." God's not always where we expect God to be or doing what we expect God to do.

In the second reading (Rom 8: 26-27), Paul echoes the same insight. "The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness," he writes, "for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings."

Though hard to appreciate, the times we have the most difficulties praying are the times when the Spirit is most in control of our prayers.

The Gospels clearly teach that Jesus had problems trying to convey His ideas about God present and working in our lives. (He usually refers to that divine event as the "kingdom of God" or the "kingdom of heaven.") It still isn't an easy concept for us to appreciate 2,000 years later. We know God's here among us, but we don't always mesh our ideas on the subject with those of Jesus. Our ideas probably come not so much from Scripture as from a sermon we once heard, or a question and answer we memorized in a long past catechism class.

How to think

Above all, Jesus believed there was no one way to perfectly describe how God is among us. We who "think Greek" find that concept difficult to comprehend. We're constantly analyzing; mentally tearing apart things, situations and people; getting rid of contradictions; and eventually coming up with either/or proposals.

Jesus and the Semitic people He taught did the opposite when they thought. They synthesized and brought different concepts together in their brain at the same time, coming up with both/and conclusions and always enjoying contradictions.

That's why, when Matthew's Jesus tries to describe the kingdom of heaven, He not only falls back on parables, but He's also forced to employ a mixture of concepts in His stories (Mt 13: 24-43). No one idea or explanation can adequately convey the experience He's had of God working in His life.

Notice the diversity of images in the Gospel: good and bad seed growing in the same field, and the farmer letting it grow side by side until harvest. The message: God's presence doesn't automatically eradicate all the evil in our lives.

Besides, God's actions don't rush in and overpower us. Just as a small mustard seed or a minute piece of yeast eventually grows much larger than its original size, so God's kingdom slowly, almost imperceptibly, grows among and in us. We need lots of hope and patience to hang in there with God.