One of the tricky parts about being a Christian is the fact that we worship a God who is invisible to our physical sight, even if he is “visible” to us by faith. We know that Jesus exhorted Thomas the Apostle (and us) to believe in him without seeing him:
“Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe” (John 20:27).
Up to this point in the Gospels, Jesus had been physically present to his disciples and so they were able to interact with him through their physical senses: they could touch him, see him, hear him, even smell him. In this verse, Jesus revealed something new, as he often did, by challenging their basic assumptions about who they expected him to be for them. He knew their expectations and basically said, “I’ve got something different in mind.” Classic Jesus moment right there.
From the moment of the Ascension of Jesus into Heaven until now, Jesus no longer interacts through the physical senses of his followers, unless he miraculously goes out of his way to give a particular gift to someone by appearing to them or allowing them to feel an unexplained hand on the shoulder or something like that, which is fairly rare. The ordinary way for the Christian to interact with Jesus happens not in a physical way, but a spiritual way. Of course, as Catholic-Christians, we can also point to the Sacraments as potential ways to physically interact with Jesus and receive grace from him. Even those, however, bring us to Jesus through signs, even as he is truly, really present within them. As Catholics, for example, we believe Jesus is really present in the Eucharist – Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity – but our senses still only see and taste bread and wine, while our faith informs our spiritual senses to know that Jesus is there. And even if we decide to grant that the Sacraments are ways for us to interact with Jesus in a more physical way, I would only argue that it points to the extraordinary nature of the Sacraments that allow us to do so – it should only make us appreciate even more these miraculous gifts given to us by Jesus!
This “new” way of interacting with Jesus can make things pretty tricky for us as Christians. Many people have a very difficult time trying to interact with Jesus in a real way, while others make it seem like Jesus “speaks” to them all the time. Then, of course, this makes things even more frustrating for those who rarely, if at all, encounter Jesus in their daily lives: Why isn’t Jesus talking to me like he apparently talks to that person?!? I can’t seem to find him. Fortunately for us, Scripture can supply some help. I was reflecting on a scene from the Gospel of Luke the other day, in the 2nd chapter:
Now [Jesus’] parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up according to custom; and when the feast was ended, as they were returning, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know it, but supposing him to be in the company they went a day’s journey, and they sought him among their kinsfolk and acquaintances; and when they did not find him, they returned to Jerusalem, seeking him. After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions; and all who heard him were amazed at his understanding and his answers. And when they saw him they were astonished; and his mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been looking for you anxiously.” And he said to them, “How is it that you sought me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” (Luke 2:41-49)
Even when people were still interacting with Jesus through their physical senses, they sometimes couldn’t find him! As I was reflecting on this scene, there were a number of insights that came my way – we might even say Jesus was “speaking” to me through the reflection. Here are some quick bullet points:
- They had their own expectations concerning the whereabouts of Jesus. How often do I seek Jesus according to my own expectations? Do I only consider looking for him where I want him to be?
- Consider the immense amount of joy and relief when they finally found Jesus. They must have been so relieved! When we can’t seem to find Jesus in our lives, sometimes the reason for this can be that Jesus is allowing us to feel the emptiness caused by the absence of his felt-presence, all so that our joy can be filled up when he reveals himself to us again. It’s like he’s preparing us to experience deeper joy by allowing even our spiritual senses to feel like he’s missing from our lives.
- This is the big point for me: They finally found Jesus in the temple, the place of communal worship. His response to them: “Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” If I can’t find Jesus in my life, the best place to seek him is in his Father’s house, the Church! It’s where he “must” be! So often when I’m feeling spiritually desolate, I look for new and exciting ways to encounter Jesus. These might provide fleeting moments of good feelings, but they ultimately fade away. What I need to do instead is return to the House of God, the place of communal worship, and there seek Jesus.
This passage provides me with great hope and encouragement that I, too, will find Jesus when it feels like I’ve lost him. Of course, I know he’s always present (Matthew 28:20), but I don’t always feel his presence. The most likely place for him to reveal himself to me is the same place where Joseph and Mary found him, which is the temple; for us as Christians, it’s in the Church. Above all, it would even be best for me to go to the place where he is present in the Eucharist, whether that is in the church-proper or in a chapel reserved for Eucharistic worship. He is truly there, waiting for me to come and visit. There I must go, there I will go, even now.