No matter how self-confident and bold we might feel we could all have certain people who intimidate us. We sense a majestic aura around them, weightiness and a penetrating force emanating from them that leaves us with no place for hiding our deficiencies. We might choose to steer clear of them or to face them only after a thorough preparation.
What would your reaction be to my saying that Jesus, as Word of God, is now and will be the most intimidating Person in our life? I would even add that those who disagree with this statement might have spun their “spiritual wheels” repeatedly, so to speak, and settled for a type of religiosity that has them stuck in a spiritual rut in which they feel comfortable and from which they might not want to get out.
The Church, Christ’s Bride, has been teaching us that he is truly present in a variety of ways as he himself assures us.
He is present in the least of our brothers and sisters, especially the neediest among them: “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
He is present in His Word: And the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. (John 1:14)
He is present whenever we gather as a community in prayer: “For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18:20)
He is present in his priests and bishops who act in persona Christi: “Whoever listens to you listens to me. Whoever rejects you rejects me. And whoever rejects me rejects the one who sent me.” (Luke 10:16)
And, of course, he is present under the humble species of bread and wine, his Body and Blood in the Eucharist.
The latter way of being present is, by far, people’s most favorite and rightly so, provided that it is such for the right reasons. Hence, a clarification is necessary here: the Blessed Sacrament is the least challenging presence of Christ. One can receive him in a state of mortal sin; or unrepentantly or, sacrilegiously, planning to trample the host underfoot; to destroy it, even, as it happened already, to sell it on E-bay! Even well-intentioned people, in Holy Communion, can make all kinds of hallow promises to Jesus; can recite the most inspiring prayers; can be moved to tears of joy and feel very good and warm inside, yet remain unfazed, refusing to probe the recesses of their hearts, never even entertaining the need for a sincere and lasting conversion. Thus, in Holy Communion, Jesus is at the mercy of the recipient’s intents and capricious preferences.
Does this shock you? It shouldn’t. All three readings for the 28th Sunday in Ordinary Time prove to us that it is Jesus as God’s Word who intimidates us in a positive, life-changing way; who challenges us to question our real inner condition and who dares us to adopt his Wisdom.
Indeed the Word of God is living. True, it is the second Person of the Holy Trinity made flesh in the womb of Mary.
[A]nd effective: God speaks His Word and the whole universe is created and sustained in existence. God speaks His Word and people are healed; sins are forgiven; dead are raised to life again; people in despair find hope and meaning. God speaks His Word and a little wafer becomes His flesh and, a little wine, His blood.
[S]harper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit.
Before Jesus as Word, we stand totally exposed, in utter confusion, red-faced, without possibility of rationalizations, excuses, with no wiggling room or escape routes.[The Word is] able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart
Come to think of it, this is most disconcerting. As we grow older we might pick up a nice array of cover-ups, disguises, acceptable answers and convenient postures. We might learn to fool, to spin, to misdirect, to divert. If we are in our spiritual infancy, living without these devices would be that much harder.
Well, today, Jesus tells us, blatantly, that none of these devises works with him. Not even the remotest corner of our heart can remain impenetrable to his gaze!
What to do? Basically, a) we can keep the Bible closed; we can glaze over or skip altogether the Table of the Word at Mass; we can stop our ears to the homily or b) we can welcome the Word into our mind and heart as much as we welcome Jesus in Holy Communion, thus exposing ourselves to a possible whirlwind of Truth and grace.
The young man in our Gospel verses (Mark 10:17-22) opened himself to Jesus’ Word, but only for a brief moment; then, he shut himself from the Word and walked away sad. How unfortunate! How foolish!
So, if we dare to ask “the question,” let us ask it: How long, if ever, has it been since I allowed Jesus, as Word, to probe me and to unsettle me?
Hopefully, we are all wise enough not to refuse again any future unsettling encounter with Jesus as Word. But, rather, we should build expectation in our hearts and in the hearts of our family members for the next encounter with the Word, be it at home, in private or, as a community of faith, here in church.
Hopefully, we are now convinced that it is only by allowing him as Word to probe us, to enlighten us and to transform us that we can walk with confidence and trust in the path of Life without deluding ourselves. If we are filled with divine wisdom we should always seek to be “intimidated” by Jesus as Word of Life.
‘Whoever keeps my word will never taste death.’ (John 8:52)