Saturday, April 23, 2016

Finding Jesus

There is this cartoon that I’ve seen around a few times—one of those single panel cartoons like the ones published by the New Yorker. Two missionaries are at the door of a woman’s home and the speech bubble reads, “Have you found Jesus?”
We are not given the woman’s reply, but the cartoonist gives us a wide view of her living room. There, from behind a curtain, two sandaled feet stick out and the edge of a white robe. She may not have found the Lord yet, but there he is hiding right under her nose! 

So I ask you all, “Have you found Jesus?” Maybe some of you are a bit like Forrest Gump. When his old army buddy Lieutenant Dan asked him, “Have you found Jesus yet, Gump?” He responded, “I didn’t know I was supposed to be looking for him, sir.”
It wouldn’t even occur to some of us that Jesus was even out there to be found. He isn’t really a part of the reality in which we conduct our daily lives. Or maybe he occupies a small corner of that reality. We have him neatly compartmentalized. Jesus is tucked safely away in the world of religion. We know exactly where to find him. He is in church! Sequestered safely away from the world of business, amusements, and relationships. We take him out when we need him for baptisms, weddings, and funerals or in those times when we need a little extra encouragement or inspiration. Otherwise he is kept safe behind the doors of the tabernacle. 

It is true that Jesus promised we would find him in this place, that he imparts himself to us in a special way through the proclamation of the word and the breaking of the bread. He does this in order to open our eyes to perceive him in all things. He spreads a table for us in the world too!

Saint Francis is famous for preaching to the birds, but I once heard a story in which he was teaching a squirrel about the sacraments. The little creature ran excitedly to its nest and brought back an acorn, a ribbon, and an owl feather. The saint smiled sweetly and said, “Yes little one, you understand perfectly. All things impart his presence!” The Church and the Sacraments are tokens, promises, and portals of his presence; they are open doors leading to Him, not obstacles or barriers keeping him contained.
As Saint Stephen said, "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands.”

Others relegate Jesus to a distant and faraway place called Heaven. For many people this basically amounts to the same thing as saying that Jesus is dead! In our minds, Heaven has become the realm of the dead; the place where people go after their lives and work here on Earth are over. Jesus is so much more than a ghost with a mere shadowy existence in this world. As our risen and ascended Lord he is now more present to the world, not less. When Jesus ascended into heaven he did so in order that he might fill all things, not in order to leave the world to itself.

Our risen Lord appears to us in the midst of our lives just as he appeared to his disciples by the Sea of Tiberias and there he sets his table and invites us, “Come and have breakfast.” He is right there under our very noses. He is hiding behind the curtains in our living room and yet we fail to recognize him.

It was the same for his original disciples. They heard the remarkable story from the women who found his tomb empty that first Easter morning and saw a vision of angels. Peter and John saw the empty tomb for themselves. Jesus even appeared to them personally in the upper room showing them his wounds and breathing on them his spirit. But here they are sometime later, after those remarkable events have passed. How should they move forward? They saw him risen from the dead, but what do they do now? At a loss, they simply return to the life that they had before as if nothing has changed. They go fishing.

Even in this, Jesus is not far from them but they do not recognize him. He calls out to them from the shore as they are fishing. They take him to be perhaps a fellow fisherman offering them friendly advice in their frustration. He suggests that they cast their nets off the other side, and when they do they are amazed at their success! Christ is always walking beside us through our daily struggles and sorrows, but it is only when we recognize him as a presence enabling us to do what we couldn’t do otherwise that our eyes are opened and we say, “Lord!”

We should never be surprised to discover him with us. After all, didn’t he promise us that he would be with us even until the end of the age? And yet we are. We go about our lives believing that everything depends on us and our own efforts when really it is all in his hands. 

Once we know that Jesus is alive and gloriously so, once we have really taken that fact into our hearts and minds and learned to walk in his presence, then our lives are transformed. He offers us not only forgiveness, but restoration and power to do the work he is calling us to do. When Peter met Jesus beside that charcoal fire he received the grace that he needed to be a faithful shepherd of God’s people. When Paul met Jesus on the road to Damascus his life was completely spun around. He repented of his zealous persecution of the church and received power to be an Apostle. 
Jesus promised to make his disciples fishers of men. He proves to his disciples that when they obey him and cast their nets into the water he will provide them with an abundant catch. He calls us as his church to go out into the world in his power trusting in his presence. When we faithfully perform our work in his name we can have absolute confidence that he is with us. We will no longer live futile lives of quiet desperation, but we will have the grace and hope that comes from companionship with God. Tell me, have you found Jesus?