The student is ready

I have often wondered why it took me 70 years to understand some of Your simplest spiritual insights when they were there all the time and I just passed them by, ignored them, glazed over or was baffled or bored by them.

You made me, so You know my faults and foibles inside and out. Like a child, You know that I cannot understand You, who You are, what You are, why You are, even what is this thing called the Kingdom of God. Like a child, You needed to feed me pabulum, stories, mysteries, each with a not-so-hidden meaning, like searching for treasure…wow…or a bad man who was in debt up to his eye-balls, get let off the hook and then goes and yanks the chain of a friend who owes him a couple of bucks…yikes…or a dad whose son blows his inheritance and yet the dad welcomes him back…amazing!

The disciples approached him and said, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” [1] He said to them in reply, “Because knowledge of the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven has been granted to you, but to them it has not been granted. To anyone who has, more will be given and he will grow rich; from anyone who has not, even what he has will be taken away. [Mt 13:10-12]

This may seem a bit brutal…what’s this “not granted?” It seems to have two components: (a) God’s plan for me and my need to know and (b) my seeking and knocking.

God has an idiosyncratic plan, an approach that He uses just for me, that is specific to me, to my unique temperament, my intelligence, my sensitivities, my weltanschauung. If I’m not ready, I just don’t get it. I don’t pay attention to it or even hear it. I think this is why I had such a problem with John’s Gospel[2] in the past. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? [Jn 3:12] I needed to be fed the pabulum of parables until I could digest the solid food of Jesus’ straight talk. When I was a child, I used to talk as a child, think as a child, reason as a child; when I became a man, I put aside childish things. At present we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. [1 Cor 13:11-12] 

But understanding heavenly things does not depend on You, God, alone. I needed to be receptive to their revelation. And sinfulness is not a very conducive state of receptivity; when I concentrate on myself to the exclusion of You, God, choose my way rather than Yours, become addicted to me, me, me rather than denying myself, taking up my cross and following You [Mt 16:24], if, in short, I just don’t have time for You, put You on the back burner, forget about You and just concentrate on myself, I have no interest in understanding heavenly things. Jesus, You understood where I was, where I came from; You nailed it even then: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces. [Mt 7:6]

This is why You spoke to me… in parables, because ‘I look but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.’ Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled in me, which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but not understand you shall indeed look but never see. Gross is the heart of this people, they will hardly hear with their ears, they have closed their eyes, lest they see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and be converted, and I heal them.’ [Mt 13:13-15] 

Fortunately for me, You did not give up that easily. “I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter.”[3] You left Your hundred sheep and…came after the lost one until…You found me. [Lk 15:4] 

Once You found me, You said: I tell you, all that you ask for in prayer, believe that you will receive it and it shall be yours. [Mk 11:24] Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. [Mt 7:7-8] Did I ask for understanding, insight, inspiration…No, though now I was “back in the fold,” I lacked faith, I was afraid of being disappointed, of being told “No, not now…No, I have something better,…No, that is an apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and will cause your death, my beloved child.” I took the cowards, the lukewarm, the tepid way out and followed Ahaz when the Lord said to him: Ask for a sign from the LORD, your God; let it be deep as Sheol, or high as the sky! [Is 7:11] The LORD was trying to get Ahaz to trust Him, promising him His own sign of trust, just like God tells me “Ask,…seek,…knock!” But Ahaz blows it, just like I usually blow it. Ahaz answered, “I will not ask! I will not tempt the LORD!” [Is 7:12] “Ahaz prefers to depend upon the might of Assyria rather than the might of God.”[4] I search Google instead, but the principle is the same; we both preferred to depend on our feeble selves, our miniscule minds, our cowardly choices rather than putting our hand “in the hand of the man who stilled the sea…the man from Galilee.”[5]

I don’t blame God for getting angry at Ahaz or with me. Listen, house of David! Is it not enough that you weary human beings? Must you also weary your…God? [Is 7:13] The LORD offers me signs and wonders on a plate, carte blanche, no charge, my choice, just ask, seek, know, all this in order that I will trust Him enough to believe that He cares about me, He wants to take care of me, He wants to love me and to have me love and trust [have faith in] Him…and I have the gall, the chutzpah, the cowardly inanity to say “No, thanks,” to turn my back on Him, to ignore His offers, His gifts, His pleas, His warnings, His own Son and instead scream “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” And with His death, I think its over and I can get on with my life as I want!

But God’s not done by a long shot! To Ahaz who didn’t have the guts to ask, He gave the ultimate sign: the young woman, pregnant and about to bear a son, shall name him Emmanuel. [Is 7:14] The most indelible, lasting, unmistakable sign of His love which He would ever give…His own only begotten Son, born of a virgin, for Ahaz, for Israel, for you, for me. Incredible, Yes. Unbelievable, totally. Unreal, hardly.

You do the same for me today. You lay out the entire revelation of Yourself to me through Scriptures, how You are the Father we all want and need, loving but firm, educating my ignorance, encouraging by faltering steps, laying out the rules, chastising me when I break them, showing by example the way I should live, allowing me to make mistakes, correcting me, forgiving me, but holding me responsible for the results, even respecting my decisions when they are directly contrary to what You know is best for me, for my happiness. And You give us constant signs, new and glorious mornings, life itself, the indestructibility of the Church, Your Son not only portrayed in Scripture, but present right here, right now, live, up close and personal in the Mass, in the tabernacle, in my heart. How’s that for a sign??!! You can’t get better than that!!!

I give up. I’m here. The memory card’s in, the tablet ready. The student is finally ready and raring to go!

Indeed, blessed are your eyes, because they see, and your ears, because they hear. Amen, I say to you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.” [Mt 13:16-17]

Amen. Alleluia!!!

[1] Scripture texts in this work are taken from the New American Bible, revised edition © 2010, 1991, 1986, 1970 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Washington, D.C. and are used by permission of the copyright owner. All Rights Reserved. No part of the New American Bible may be reproduced in any form without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

[2] John reports a lot more of the “heavenly things” than the other Evangelists. While Mark is the Daily News with “just the facts” including the juicy tidbit about the kid who ran away naked, Matthew The New York Times with five sections on morals, mission, media, mores, and end game, and Luke National Geographic narration of Jesus’ one long journey from Nazareth and Bethlehem to Jerusalem and beyond with Paul to Rome, John is the Atlantic Monthly, with Jesus’ interviews and statements of Divine analysis Jewish opinion, and the Spirit’s commentary. For instance, John never uses parables; he uses παροιμία to describe his extended and elaborate metaphors. The Sheep Gate and the Good Shepherd is the context for an “I am” statement [Jn 10:1-16] as is The Vine and the Branches [Jn 15:1-8]. The other allusions are usually only one sentence metaphors: Blowing Wind 3.8; Bridegroom’s Attendant 3.29; Fields Ripe for Harvest 4.35-38; The Slave and the Son 8.35; Twelve Hours of Daylight 11.9-10; Kernel of Wheat 12.24; Walking in the Light 12.35; Preparing a Place 14.2-4; Women in Travail 16.20-24. While during the ministry with his brother and through his mom, he attempted to force the hand of Jesus into giving him a prime place in the Kingdom, John was was the one whom Jesus loved,…reclining at Jesus’ side at the Last Supper [Jn 13:23]; is the only one who stays with Jesus throughout the crucifixion [Jn 18:15; 19:26]; is the one who first believes in the Resurrection [20:8]; and recognizes Jesus through the post-resurrection miracle of the enormous catch of fish [21:7]. He also seemed to understand Jesus by simply loving Him more during His lifetime, and was given the time to reflect on Jesus teaching after His Ascension and Pentecost which he passed on through his writings of the Gospel, the Letters and Revelation.

[3] The Hound of Heaven By Francis Thompson (1859–1907)

[4] NABRE footnote to Is 7:12.

[5] Pop song by Gene MacLellan


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