The nearness of God

Today’s bus reading – which I did in haste and frustration and with a sense of complete failure because I’m still not living the Year of Faith the way I thought I would – was from the Gospel of Mark, chapter 6, relaying the story of how Jesus wasn’t recognized as the Messiah in his hometown. Sure the people admitted he did some “mighty deeds” but, c’mon, the guy’s just the son of Mary, the carpenter down the street. He’s a laborer for heaven’s sake. He’s not of the priestly caste and even if he does seem to understand the Torah better than us, he’s poor and he hasn’t been educated and so no, probably not, ain’t the Messiah.

This gospel is all about something many Christians – present company completely and wholly included – do too often. We judge wrongly. We like to think we have a clue, but in the end, we often don’t. It is hard to love everyone who crosses your path in any given day. It’s hard to not judge people by the measuring stick with which you judge yourself or the measuring stick set up by the culture in which you live. We think that the guy next door, down the street, in the 7-11, on the bus, the one who is too familiar or, often, the one who is so very different, cannot surprise us, cannot be the person with the message we need to hear that day.

The well-educated are often the worst sinners in this regard. Why, yes, the man with two theology degrees is certainly worth listening to, but the janitor who reads the Bible on his lunch hour? Not so much. And so, we miss God passing by because we have created God in our own image, instead of allowing God to give us the eyes of faith that will result in seeing the holy in our midst.

A number of years ago, one of my clergy friends told me he had a really hard time with one of his parishioners. (This really won’t come as a shock to anyone who has ever gone to church, is a member of the clergy or the child of a minister. Especially that latter group – they know more than their parents or anyone else wants to admit.) Anyway, the priest said that the homeless guy who showed up rather frequently made him both uncomfortable and resentful. He  smelled and seemed kind of out of it and basically he distracted the priest. He confessed this to his spiritual director and the latter said to the former, “That guy is your salvation.”

What the director meant was that the people we have the most trouble with in our lives are the people God has sent to help us on the road to holy. The problem is, we don’t recognize it, and we certainly don’t see them as the image of God. Or worse, we think that maybe God sent them to us so we could save them ourselves because obviously, with our advanced degrees or our hours in Bible study or our better upbringing or our whatever, We Know The Way.

It seems that no matter how many times we read the Gospels and see how Jesus hung out with the losers and the sinners, we still try to make God into someone who looks a certain way, acts a certain way, talks a certain way — someone who brings something to bring to the table that we recognize. He’s not the crazy guy on the corner or the woman shaking on the bus or the really irritating office colleague who can’t stop telling you about her bunions. Or maybe he is, and we just can’t see it.

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