Summary: We cannot make Jesus into the Messiah we want; we must see His vision and hear His word so that His kingdom can be built within us, and we then can attract others to Him.
Thursday of 2nd Week in Ordinary Time
Why are we so unwilling to do what Our Lord commands? The Israelites were directed by God to be His presence in a pagan world, spreading the word about His power and goodness, and ultimately drawing all to worship the One God. But if you look closely at the story of the lost Ark of the Covenant, you see that they failed in every respect. They treated the Ark as a kind of magic talisman that would assure them victory. It was the Philistines who interpreted the Ark in a kind-of-correct manner. They realized that it was by divine power that the Israelites had come out of Egypt and defeated their enemies. But these people called to witness to the One, True God had, in fact, become idolaters to such an extent that the Philistines believed Israel had many gods. Moreover, it appears that the corruption had made its way to the top. These two sons of Eli, who were priests themselves, were rumored to be involved sexually with the women who served at the Temple. So God turned His back on His people and let them be defeated.
We see something similar in the story of Jesus and the leper. Jesus did not want people to think of Him as the Messiah they expected–a military ruler who would kill Romans. He was to be the living manifestation of the loving kindness of God, drawing all people to Himself as the New Temple, with Mary as the New Ark of the Covenant. So he routinely told those he healed to keep his “Messianic secret.” But they went off anyway and did exactly what He had told them not to do. The swell of popular opinion that built from His hundreds of miracles brought Him on Palm Sunday to the gates of Jerusalem, riding on a donkey as King of the Jews. Ultimately, this led to His crucifixion and death, but we know that God brought eternal victory even out of that defeat.
The kingdom of God cannot be imposed by force. The kingdom of God grows from within. The Holy Spirit changes our minds and our hearts. We hear the word of God, and we see through the eyes of the Church a vision of God’s plan for the world, and for us individually. If we are docile to the promptings of the Holy Spirit, we will then act with heart and hand and voice to do God’s will and draw others to right worship and lifetime service.
The popes continue in this vein:
The bond between seeing and hearing in faith-knowledge is most clearly evident in John’s Gospel. For the Fourth Gospel, to believe is both to hear and to see. Faith’s hearing emerges as a form of knowing proper to love: it is a personal hearing, one which recognizes the voice of the Good Shepherd (cf. Jn 10:3-5); it is a hearing which calls for discipleship, as was the case with the first disciples: “Hearing him say these things, they followed Jesus” (Jn 1:37). But faith is also tied to sight. Seeing the signs which Jesus worked leads at times to faith, as in the case of the Jews who, following the raising of Lazarus, “having seen what he did, believed in him” (Jn 11:45). At other times, faith itself leads to deeper vision: “If you believe, you will see the glory of God” (Jn 11:40). In the end, belief and sight intersect: “Whoever believes in me believes in him who sent me. And whoever sees me sees him who sent me” (Jn 12:44-45). Joined to hearing, seeing then becomes a form of following Christ, and faith appears as a process of gazing, in which our eyes grow accustomed to peering into the depths. Easter morning thus passes from John who, standing in the early morning darkness before the empty tomb, “saw and believed” (Jn 20:8), to Mary Magdalene who, after seeing Jesus (cf. Jn 20:14) and wanting to cling to him, is asked to contemplate him as he ascends to the Father, and finally to her full confession before the disciples: “I have seen the Lord!” (Jn 20:18).