Summary: So much of the time, life seems unreasonable.
They Recognized Him
Wednesday in Easter Week
One of the great stories of the OT is told in the Book of Job, one of our OT saints. This wealthy but pious fellow named Job does everything right, keeping the commandments, worshiping God alone, and he is attacked by Satan, who murders his whole family–excepting his nagging wife–and ruins all his businesses and afflicts him with a horrible skin disease. The short version has Job looking at God and screaming, “Why? I don’t get it.” And God’s answer? “That’s right; you don’t get it.” So much of the time, life seems unreasonable. The nice guy gets indicted for some technical mistake, and the traitor, the truly evil person, gets a pass because of some political favor. The innocent young die in some senseless traffic collision, and the rich guy who has spent his whole life in betrayal, supporting evil, lives to a ripe old age. If you don’t get it, please believe me, a lot of the time I don’t get it, either.
The Latin word for this characteristic of God’s way is immensitas, or “immensity.” One of the words we usually misunderstand is “immense,” which we limit to meaning, “really huge.” Like “the Pacific Ocean is an immense expanse.” Well, it’s not. It’s big, but not immense. Because the word immensitas means “immeasurable,” and not in the sense of “too big to measure.” It means we don’t have instruments able to measure, or even see, the immense. God’s ways, and God Himself, are immense because we have no way to measure them, or Him. We have no way to fully comprehend them, or Him. God is immense, immeasurable, and therefore He is awesome, inspiring our awe, inspiring our humility, inspiring our worship.
There’s a scene in Exodus chapter 33 that might help us understand, that is, stand under in awe, the reality of God. Moses is praying and he asks the Lord to show him His divine glory. God answers him, saying, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for man shall not see me and live.” So the Lord puts Moses in the cleft of a rock and–the anthromorphism is wonderful here–covers Moses with His hand as He passes before Moses. Then He takes away His hand so Moses can see his back. And later, as He passes before Moses again, God reveals something of His inmost Being, saying it with His sacred name: “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
St. John tells us in his first letter that “God IS love.” When Moses is recalling that God’s steadfast love, His hesed, is kept for “thousands of generations,” he is telling us that His love is endless, eternal. But it’s not a wimpy mercy, ignoring our sins when we are hurting others or ourselves, pretending that evil is good. No. Even when God forgives us, literally forgetting our sin, the temporal results of our sin can endure. So the sexually promiscuous–no matter what the perversion–can suffer from feelings of guilt, STD’s, and the wrath of the criminal justice system. The robber can confess his sin and be absolved, but still have to make restitution and stand trial. But God will never say “no” to the truly repentant man or woman who makes confession and has the firm purpose to amend his behavior. His mercy is everlasting.
We have the image of that loving kindness in the Gospels, in each of the four Passion narratives. We arrest the guiltless One, the very Son of God, and make Him stand trial. We mock Him and scourge Him within an inch of His life and make Him drag a heavy piece of wood a long distance. Then we nail Him on that cross between two criminals and chide Him for not coming down and saving Himself. And what does He say to us who deserve eternal punishment for our sins? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” In that does God show us His glory. His glory radiates with His mercy from the crucifix.
There are several Gospel stories that have had my mind in a bind for a few decades, but only now, in my seventies, do I barely begin to understand what was going on with His disciples in the days after Christ rose from the dead. Just a couple of examples: St. John says that Mary of Magdala, at the tomb, turns around “and saw Jesus there, but did not know it was Jesus.” She mistook Jesus for the gardener. Only when Jesus calls her name, “Mary,” does she recognize Him as her Teacher. Later the disciples are fishing and Jesus calls out to them from the shore to cast their nets over the right side of the boat. Only when they catch a massive school of fish does John recognize him and tell Peter, “It is the Lord.” And we all know the story from St. Luke of the two disciples on the road to Emmaus on Easter day, who encounter Jesus and walk and talk with Him but only recognize Him when He blesses and breaks bread for them.