Spirituality of the Readings
Behold the Lamb of God
Why does a single candle in a window have such great charm for us?
Picture it in your mind and then compare it to a room with forceful florescent lights giving every nook and cranny equal light, lots of it, no shades of grey, and the wrinkles and imperfections of a human face wanting to run and hide because all their mess is made very obvious. Whew.
Now think of a room lit by candles. Somehow the better parts of each face are brought out. The flaws are left kindly in the background. Such lighting pardons our imperfections and gives us a holy glow.
Well, Jesus is that kindly light. Not a powerful searchlight from which no flawed, scrabbling thing can escape. A simple person, a forgiver of souls and a quiet observer of human faces.
But wait. Isn’t Jesus a brilliant light? A relief from the gloom that we all walk in?
The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
upon those who dwelt in the land of gloom
a light has shone. (First Reading)
The great light, the Savior, the light of lights, the Messiah.
Yes, but the Gospel shows us a man walking simply along the Sea of Galilee like an ordinary person. Strolling. In other words, a humble man, a small beam of light, dim like the rest of us. How is he a “great light”?
Maybe he is a lively person, one that people are attracted to. Maybe he is a hero that you and I would automatically want to follow. Two sets of brothers do drop everything and follow him—the sons of Zebedee, or “sons of thunder,” as Jesus will call them later. They are not fools. They would not just follow anyone. Jesus must have been a very appealing person.
Did these brothers see him as a “great light”? Did they believe that grave darkness would be dispelled by him? Common sense has to say no. He was only a quiet glow, the candle in the window. The only thing the brothers knew was that they wanted to be with him.
The good thing they could see at this point was that Jesus’ light was not florescent, spotlighting every craggy cranny of people’s lives. That his armies did not savage all in their path? Not a huge bolt of lightning, but, impossibly, a candle flame, a quiet flicker, one that hurricane winds tried and tried to put out, but could not. Maybe Christ’s light was great, yes, but in a new way, one that looked quite ordinary and diffused.
Pope Benedict XVI put it like this:
God’s sign is simplicity. God’s sign is the baby. God’s sign is that he makes himself small for us. This is how he reigns. He does not come with power and outward splendor. He comes as a baby—defenseless and in need of our help. He does not want to overwhelm us with his strength. He takes away our fear of his greatness. He asks for our love: so he makes himself a child.
Child? Yes. Somehow the greater that greatness becomes, the smaller it seems to our earthly eyes. The true nature of Goodness is revealed in the divine/human man named Jesus.
Come let us adore.
John Foley, SJ
Fr. John Foley, SJ is a composer and scholar at Saint Louis University.
**From Saint Louis University