God is so often closer than we think. It’s just that sometimes we don’t recognise God’s action and presence when it is right there in front of our faces.
Indeed, it’s one of the glaring faults in human nature that we so frequently see what we want to see.
There are numerous experiments showing instances of people being convinced or convincing themselves that they are going to see a certain object and that’s precisely what they do see when they look – even when it’s not there! Indeed, entertainers like magicians work not only by sleight of hand but by distracting us so that we see what they suggest we should see – i.e. ‘look there is nothing in this hand’ (whilst all the time the other hand is doing something quickly!)
It seems that a similar dynamic was at work when Jesus returns to his own village. For today’s reading places us, and Jesus, in the very heart of his ‘native place’ and amongst his townsfolk, many of whom would have known him well. The image or memory of Jesus who shared a family life in their midst prevails and that is all they see – the man they knew from the past through his family life and work in their midst.
Yet, despite his preaching which had evoked a powerful, approving response, and despite the deeds he had done which had revealed the healing hand of God at work Jesus is still doubted. The people do not see a prophet with a new liberating message, they do not see a healer who is bringing God’s vision to life in their midst. What the people of his own place prefer to see, and what in a sense they are programmed to see, is the young man who had grown up in their midst.
The key to seeing more – in Jesus own words – is faith. Faith is that gift that allows us to see many things that are beyond our own vision and asks us to both observe and listen so that our perception might be sharpened and our awareness be broadened. God’s work in our midst is not always seen in healings or signs such as the people of Jesus village were privileged to witness. God’s work in our midst is often discerned – sifted, much like gold in the sands of a river. The tools we need for such discernment are all within us – we need only to become still, to embrace a humble posture and to allow our minds and hearts to be open to what we see, feel and experience. In such ways, we catch glimpses of God’s action and presence, sometimes clearly seen like a shaft of sunlight and sometimes more subtlety felt like a gentle breeze on our skin.
When I was a child, I was taught that before crossing a street, I should stop, look and listen. Only after these steps should I embark on a crossing of the road itself.
To ‘see’ God at work in the midst of our lives we might well have to do the same!
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia.