I am often in awe at the tricks a magician can play on my eyes and my other senses! I see very well what is in front of my eyes – something that was there a moment ago has now ‘disappeared’. My child-like self is telling me it must be magic simple and true, but my ‘conditioned’ mind won’t let me stay in that place! All my intellect and the knowledge I have gained over the course of life is busy telling me that this cannot be, that this is a trick and that, for example, in no way can a rabbit disappear into a hat!
And yes, this is how it must be. For little moments, especially in the company of children, we can let our imagination run free and return once more to a child-like trust and innocence. But life is hard and we must use all our capacities to navigate the often difficult road we traverse in the course of our journey to God.
But let us be warned also. We must also be open and use all our senses and capacities if we are to live well and truly be all that we can be. There are moments of life when the heart must be the arbitrator, when dreams must guide us and hope must fuel our endeavours.
Such was the approach Jesus often took. He communicated and announced the Reign of God not by doctrines or new law, but through story and parable, simple analogy and sharp imagery. In so many cases his listeners’ hearts soared with joy as he opened for them a new way into God’s company and reassured them of God’s loving friendship – a gift to them and not something to be earned by rituals or by adherence to laws that only increased their burdens.
But too many of the powerful and those who exercised authority over the people’s lives preferred to trust not their intuition and spontaneous responses, but rather to judge his words against old, established (and safe) understandings that often served their interest rather then revealed God’s word as amplified by the many Prophets throughout their history.
Thus Jesus lived his life between belief and trust and unbelief and persecution. It seems such a dynamic began very early for him. Today’s gospel scene relates this clearly – he returns to his own people announcing a life-giving message, but despite their initial joy and amazement at his message they prefer to stay on a safer path. They choose not to believe the message because they think they know all about the messenger and more so, about his humble status. For it is true, Jesus did not go to any rabbinical school nor did he follow any one teacher. He did not ‘fit’ their expectations of a rabbi and thus they reject him and his message.
They listen as if through a filter of ‘familiarity’ and they place Jesus in a hierarchy of their own making. They falsely reason that the message they are hearing – wonderful as it is – cannot be true because the messenger does not have sufficient ‘status’ in their eyes.
I heard once that as an experiment, the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin played for 45 minutes on the street in front of the theatre in which he was to perform. But because people expected that a street performer could not be anything but an amateur, they walked on by and missed the chance to listen to one of the world’s best musicians for free! The music was enchanting but their perspective prevented them truly hearing – despite the inner joy the music was stirring within them!
It can be a warning for us too. The message of Jesus is similarly enchanting, but we must listen not just with our minds, nor must we filter his words through our personal perspectives, rather we must listen with our hearts if we are to hear his message to us and let his word find a home in our very being.
Fr. Denis Travers, C.P., is a member of Holy Spirit Province, Australia. He currently serves on the General Council and is stationed in Rome.