…he himself went up, not openly but as it were in secret.
There was a popular tradition in Jesus’ day that the Messiah would simply appear supernaturally or come out of a hidden place suddenly, mysteriously. For many, Jesus did not pass this test. After all, they knew him when.
In a culture without surnames, the place of origin was a means of personal identification. “Jesus son of Joseph” or “Jesus of Nazareth,” or “Joseph of Arimathea” were typical identifiers. Understandably, the crowd examined Jesus on an earthly level. And since they could trace Jesus’ human origins, he was disqualified from messianic status.
Even so, Jesus cried out in the temple in irony, “You both know me and know where I am from; and I have not come of myself, but he who sent me is true, whom you do not know.
You think you know me and my origin, Jesus said. And while there is a sense in which that is true, he came from Nazareth, in a far more importance sense they do not. They did not recognize the Messiah, the one who came from God and knows him with profound intimacy.
Truth be told, Jesus has never been easy to recognize. At his birth in a stable, few recognized him. Throughout his public ministry, on the cross, at his resurrection, on the road to Emmaus, few recognized him.
How then are we to recognize the Messiah? Today’s Psalm 34 gives us a clue. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted, and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.” And our best example of this spirit of brokenness is Jesus himself. “On the night he was betrayed, he took bread…broke it and said, ‘This is my body, which is broken for you.’” (1Cor11:23)
During this Lenten season the Church has urged us to make our journey in that same spirit of brokenness in order to prepare for Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Are we prepared to recognize the Messiah who comes to us “not openly, but as it were secretly” – such as in a piece of broken bread or in a cup of wine?
Deacon Manuel Valencia is on the staff at Mater Dolorosa Passionist Retreat Center, Sierra Madre, California.