Years ago when I studied in Rome, it was always an adventure to make one’s way from our monastery of SS. John and Paul to school (the Angelicum, in my case). The most formidable part of the journey was crossing the road between the end of our property and the looming Coliseum directly opposite it. Even in those days, Italian traffic was formidable. With no traffic lights or stop signs in sight, nor any traffic patrolman, and with the roadway being some eight to ten lanes wide, one did as the Romans did: thoughtlessly plunge into the oncoming traffic without looking to right or left, disregarding the squealing tires, and move undaunted toward the other side. The only ones who never made it were those who stopped in horror. This threw the ongoing Italian drivers into a tizzy, for they had acquired the race drivers capacity to dodge moving targets. For the pedestrian it was a matter of blind faith in the wisdom of being neither here nor there.
Being neither here nor there is a message embedded in today’s bible readings. When Paul journeys to Ephesus and encounters some disciples there, he inquires about their acquisition of the Holy Spirit. When this inquiry stymied them, he asked about their baptism, only to learn it was one imparted them by John the Baptist. Judging this to be not quite up to snuff, Paul baptized them "in the name of the Lord Jesus", for they were neither here nor there in their journey toward the safety of a fulsome faith on the other side of the "way" they were traveling. For early on, this is how Jesus’ disciples were known: as travelers "on the way".
Similarly, when Jesus’ disciples engaged in self-congratulations that they finally understood what Jesus was saying, figuring that they had finally made it "there" ("now we realize…", they boasted), Jesus took them down a notch: "Do you believe now?", challenging their triumphant sense that they had "made it there". "Behold the hour is coming …when each of you will be scattered…", He told them. Perhaps they were no longer "here", in a maze of confusion, but they were certainly not "there" yet, where they could truly understand what was going on.
So the scriptures today present us two groups of people who thought they had made it safely across the ten lanes to the other side, only to learn that, though they may have moved away a bit from being "here", they were certainly not "there" yet. Now we know why the early Christians were called followers of "the Way".
Thankfully, God takes us where we are at, often right in the middle of careening oncoming traffic. Just as Paul was not taken aback by those whose baptism was incomplete, but simply completed the process with a baptism in the name of Jesus, and just as Jesus was not fooled into thinking that finally His apostles knew what He was saying, but simply remarked that "…you will have trouble…but take courage", so we should settle for the situation in which we are neither here or there, but are on the way from here to there. God takes us where we are at, even if it’s in lane five on the way to the Coliseum. But it does help to be in the state of grace.
Fr. Sebastian MacDonald, C.P. is a member of the Passionist formation community at Catholic Theological Union, Chicago.