Wednesday, December 06, 2006


John the Evangelist, like Isaiah before him, knows that all true sacred signs efface themselves so that we may receive, be in, be transfigured by, and finally received into Love itself. All true sacred signs must ultimately disappear even as we use them: worship, sacrament, even Jesus himself. Both the prophet and the evangelist know the danger of signs, and the universal human hunger that is all too willing to make idols of them for immediate, short-term gratification. This hunger instead must be willing, humble, and mature enough continually to go beyond signs toward what they signify, the Love that lasts forever.

John the contemplative wants us to understand just who Jesus is, to warn us that it is possible to make an idol even of the person of the Lord himself, the Word, who, having refused to claim equality with with God, has emptied himself to become a servant for the sole purpose of revealing the Father’s Love. It is that we might know the fulness of the Father’s love and receive his Spirit that Jesus effaces himself, showing us that the divine self-giving is without limit.

Thus it is not surprising that in today’s text (Jn. 6:15-27) John emphasizes the destructive confusion caused by mistaking the sign for the signified. We can almost hear the hubbub of the "word going round" the crowd like wildfire, and their fear at the dissolving order of things, their desire to impose some structure on this unknown, this vast glimpse of the eternal, even if it obscures this disordering vision and closes the frame once again. They want to make him king, and Jesus, realizing it, disappears into solitude.

To help us understand further the only way by which we can learn contemplative seeing, John recapitulates the situation in the story of Jesus walking on the water, which follows. The turbulance of the sea is an echo of the turbulence of the crowd, the sudden glimpse of the suspension of the known order of the world is revisited when the disciples see Jesus walking on the water. This extraordinary situation gives the evangelist the opportunity to say starkly what he had only implied in the previous passage: “They were terrified.”

By his serene walking by faith on the turbulant waves, Jesus teaches the paradoxical means, the only means by which we can learn to live in the kingdom, where what appears to be the usual order, the visible perception of things, is overturned so that we might be available to receive and to be taken into the infinite vastness of Love. His stillness amid the turmoil and noise of the water communicates itself to the disciples.

It does not take much imagination to picture them stunned into immobility by this astonishing sight, inadvertently reflecting Jesus’ own silence, until he speaks the word: “do not be afraid, it is I.” And, in the Revised English translation, they then “take him on board”, a pun which is missed by American ears, for taking on board is a metaphor for understanding.

[to be continued]


Post a Comment

<< Home