I am writing this blog post the day after Christmas. The day on which all Christians celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It was on this day that we were given the gift of hope and new creation. Why? Exactly why did Jesus come to earth? Was it merely to teach us parables and give us new commandments? No. He came to RESCUE us. I am sharing what I have learned from a tremendous book by Fr. John Riccardo. Rescued: The Unexpected and Extraordinary News of the Gospel is an amazing book and one that you should definitely read. Today I want to discuss the third part of this book.
Remember, in the last two posts, we learned how we have been captured by Satan because he HATES us. Satan’s ultimate goal is to destroy, degrade and enslave us. He’s doing a pretty good job at it, too. What did God do? Did he send others to see if they could free us? No. He came HIMSELF. We are so important to him that the creator of everything came to earth to fight for us.
“”The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring glad tidings to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives and recovery of sight to the blind, and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.” Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down, and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him. He said to them, “Today this scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.””Luke 4:18-21 (NABRE)
Why would he do this? Why did Jesus take on human form? He did this to fight for you and me.
“Whoever sins belongs to the devil, because the devil has sinned from the beginning. Indeed, the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil.”1 John 3:8 (NABRE)
Wow. Jesus came down to destroy our enemy and set us free. If this was a movie we would see him getting into his uniform, gathering his weapons, putting on his face paint, and really gearing up for the battle ahead of him. The inspiring rock music would let us know just how serious and courageous this warrior really is and the big task that he has ahead of him. He would be muscular, athletic, and undaunted. Just looking at him would reassure you and make you think that everything will be okay.
Yet, I’ve never heard my church portray this version of Jesus. Have you? Is this new information to you, too? You hear about how Jesus is love, how he is compassionate and heals the sick, he teaches us parables so that we know that God loves us and forgives us no matter how bad we’ve been in the past, and that we can get to our Father only through Jesus. To be completely honest, I had always pictured Jesus as a wandering hippie who was trying to turn everybody’s heart to God. This Jesus in my mind was mild-mannered, softly spoken, and not very interesting. Boy, was I wrong!! Maybe it’s because when I read the stories about Jesus turning water into wine, giving the blind sight and raising people from the dead, it doesn’t seem “real” to me. It’s similar to when you were in history class and your teacher stood there telling you about past events in a flat voice that almost lulled you to sleep. Yet, how many times have you read a different approach to the same event and saw it in a completely different (and much more fascinating) manner?
Instead of just reading the words, let’s use the Ignatian method of reading scripture and actually put ourselves in those moments. There are so many examples, but I want to focus on just one. Let’s take a look at the woman with a hemorrhage.
“There was a woman afflicted with hemorrages for twelve years. She had suffered greatly at the hands of many doctors and had spent all that she had. Yet she was not helped but only grew worse. She had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak. She said, “If I but touch his clothes, I shall be cured.” Immediately her flow of blood dried up. She felt in her body that she was healed of her affliction. Jesus, aware at once that power had gone out from him, turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who has touched my clothes?” But his disciples said to him, “You see how the crowd is pressing upon you, and yet you ask, ‘Who touched me?'” And he looked around to see who had done it. The woman, realizing what had happened to her, approached in fear and trembling. She fell down before Jesus and told him the whole truth. He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.'”Mark 5:25-34 (NABRE)
You may need to read that a few times, but feel the emotions of hoplessness that the woman must have felt after suffering for so many years. She had spent EVERYTHING she had in order to be cured, but nothing worked. Then, somehow, she hears about Jesus. He can heal the sick. Others talk in amazement about the leper who was cured and the other man who had been possessed and how easily it seemed that Jesus was able to cure them. If he could cure leprosy and exorcised demons, then maybe he could cure her, too. She didn’t have money, but she had hope and faith. When she saw him in the crowd something made her go up and touch his cloak, knowing that just the slight touch would cure her. She had THAT much faith. And it worked!
Now flip it around and imagine being in the crowd trying to catch a glimpse of this Jesus character. You’d heard all the stories, too, and you were curious. What did he look like? How did he act? Would you be able to tell that there was anything special about him just by being near him? Then you see him stop and ask who had touched him. Hmmm, this was interesting. Where was this going? The guys traveling with him seemed to dismiss this reaction, but you can see on Jesus face that something happened. You notice a woman come out of the crowd to fall down in front of him. You are close enough to hear her story and read her face, which convinces you that every word she has spoken is true. This is amazing! The joy, amazement and awe on her face clearly beams out for everybody to see. Then lovingly Jesus tells her that her faith has saved her and to go in peace. What feelings do you experience from having witnessed this exchange? Can you imagine how much more powerful it would be if you were actually there?
The feelings that were experienced as crowds witnessed these actions were what caused Jesus to be so interesting. Yet, how often are we bored in church wondering how busy the breakfast place is going to be after we get out? How often do we dismiss the miracles that Jesus did? How often are we afraid to even say his name because it might ‘offend’ somebody? He wasn’t just a random hippie blowing through these various towns. He was awesome. He did things that nobody had ever seen before. The tales that went raging ahead of him had to seem unbelievable until you finally saw him and could absolutely believe everything that was said. This was a guy who caused tax collectors (the greediest, most affluent, and wealthy people in a town), prostitutes, gamblers and others who were only out for their own pleasure, to drop what they were doing and follow him. He drew crowds of thousands!! People had to tear open other people’s roofs in order to get their sick friends close enough for healing. Back when the population wasn’t very big, this was a huge deal. Think of Elvis, the Beatles, New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys, and One Direction all rolled into one. That’s the kind of presence that Jesus had. In fact, he had such an aura of power about him that the Pharisees instantly hated him and wanted him killed; Herrod had been so afraid that he had ordered all males under the age of 3 to be killed (and this was when Jesus was just a BABY). What person has that kind of power that exudes from him so that all can feel it without having to be IN his presence? This is Jesus, our Lord and Savior, who has come to destroy Satan’s hold on us. As I leave you this week with these thoughts to mull over I want to add just a little more kindling to the fire.
“For when peaceful stillness encompassed everything and the night in its swift course was half spent, your all-powerful word from heaven’s royal throne leapt into the doomed land, a fierce warrior bearing the sharp sword of your inexorable decree.”Wisdom 18:14-15 (NABRE)