Monday, April 20, 2009

Seeking to Understand

First Reading: Acts 4:32-37
Psalm: Ps 93:1-2, 5
Gospel: Jn 3:7b-15


In today's readings, we see the early Church, bringing gifts to the apostles to be distributed to the needy and in the gospel, we continue Jesus' conversation with Nicodemus.

It was today's gospel that struck me particularly. A common complaint that non-Christians have is that Jesus is not clear in His teachings. "If He meant something, why didn't He just come out and say it?" It is hard to explain sometimes, all the more because of the many different interpretations that Christians have of the same passage. The simple answer is that we would have a very difficult time understanding a word He said if He did not use visual aids.

Last night, I was reading an explanation on basic theology and it emphasized over and over again that the concepts relating to the spiritual world were difficult to grasp. To aid the explanation, they used a number of analogies to help the reader understand little bits at a time. It took an hour of reading and reflecting before I understood what was being said, but eventually I could just grasp it. However, I know that, without a knowledgeable and trusted guide, it would have been almost impossible.

Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony. If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things? - John 3:11-12
Jesus is instructing Nicodemus (and all of us) in a similar fashion. Yesterday, He used the analogy of being born to try to explain the life one enters in the Holy Spirit. The change of perspective and life when one is filled with the Holy Spirit is similar to the radical change one undergoes when being physically born. Our whole world is shaken, everything we know is overturned, but it has to happen if we are to live and come to a better understanding of reality.

Likewise, when describing the Holy Spirit, Jesus likens it to the wind (in Hebrew, and in Greek, the word for wind is also the word for spirit, making a great play on words). We cannot see the Holy Spirit, but we can recognize it by how it affects other things that we can see, just as we don't see the wind, but we see the trees swaying. We do not control the comings and goings of the winds, nor can we control whom the Spirit will speak to or what gifts it might bestow on one person or another. If He were to state that the Spirit is an invisible, intangible, supernatural force that lives within us to help us communicate with God, would that have been more helpful?

Oftentimes, I have to describe a very technical problem to someone who does not have the years of training that I am blessed with. It usually takes a long time, several analogies and a great deal of patience to make them understand. Jesus must have felt that way a lot (see Mark 4:13). On the other side, imagine what it would be like listening to a quantum physicist describe the details of his latest discovery if you want to understand what it must have been like for the apostles.

Heavenly Father, we praise you for greatness. You have given us a world that is understandable and minds with which to understand it. Aid us in our quest to understand Your Will for us. Grant us patience, that in teaching we do not become discouraged and in learning that we are not disheartened. Guide our teachers to truth, that we are not led astray. We ask all of this in the name of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

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