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December 15, 2019
[Mary, Star of the Sea Church, Honolulu (with Adult Confirmations); Base Chapel at Schofield Barracks]
In a few minutes on line I ordered gifts for several friends in different parts of the country. Simple. I can go to the store and buy a delicious meal that is already cooked and only needs to be warmed in the microwave. Easy. I can dial a number and have a conversation – even with visual contact, if I choose – with someone on the other side of the world. Very simple. So why is salvation so complicated? Why are there so many questions we have about it? Why couldn’t God just have decreed our salvation so that we could go about our lives without the slightest worry about it?
When I read the Scriptures, they seem more like a puzzle than a portrait; more of a mystery to be carefully pondered than a simple revelation. Why can’t salvation just be more simple?
When John the Baptist was baptizing in the Jordan River, he that Jesus was the Messiah; but today we see him in prison and sending his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we look for another?” Maybe even John thought that if the Messiah had come, he would not be in prison for speaking the truth, yet there he was. And when the question is posed to him, Jesus does not come right out and give a simple answer, but he refers to the things he did, which, if one puts the puzzle together, answers the question in the affirmative, but one must first know the Scriptures to know what Jesus was talking about. Couldn’t he have made it much more simple? Jesus always has a way of speaking in riddles and parables, and seldom in simple and direct discourse. Why?
Perhaps it is because Jesus knows that simple and instant answers do not engage a person. He or she receives the information sought, but may not appreciate the answers as much as if he engages I struggle to discover the answers. Perhaps it is because Jesus knows that our puzzling over him will draw us closer to him, while thinking we know him clearly could easily lead to a lack of appreciation of who he is. Sometimes God chooses to give us lavish and instant revelations. But most often he reveals himself over time – years, decades, and even centuries. Here he can teach us patience, which is something St. James is trying to teach us in today’s second reading.
Sometimes young people can become very depressed when a relationship that attracts them takes a sour turn. They may think this is the end of the world, and that life if no longer worth living. Yet if they patiently ponder why the relationship turned sour, they can either learn how to reconcile with the person or to learn something about themselves that will help them in future relationships. Struggling through the seeming defeat can actually bring them greater maturity and more stable loving relationships.
Sometimes we want a particular situation to be resolved instantly. We want Democrats and Republicans to work together civilly. We want different factions in the Church to live together in unity. We want our families to be more harmonious. Yet sometimes achieving these goals may take some time, considerable work, and much hardship. Yet if we wait patiently, cultivating what we can over time, we will one day see what we desire come to fruition. If it were handed to us instantly, we might not appreciate how much we want to experience peace among us.
Lately I have engaged a couple of groups in reflecting on the root causes of homelessness. Inevitably, simple answers are given: We need more houses, more mental health services, more outreach programs. Yet I am amazed at the dozens and dozens of programs operating in our community to reach out to the homeless, yet the problem seems to worsen. We want to rush in with a solution, but perhaps we have not been patient enough in pondering the deeper question of what are the root causes of homelessness. If we only create more programs to address it symptoms, we will only have to create even more programs. We need to delve into the very puzzling complexity of its root causes, otherwise we will make very little progress in addressing this dehumanizing reality effectively. Patience with the puzzling may be more productive than quick fixes to complex issues.
And so the Lord Jesus has come, a fact that John the Baptist celebrated when he baptized Jesus at the Jordan River, and a fact that we celebrate with our observance of the beautiful feast of Christmas. But if the Messiah has come, why is there still sickness and misery, war and discord in our land? We might struggle mightily in asking the same kinds of questions John sent his disciples to ask Jesus. But if we patiently engage in the struggle, putting one piece of the puzzle together after another, we will, in the process, draw closer to Jesus. Our engagement will show that we care who he is and about our relationship with him. To walk away because the matter is not simple and easy is to deprive ourselves of the wonders of his love. But to take the time and energy to engage will not only teach us truths, but will draw us closer to the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, the Messiah and Lord. And so we pray for the gift of patience as we wrestle with the coming of the Lord. It is such wrestling that will bring forth an abundant harvest of love for us and for the whole world.