THE LOVING KNOWLEDGE OF THE SAINT IS NON-MANIPULATIVE
(A biblical reflection on THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER [Year B], 18 April 2021)
Gospel Reading: Luke 24:35-48
First Reading: Acts 3:13-15,17-19; Psalms: Psalm 4:2,4,7,9; Second Reading: 1 John 2:1-5
The Scripture Text
Then they told what had happened on the road, and how He was known to them in the breaking of the bread.
As they were saying this, Jesus Himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you.” But they were startled and frightened, and supposed that they saw a spirit. And He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do questionings rise in your hearts? See My hands and My feet, that it is I Myself; handle Me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones as you see that I have.” And when He had said this He showed them His hands and His feet. And while they still disbelieved for joy, and wondered, He said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave Him a piece of broiled fish, and He took it and ate before them.
Then He said to them, “These are my words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about Me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then He opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. (Luke 24:35-48 RSV)
A Doctor of the Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas, tells us that we can know a thing in two ways: the way of the philosopher and the way of the saint. The way of the philosopher is one in which knowledge is obtained about a thing. We come to such knowledge by way of analysis. We break a thing into its various parts. We come to know how it works. We come to know what its goal or function is. Such knowledge is obtained at a distance. We hold the thing away from us in order to gain perspective. Objective knowledge comes from removing as much of ourselves as possible.
The second way is the way of the saint. We come to know a thing by participation in its being. This is the way of love. Such knowledge calls for involvement, commitment and care. We do not keep a distance or break a thing into its various parts. Rather, we seek to learn its wholeness. For we see that the thing as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We do not seek to gain knowledge by manipulation or analysis. We exhibit reverence to allow a thing to show (reveal) itself as it is. This calls for patience. Knowledge by way of love creates an atmosphere which allows a thing to be self-revealing and accepted for itself. In a word: the loving knowledge of the saint is non-manipulative.
All this may sound rather abstract. However, it is very concrete. The two ways to knowing are part of our everyday lives. For example, there are two ways of knowing a friend or family member. We can know about them. We can know “what makes them tick.” We keep a distance and try to see how their various parts work together. We have all experienced such a way of knowing. But there is always a significant part of the other that we never know. We resent being the object of such ways of knowing. We feel we are being inspected. We feel like a specimen put under a microscope.
By contrast there is the knowledge revealed through love. We do not seek to manipulate or control the other. We allow the other person to reveal himself as he is. Love creates an environment which tells the other she can be seen as she is and not be rejected, ridiculed or made to feel unworthy. Love bestows on the human relationship the grace of acceptance. And with such acceptance we truly become who we are. Loving relationship bring out our best.
All of the above can be said about our relationship with Jesus Christ. We can know a great deal about Jesus. We can read (and even write!) books and take courses about theology and spirituality. We can study ethics and Christian revelation. Our knowledge about history may qualify us to win any trivia contest. Yet all this knowledge does not guarantee that we will know Jesus in the way of the saints. Our relationship with Jesus requires of us more than the knowledge of the theologian and the philosopher. Note: This is not an anti-intellectualism attitude at my part. I personally believe that our love of God can greatly enriched by intellectual knowledge and study. However, mere intellectual knowledge is never sufficient in itself. We desire both kinds of knowledge so as to truly love God with our whole being.
The first letter of John (second reading) indicates one of the dangers of simply knowing about God. Some community members are claiming “to know” Jesus. However, they do not keep the commandments. The illusion is that one who knows the content of the commandments is home free. No more is required. There can be no true love and honesty without a willingness to put God’s word into practice. “He who says ‘I know Him’ but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him truly love for God is perfected” (1 John 2:4-5) Indeed, true knowledge of God must move from the head to the center of one’s life.
Our Gospel reading from Luke shows us the inadequacy of simply knowing a great deal about Jesus. During times of stress and fear one’s knowledge about Jesus provides little guidance and support. We panic and begin to confuse the real presence of Jesus with all kinds of false images and stories. In their panic and fright the disciples thought they were seeing a ghost/spirit (Luke 24:37). It is only when our knowledge is matured by love that we too can be the witnesses of Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In order to grow in the knowledge of Jesus grounded in love, we must follow the preaching of Peter in Acts (first reading): “And now, brethren, I know that you acted in ignorance, as did also your rulers. But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that His Christ should suffer, He thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord” (Acts 3:17-19). Without such a reformation and knowledge made perfect through love, we do all kinds of destructive and tragic things to ourselves and others. Jesus knew this: “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Jesus knew what He was doing because His knowledge of the Father, and each of us, is total love.
Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, You are my hope and my deliverer! I praise You for the love that brought You to the cross. I worship You for Your pure and holy blood shed over my life. Let my knowledge of You stays grounded in love. Amen.
Jakarta, 17 April 2021
A Christian Pilgrim