April 23, 2024

4th Sunday of Easter, 4/21/24

Fr. Elias Correa-Torres

Jesus says today, “I know mine and mine know me.” It seems to me that a common theme running through today’s readings is that of knowing God, and therefore recognizing God in the variety of ways in which we might encounter God. The resurrected Christ does not encounter us on our own terms, but pulls us in unexpected directions and invites us to unforeseen places. Jesus often surprises us, and if we are not careful we can miss God, distracted by the affairs of the world.

The first reading starts precisely with this failure of knowing and recognizing God. Peter and John in the name and power of Jesus have healed the man crippled from birth. Surely a good deed by any measure. And yet they are being cross-examined with hostility by the religious leaders.

Certainly we should always bring discernment and prayer to bear in considering any situation. But when life is actively being given to others, when people are being healed, the benefit of the doubt should rightly be given. We should presume that God is present and that God is working through the people involved.

Scripture repeatedly affirms that Jesus came to give life. He who says today, “I will lay down my life for the sheep. And this is why the Father loves me.” Another passage records, “the leper said to him, ‘Lord, if you wish, you can make me clean.’” And though it was forbidden, “Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said,  ‘I do will it. Be made clean.’”

Some thought it wrong to heal on the Sabbath, but Jesus healed anyways. On one occasion he said, “Should this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound for 18 years now, not to have been set free on the Sabbath day from this bondage? Woman, you are set free of your infirmity.”

Indeed, Jesus stated his purpose clearly, saying, “I have come that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” So when we see life and healing being given to others both physically and spiritually, we should presume and recognize the presence of God.

What prevents these religious leaders from seeing God at work? They have already rejected Jesus as a blasphemer. They are convinced that no good can come from him. And of course, there is now a self-interest involved in maintaining this belief because the religious leaders were instrumental in the public condemnation of Jesus’ actions.

How difficult it is for people to admit they were wrong! Sometimes people would rather die than admit they were wrong. Predetermined judgment. Self-interest. Bias. Refusal to admit one’s own mistakes. Any of these can blind us and prevent us from knowing and recognizing God.

These are especially relevant considerations in the polemical and partisan spirit that dominates our age. The temptation is strongly present now to denigrate and disparage even the good things that people of opposite groups do, to describe as evil anything done by those not aligned with us.

But people are complicated, complex beings. Very few are either wholly good or wholly evil. In most everyone, I think we should expect to find and look for the good that they are doing, the life that they are bringing to others, and therefore to discover the presence of God.

At one point, John said to Jesus, “teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name and we tried to prevent him because he does not follow in our company.” Surely that attitude encapsulates so much of what is found in current society! But Jesus said to John, “do not prevent him, for whoever is not against us is for us.”

And as Jesus says today, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold, and these also I must lead, and they will hear my voice.”

The same Apostle John, writing much later in our second reading, consoles us with the beautiful reminder that we are God’s children, but immediately follows it with words of wistful lamenting: “The world does not know us as God’s children.”

Perhaps when John was writing these words, he even had in mind the incident we have been discussing from our first reading when Jesus was cross examined over the cure of the crippled man.

In today’s passage, John gives us an additional insight into the problem of knowing: people can fail to recognize the children of God from a lack of knowing God. As the scriptures say elsewhere, “If they knew the Father, they would have recognized the time of their visitation.” So ultimately, God can say, “they have not rejected my messengers and servants. They have rejected me.”

We are given a caution. The more we stray from knowing God, perhaps if we begin to neglect prayer or time spent with God, the greater the chance that we will fail to recognize and know God in one situation or another. For its part, the world does not know God.

It is not for nothing, then, that we are told by Christ to be wary of the anxieties, the riches, and the pleasures of the world. For the more we imbibe the spirit of the world, the more we lose our ability to know God, becoming more and more like that which we are allowing to influence us.

Finally, we have the gospel. And whereas the first two readings give us warnings about the things that block us from knowing God. Here Jesus presents to us a positive vision of knowing as it is expressed in the life of the Trinity. Jesus says, “Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, so do I know my sheep and my sheep know me.”

Life in the Trinity is to be fully and perfectly known, and in being known, to be fully loved. For we do not lay down our life for what we do not love. This is the knowledge and relationship into which Christ invites people.

I think these words are especially relevant today, for despite the increase and proliferation of information and communication technology, there is an epidemic of loneliness, especially in our society. People do not feel known. They feel isolated and abandoned.

In the heart of every human being is a desire to be fully known and loved by others. A desire that is not satisfied or met by reading information or news, being entertained by programs or movies, or by brief and shallow posts on social media, no matter how frequent or numerous they might be. These, though not bad in and of themselves, cannot replace the relationships: face-to-face knowing, being fully known and loved. The more we can allow ourselves to be known by others, the more we take the time and make the intention to get to know others, the more even here on earth, we will enter into the beatific life promised to us by the resurrection.

In this Eucharist, we pray for the grace and motivation to seek to know God better, and to know and be known by our brothers and sisters. May we not allow anything to impede us in that effort. Amen.

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