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Don’t Box Me In!
Reflection on the Gospel for the Fourth Friday in Lent, John 7:1-2, 10, 25-30
Internet image from https://catholicinbrooklyn.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-message-from-pope-francis-dont-put.html
One of the first questions people ask when they first meet is, “where are you from?” The question is harmless enough. But, in the depths of our subconscious, the answer may define the other by their origin, not by who they really are. We may have ingrained notions about the other person by what they tell us or from local gossips. In our own politically charged environment, where you are from, often places you in a box of predetermined attitudes about where you stand on certain issues. Good or bad, all this information shapes our understanding of who the other is, without ever really “knowing them.” The walls of the box thicken. Slowly, our preconceived notions, which may be very far from reality, define our outward and often hostile acts towards the other.
In the Gospel today, the people of Jerusalem were doing much the same thing with Jesus. The crowd questions whether Jesus is the Messiah. Then they quickly discard the notion, despite all other evidence, based on His origin alone.
“Could the authorities have realized that he is the Christ? But we know where he is from. When the Christ comes, no one will know where he is from." (John 7:26–27 NABRE)
They all knew that Jesus was from Nazareth. Nazareth, in the time of Jesus was a very small and politically insignificant place. It could be termed, “Hicksville,” in popular parlance. Nazareth is not mentioned at all in the Old Testament, nor is it mentioned in many first century non-Christian texts. We can also get a clue about what people thought of those from Nazareth in the interchange in Scripture between two people from neighboring Bethsaida,
Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the town of Andrew and Peter. Philip found Nathanael and told him, “We have found the one about whom Moses wrote in the law, and also the prophets, Jesus son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” But Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” (John 1:44–46 NABRE)
We also hear some of this prejudicial way of speaking as Jesus was giving what is known as the “Eucharistic Discourse”. St John tells us in his Gospel that,
The Jews murmured about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven,” and they said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph? Do we not know his father and mother? Then how can he say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” (John 6:41–42 NABRE)
How could the son of Mary and Joseph be the Messiah? Jesus’ origins did not match their expectations for where the Messiah would appear. We hear in the account of the visitation of the Magi that the Jewish religious leader of Jesus’ time expected the Messiah to come from Bethlehem (Matthew 2:5-6). Based on His origin alone, without further investigation, despite all other evidence to the contrary, they rejected Him. They wanted the God they desired, not God as He is.
Being misrepresented and consistently misunderstood must have been frustrating for the Lord. Whenever you read the words, “Jesus cried out” (John 7:28), you are intended to hear God’s frustration. Jesus reminds them,
"You know me and also know where I am from. Yet I did not come on my own, but the one who sent me, whom you do not know, is true. I know him, because I am from him, and he sent me." (John 7:28–29)
Jesus openly preached and refuted every charge against Him and His teaching. He had performed many healings and done miraculous things like the changing of water into wine at the wedding at Canaan and the multiplication of loaves and fishes in a superabundant and public way. Yet nothing would seemingly break through the preconceived notions of who Jesus is.
In fact, Jesus did fulfil the prophetic predictions for the Messiah. They had only to look beyond the surface. They needed to do as Philip asked of Nathaniel, to “come and see.” Mostly, they did not want to accept his teaching because it demanded a mental and moral conversion. They had defined who the Messiah is, and nothing could get in the way of their definition. Tragically, they had placed Jesus into a box, and in doing so, refused Salvation.
The Gospel today is a warning to us not to allow our preconceived notions of who God is, what God wants, who God condemns, or what God expects of us to harden us against who God really is as defined in Sacred Scripture and Tradition. It is very popular in the culture to redefine Jesus into a nonjudgmental, “everything is OK”, “lovey-dovey” puffball. Why? Because this Jesus demands nothing of us. Everything is OK, even our rejection of what He clearly defined as sin and what entails true holiness. Though many will claim that Scripture is true, they use their preconceived notions of who Jesus is, their box, to ignore, often unconsciously, those teachings which make them uncomfortable.
The challenge of the Gospel today, is the same that Jesus gave the inhabitants of Jerusalem, “set aside your preconceived notions and really know me!” Come to know Jesus in Sacred Scripture and within the context of Sacred Tradition. Come to know Him in the Sacraments, especially the Eucharist. Let go of any fixed ideas or concepts that hinder you from truly knowing Jesus and bringing His true and saving Word into the world. Pray for the ability to discern the Lord’s voice. Let go of preconceptions, especially those that make you comfortable. Settle in your discomfort.
Pray that the Lord open your eyes and ears so that you see and hear Him clearly. Mostly, pray for the courage to set aside the idea of Jesus you have placed in a box of your own making and embrace the Lord as He is. “Can anything good come from Nazareth”? It is time for us to, “come and see!” The Lord cries, “don’t box me in!”
New American Bible Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.