HomeCommentaryThey shall see God

They shall see God

ONE of the beatitudes of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says, “Blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God”.

On this day that we celebrate the Immaculate, or the Pure Heart, of the Blessed Mother, I am inclined to believe that the very first person who saw God in the human Jesus was no less than his own mother. But, as St. Luke tells us in today’s Gospel, she “kept it in her heart.”

But first let me tell you a story related to this Gospel reading which is known to Catholics as the fifth joyful mystery: the Finding of Jesus in the Temple.

I once heard the life testimony of a commencement speaker at a graduation ceremony. He narrated how he was able to study in the University of the Philippines despite the fact that his parents were just agricultural workers in a remote barangay. He had actually graduated as valedictorian in a public high school but he was told frankly by his parents that they could not send him to college because they could not afford it.

One day, without asking for his parents’ permission, he left home and joined two of his classmates to take the UPCAT (UP College Admission Test). His father was furious and his mother extremely worried when they learned from the neighbors that their son whom they had been looking for had gone to Manila with his friends.

He skipped in his narration of what he called the big drama at home when he came back three days later, and jumped immediately to the good news that he passed the entrance test. He said it was his mother who later persuaded his father to allow their son to pursue his dreams in the big city. She was able to ask a distant relative of hers to admit him as a boarder in their apartment in Manila. Not only did he finish college, he got a scholarship for a master’s degree and later also a doctoral degree in prestigious universities in Europe and USA.

As I think of what Jesus did in today’s Gospel, I have a feeling that we’re dealing with something similar. Luke begins the story by saying that “Every year they went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover, as was their custom.” They were from the far off barangay called Nazareth in Galilee, out in the sticks, as the Americans would say it, looking forward to their yearly visit to the big city of Jerusalem in Judea.

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In the earlier part of Luke’s Infancy narrative, we also heard that there was one family in Judea, in a village near Jerusalem, that was particularly close to Mary: the family of Elizabeth, her cousin. Luke tells us Mary stayed with her to assist her in her pregnancy for three months.

So where would you expect them to stay in Judea for around one week, each year that they joined the Passover festival in Jerusalem? That was peak season for pilgrims in the big city. Where else if not in the home of Jesus’ Uncle Zechariah and Aunt Elizabeth? Jesus must have looked forward to these annual pilgrimages to the big city, also in order to be with his cousin John who was only six months older than he, according to Luke.

I imagine Jesus also looking forward to sitting in class with cousin John in the Rabbinical School run by highly educated Pharisees in Jerusalem. Remember, John’s father was a temple priest in Jerusalem.

Sorry, I keep using the word “imagine” because I have a very fertile imagination. In fact I am launching a book on July 10, entitled “Yeshua, the Son of Man,” which I call a collection of stories read between the lines of the Gospels, subtitled “The Role of Imagination in Biblical Interpretation”. One of them is this scene of the Finding in the Temple.

I think, like that commencement speaker I told you about, Jesus also wanted to study the Scriptures in the higher Rabbinical Schools in Jerusalem. But then of course he knew that his father preferred to have him stay in Nazareth so that he could train him in carpentry. So what did he do? He stowed away and went missing for three days while his parents desperately looked for him everywhere.

Luke says, when he was found, he went down with them to Nazareth and remained obedient to his parents. He does not tell us anymore what happens between that incident when he was 12 years old and the beginning of his public ministry, when he is already 30 years old. What a huge gap! What happened during the 18 years in between, which scholars call the Private Life of Jesus?

I think we can get more clues from the fact that when he begins his public ministry, he is in the company of his cousin, John who would later be called the Baptist. This cousin, who was a son of an elite priestly family and educated in Jerusalem, seemed to have had a tremendous influence on Jesus.

In the upcoming book, I told you about, I wrote an introduction answering the question, “Why did Jesus know the Jewish Scriptures so well if he was educated only in a Synagogue in “barriotic” Nazareth?” Of course you will say, “Why should you be wondering about that? He was the Son of God, wasn’t he?” Yes, but he had to be raised and educated too as a normal human being.

I therefore suggest that, after that stow-away episode, Joseph and Mary eventually allowed their son to pursue higher studies in Scriptures in Jerusalem in the company of his cousin John. Mary knew from that day she and Joseph went desperately looking for their son for three days and eventually found him in the company of learned teachers in Jerusalem, that their son was called for “higher things.” After all, if he really wanted to study in Jerusalem, they could entrust him to Zechariah and Elizabeth, and he had John as as companion.

And so Luke makes us imagine how Jesus had been influenced by his cousin John, this renegade cousin who refused to follow his father’s footsteps. Instead of becoming a priest like Zechariah, John would become an activist in the Judean desert, challenging the status quo, calling for a change of heart and proclaiming the coming of the kingdom of God—for which he would be beheaded by Herod Antipas.

These two boys would grow into men, immersed in the Scriptures, but assertive enough not to be programmed into the kind of biblical interpretation being promoted by the Pharisees and the Sadducees of Jerusalem, who had become so corrupt. These two cousins would follow the same Scriptures but create a different path and change the course of history. They would both die a violent death.

Luke says Mary was actually the one who confronted Jesus when she and Joseph had found him in the temple. She said, “Son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I were very worried while searching for you.” But he dared to answer them and say, “Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?” Luke tells us “They did not understand his answer.” And the last line says, “As for his mother, she kept all these things in her heart.”

This is the woman to whom Elizabeth cried out in a loud voice, Lk 1:42 “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!” And later she also said, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.”

She could see the fulfillment of God’s promises in her son because she saw with her heart. Blessed indeed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.

“They shall see God” is a homily delivered by Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan for the Feast of the Immaculate Heart of Mary on June 20, Saturday of the 11th Week in Ordinary Time.

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