By Ted Furlow
With Christmas in the rear view mirror and Lent looming over the hood, my mind drifts to two recurring questions. First, “Why did Jesus come when he came?”
It’s not a unique question; Andrew Lloyd Webber touches on it in his lyrics for Jesus Christ Superstar, writing, “Every time I look at you I don’t understand. Why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land? If you came today you would have reached a whole nation, don’t get me wrong, I only wanna know.”
The salvation story is without boundaries, so why come in such a primitive period? The prophecy of the Messiah is timeless and without constraints…. in the endless horizon of God, tomorrow would have worked as well as 2,000 years ago. The question is provocative; ask it and it becomes the catalyst for a serious, thoughtful, and creative discussion.
Like the character in the musical, “I only wanna know.”
Perhaps part of the answer is found in the Catechism (50-53), where it teaches that God reveals himself so that “we can know what he is like.”
The God of the Old Testament is often seen as a different God than the God of the New Testament, but it is the same God. While Jesus comes for many reasons, one of them must have been for the primitive people of Israel to know God in a human form to which they could relate. Rather than the God of awe or the God of fear, here was Jesus, wholly human and wholly divine. His presence gives mankind an experience within which people may actually see something of themselves in his humanity, and become open to hear his call to the will of the Father.
The theatrical Christology of Webber challenges Jesus’ timing, a challenge that tries to rescript Christ in time, but in Christ there is no time, there is no past, there is not future, only a present. The Eucharist is not a reenactment of a past event, but is Christ wholly and completely present to us in the same “real time” as the upper room. The events that we have recently celebrated at Christmas, and will experience during Lent are not an experience of reminiscence; they are as real today as they were almost 2,000 years ago.
It seems that we often allow our beliefs to be formed by the secular perspectives of money, social power, stigma, myth, and nightmare, and confronted by information that contradicts those views; we tend to doubt that information. Jesus by his presence is information which gives us something new, a “real time” spiritual perspective of the “call of God,” a perspective which calls each of us to serve the “others” outside of ourselves.
It is a call which challenges a response from man; it was counter intuitive 2,000 years ago, and remains so now. We should be like the Apostles, open to hear the “real time” voice of God, calling us to a belief founded in his real and timeless presence.
Oh, the second question, “When is he coming back?” I only wanna know…
Ted Furlow is Director of Pastoral Planning for the Diocese of San Bernardino.