‘Who then is this about whom I hear such things?'” And he kept trying to see him” (Lk 9:9).
Herod Antipas, the ruler over Galilee and Perea, heard stories about Jesus. The range of his thoughts, expressed by Luke, is confusion to curiosity. Herod may have started to feel concern over the possibility of a growing revolt, some guilt for his execution of John the Baptist, or just curiosity to see what this man was all about. Could this Jesus accomplish even half of the things Herod had heard about him? One question that did not seem to cross Herod’s mind was, did he have any interest in changing his life and becoming a follower of Jesus?
Herod was not the only one in Luke’s Gospel who asked questions about who this man Jesus was. Nor did the asking of those questions die with Jesus on the cross. They continued after his resurrection and ascension, they continued into the first centuries of the Church, which led to the calling of the first ecumenical councils which dealt directly with who Jesus was, and they continued in each following century and continue today. There are even at present in some academic circles, the question arising as to whether Jesus even existed at all.
One could ask why this question about Jesus persists? One answer is that we are finite beings seeking to understand an infinite Mystery. The full comprehension of the reality of Jesus existing as fully human and fully divine, dying on the cross, conquering death through his resurrection and ascending to the Father transcends even the wonderful intellect and ability to reason that we have been blessed with. Also, Jesus’ invitation is a universal but personal one. Each person has to encounter Jesus for her or himself.
Jesus called the Twelve, one by one as well as Mary Magdalene, St. Irenaeus, St Thomas Aquinas, St Francis and Clare of Assisi, St Catherine of Siena, St Teresa of Avila and St John of the Cross, St Ignatius, St Mother Teresa, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and he calls each one of us as well. He did not call us to just merely embrace a new philosophy, a new ethical way of life, or even a new religion. Jesus called and calls us to be a part of his Body, the Mystical Body of Christ.
Who is Jesus, Herod asks in today’s Gospel? It is a good question for us to ask as well. For me, Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, who became incarnate, becoming one with us in our humanity so that we could become one with him in his divinity. This same Jesus who called others through the ages invites us to follow him today as well and he continues to walk this journey with us whether we say yes or no to his invitation. We are just aware of and receive more of his help when we say yes.
Life with Jesus isn’t perfect and we will at times echo St Teresa of Avila, who stated after she was thrown from a carriage into a mud puddle, “If you treat your friends this way, it is no wonder you have so few.” But we will, as did Teresa, also experience moments of inexpressible joy, of wonder and exhilaration, and feel blessed when Jesus works and loves through us.
The question of why JoAnn died has come up off and on over the past two years, though I do not entertain it too much. I am not sure that in this life the answer would be sufficient anyway. I will certainly make a point to sit down with Jesus when he calls me home and we can discuss it then with more perspective.
I have been focusing more on seeking what Jesus and JoAnn want me to do now. JoAnn was often concerned, especially during the school year, that I did not get enough rest. I am sure that she is still concerned! In the middle of the night a few days before she died, I heard her ask the hospice nurse if I was sleeping. She wasn’t concerned about herself but again looking out for my welfare.
I can still hear JoAnn’s gentle and loving voice from that night and maybe I need to listen better to her and Jesus speaking through her. It was one of the last phrases I remember JoAnn saying. There is a lot of work to do but seeking a better balance in our lives is important. Sufficient rest and enough sleep are important, as is being kinder and gentler with ourselves and each other.