Can you see Jesus in the Crowd?

Homily for the Second Sunday of Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

A wise man was once asked ‘Why, of all things, did God choose the humble thornbush as the place from which to speak with Moses?’ The wise man replied: ‘If he had chosen an oak tree or a chestnut tree, you would have asked the same question. Yet it is impossible to let you go away empty-handed. That is why I am telling you that God chose the humble thornbush - to teach you that there is no place on earth bereft of the Divine Presence, not even a thornbush.’

Edited form of story in A World of Stories for Preachers and Teachers: And All Who Love Stories That Move and Challenge by William J Bausch page 321, published by Twenty-Third Publications, PO Box 180, Mystic, CT 06355, USA, © 1988 and used here with permission.)

We think of Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah. But yet if you met him and no one had pointed him out to you, you wouldn’t know he was Jesus. Twice in our Gospel today John the Baptist says, ‘I did not know him myself.’ (John 1:31,33) John said, ‘he who sent me to baptize with water had said to me, “The man on whom you see the Spirit come down and rest is the one who is going to baptize with the Holy Spirit.’” The descent of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove on Jesus was the signal for John. The Pharisees were listening to John speaking and they did not recognize Jesus as the Messiah, so John said to them, ‘Look there is the lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.’ The Father pointed Jesus out to John, and now John pointed Jesus out to the Pharisees. Because Jesus was so normal you would not pick him out from the crowd. Part of Isaiah which we understand as foretelling Jesus reads like this;

“He had no form or charm to attract us,
No beauty to win our hearts;
He was despised, the lowest of men,
A man of sorrows, familiar with suffering,
One from whom, as it were, we averted our gaze,
Despised, for whom we had no regard.” (Isa 53:2-3)

Yet this man whom you wouldn’t pick out from the crowd was the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and to whom we could understand the Father speaking these words of our first reading, “You are my servant...in whom I shall be glorified…I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isa 49:3,6).

When Jesus comes he does not throw his weight around so we might miss his coming if we were expecting great things. I think Jesus comes in a similar way today, as a humble lamb, and because Jesus comes in so many ways today as a humble lamb we might miss his coming unless some John the Baptist pointed out and said, ‘Look, there is the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.’ One of the documents of Vatican II acted as a John the Baptist telling us that Jesus comes to us in four ways when we gather here for our Sunday Mass:

Jesus comes in the word of God in the readings, in the Eucharist, in the congregation and in the priest (Sacrosanctum Concilium 7).

  • When the readings are being proclaimed, God is speaking to you. If a line from the text strikes you we normally understand this as God speaking to you.

  • In Holy Communion Jesus comes to you in the fullness of his body, blood, soul and divinity.

  • Jesus is present in the congregation because where two or three are gathered in his name he is present in their midst (Matt 18:20).

  • And Jesus is present in the priest who offers Jesus to the Father just as Jesus offered himself to the Father on the cross. Jesus comes to us in four ways when we gather here for our Sunday Mass: in the word of God, in the Eucharist, in the congregation and in the priest.

In which one of those four ways would we find it most difficult to see Jesus present? Is it in the Word of God in the readings because they are from a culture that is so different to ours; in Holy Communion because it looks like a thin white wafer of bread; in the congregation because we know the faults and weaknesses of some people present; or in the priest because we wonder about his sincerity after recent scandals and because we can see his faults and weaknesses too?

When Jesus came you would not pick him out from the crowd, he had to be pointed out by John the Baptist. When Jesus comes now too in these four ways, in a certain sense you would not pick him out, he has to be pointed out. This is how I would point out the presence of God in these four ways.

  • Although written by humans we believe the books of the Bible are inspired, God speaks to us today through the Bible.

  • It requires faith to believe that Jesus is present in this white bread but as I told you in the past (Homily for Corpus Christi), on many occasions  the bread or wine has physically changed so it actually looked like flesh and blood.

  • If someone in the congregation is a nuisance to us, think of Jesus,

“He had no form or charm to attract us,
No beauty to win our hearts;
He was despised, the lowest of men.” (Isa 53:2)

  • If it is difficult to see Jesus in the priest, remember what we read in the Letter to the Hebrews about Jesus the High Priest, ‘Since all the children shared the same human nature, it was essential that Jesus too shared in it…It was essential that Jesus should in this way be made completely like his brothers so that he could become a compassionate and trustworthy high priest’ (Heb 2:14,17).

You would not expect God to speak to Moses from a thornbush. You would not pick Jesus out from the crowd if he were not pointed out to you. In case we miss Jesus in the crowd, Vatican II points out four ways in which Jesus is present when we gather for Mass: Jesus is present in the Word of God in the readings, in the Eucharist, in the congregation and in the priest. Let us be humble during this Mass so that with faith we will see Jesus present in these four ways because if we cannot pick Jesus out from the crowd, the only way we will be able to see him will be by faith.

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More homilies for the Second Sunday Year A

Jesus is the Lamb of God who takes away our sins

Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world 2008

Baptism Changes the Quality of Our Souls Forever 2011

Related Homilies: Baptism of Our Lord (First Sunday)

On Jesus taking away the sins of the world see homilies on the Sacrament of Reconciliation