It’s less than a year until the 10th anniversary of Pope John Paul II’s letter Novo Millennio Ineunte (“At the Beginning of the New Millennium”). In it, he challenges us with this:
…is it not the Church’s task to reflect the light of Christ in every historical period, to make his face shine also before the generations of the new millennium?
Our witness, however, would be hopelessly inadequate if we ourselves had not first contemplated his face.
. — NMI, n. 16
This Sunday’s Gospel reading is an especially fertile passage for contemplating the face of Christ. Here are some of the ‘faces of Christ’ that I found:
- 1 – the face of Christ upon whom all eyes were fixed
2 – the face of Christ empowered by the Holy Spirit
3 – the face of Christ declaring truth
4 – the face of Christ secure in the knowledge that the Father was “well pleased” with him (cf. Lk 3:22)
5 – the face of Christ confident in his role as Son of God
6 – the face of Christ faithfully revealing his mission
7 – the face of Christ desiring that his people would embrace this news of their long-awaited restoration
8 – the face of Christ hopeful that his people would recognize and accept their Messiah
9 – the face of Christ sensing the doubt arising in the hearts of his hearers
10 – the face of Christ recognizing the dissipation of their acceptance of him
11 – the face of Christ hearing the doubt expressed verbally by some in the assembly
12 – the face of Christ aligning himself with the great prophets rejected by Israel
13 – the face of Christ delivering the hard word
14 – the face of Christ reminding the people of how, when their ancestors were unfaithful, blessings were instead sent to Gentiles
15 – the face of Christ being subjected to the anger and abuse of the crowd
16 – the face of Christ being forced out of the city
17 – the face of Christ devoid of even the slightest desire to return violence for violence, passing through the angry mob unharmed
A Catholic unfamiliar with Jewish law might not realize that when the mob “led him to the brow of the hill…to hurl him down headlong,” they intended to stone him to death, and this was just the initial step in that process. This is explained by Henri Daniel-Rops in his book “Daily Life in the Time of Jesus“:
…the condemned man was to be taken to a cliff the ‘height of two men’ and one of the accusers was to throw him down backwards, obviously to stun him by the fall or to break his back; it was only after this that the stones were to be thrown, and the first was to be aimed at his heart.
At the bottom of the human heart, side by side with longing for the eternal source and fulfillment of all things, lurks resistance to that source: elementary sin in its lair. Seldom does it confront holiness openly; almost always it strikes at the bearer of holiness: at the prophet, the apostle, the saint, the confirmed believer. Such people do irritate. Something in us finds the very presence of one dedicated to God unbearable. We revolt against him, ‘justifying’ our distaste with his shortcomings (naturally, there are always shortcomings) or with his sins. How could such a person be a bearer of sanctity! Or perhaps it is only his weaknesses (which from our dour viewpoint of rejection immediately swell perniciously), or his eccentricities that are so maddening – nothing is more trying than the eccentricities of a saint! In short, the fact that he is a human, finite being is too much to bear……And the sharpest criticism, the most impatient rejection of holiness is always to be found in the prophet’s own home.
I can imagine what Your Heart feels as you are seized and led away to death through the streets of Your home town by those who were Your neighbors and townsmen, and to whom You had surely shown much kindness…Teach me to be patient in bearing the disappointments caused by my own friends.