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December 14, 2011
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The Face of Jesus
by Friar Jim Van Vurst, O.F.M.

Luke’s Gospel: Jesus’ Humanity

Ancient tradition tells us that Luke, the author of the third Gospel, was a physician. In fact, Luke does use medical terms in describing various healings and cures by Jesus. But another reason that gives credence to that tradition is that Luke seems to express a deep understanding of humanity and the human condition. His stories touch the very heart of human experience, and the incident Luke relates in Chapter 13 is a good example. This chapter has been called by some scholars “a Gospel within in a Gospel” and is made up of three beautiful parables: the good shepherd, the woman who loses her valuable coin and, the most famous story, the prodigal son.

But this chapter opens with a statement in verse 1 that has to touch the heart of any person who knows the experience of sin. No exceptions here! “Tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to Jesus.” In another part of Luke’s Gospel, he describes the people practically crawling over each other to get close to Jesus. What a powerful image that is!

The Welcoming Face of Jesus

As I read this scene, I sat back (and invite you to do the same) and tried to imagine the “look” on Jesus’ face that attracted these sinners and tax collectors. Have you ever seen a person’s face light up when he meets a friend or a loved one after spotting that person from a distance? What happens? The eyes open up in a kind of pleasant surprise. That person gives his full attention to that beloved friend or loved one. I let my imagination go and I discovered that I could picture Jesus with that wonderful expression.

It was just as easy to see the expressions on the faces of the sinners and tax collectors. They were drawn to Jesus. That’s a beautiful word—“drawn.” We know the feeling we get when a new mother brings in her baby for people to see. Talk about being drawn! We can’t stay away.

Jesus was drawn as much to the sinners and tax collectors as they were to him. It had to be such a friendly and welcoming gathering. In other words, Jesus and the sinners were friends. Jesus was someone who touched their lives in such a different way from the manner in which they had been treated by others.

The religious leaders had an expression for the sinners and tax collectors. These people were called “people of the land.” It sounds rather innocuous, but it was just the opposite. It meant that they did not dwell in the “land of God.” They were foreigners to God and unwelcomed. These were people you did not associate with or trust—outsiders religiously and socially.

You’ll notice what effect this had on the Pharisees as they watched this scene, probably with glee. Why? Because Jesus was proving one again he was not in the class of true religious people. After all, Jesus touched them in greeting; worse, he even ate with them. Imagine sticking his hands into the same bowl (which is the way people ate in those days). He touched their sinful hands in the food bowl—it couldn’t be avoided. And, on top of it all, he called them friends.

The Pharisees and scribes were fit to be tied. They complained heartily. They were the examples for people to follow, not Jesus.

Jesus' Attitude Toward These People

Luke catches the humanity of all these people, and even of Jesus’ own appearance. That look on his face—what a wonderful sight that must have been. No wonder they were drawn to Jesus. He loved them! They were his brothers and sisters. Touching them did not make Jesus ritually unclean. Actually, it was healing for those who felt Jesus' touch.

The Gospels are filled with great, marvelous and mysterious teachings. Jesus’ long and dramatic Last Supper is just one example. But the Gospels, especially Luke's, shows us so much of the humanness of Jesus. It is a shame for us to miss that. But even in our lives, when we receive the Eucharist, for all it’s wonderful mystery, it is still the same (though glorified) Jesus who smiles and who is thrilled to welcome sinners into his presence.

Imagine the face of Jesus as he gave the widow of Naim her son back after he had just brought him back to life. When we receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, imagine the face of Jesus looking into your eyes and heart and welcoming you with open arms. It is really him. We need never be afraid.


Friar Jack's Inbox
Readers respond to Friar Jack Wintz's November E-spiration, Musing: Letting God Love Us

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for sharing this. I felt a personal bond with you since I’m experiencing this as well in my life. This is also my latter half of life. I was “weighed down” with sorrow, mourning and guilt for years. God, through his active and loving presence in my life, healed me and is showing me just what you said: Slow down and enjoy life in the moment. This is all he asks, that we actually love the life he gives us and not waste a moment. Kathryn

Dear Friar Jack: Isn’t it wonderful that things can brighten up in the “second half” of our lives? All around us, senior folk are bemoaning the burden of years and sharing a fear of growing older. As yourself, I have experienced enlightenment and joy in the Lord in coming to understand the treasures inherent in “Thy will be done.” This was something I imperfectly understood in earlier years, now celebrating my 70th birthday. I know I have been preserved thus far in order to have this great illumination. Indeed, may the Lord help us all to enjoy a happy union with him. Mairin

Dear Friar Jack: I especially like this meditation about God’s love and our not having to achieve some kind of meritocracy to be loved by God. I think Richard Rohr has said, “God does not love us because we are good but because God is good.” It takes the onus off us. It puts the locale for love back in God’s expansive, compassionate heart. Annie

Dear Friar Jack: Thank you for your “musings.” Being a member of COSA (Contemplative Outreach South Africa) I call your musings a grace received with open heart and open mind, without fear or reservation. And thus transformation by the Holy Spirit is acknowledged. I feel as though I have been waiting all my life to hear the feelings I have had inside, but could not name. I will meditate on your words until they become mine. Thank you profoundly for this. I will offer my next Rosary for your intentions. Lee 
 
Dear Friar Jack: God’s will—how gracious and lovely you put it. The word “affectionately” was like a great majestic Beethoven chord that wakes you up in one of his symphonies. Joris

Dear Kathryn, Mairin, Annie, Lee and Joris: I was gratified by the many warm emails received in response to the E-spiration “Letting God Love Us.” At least 15 responses came in, which is more than I usually receive. I’m sorry we could not print them all. The theme seemed to strike a chord that resonated with all of you. Your responses echo St. Paul: “God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). Peace and love to all! Friar Jack

Send your feedback to friarjack@americancatholic.org

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Welcome!
I am Fr. Jim Van Vurst and I hope you'll enjoy
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