Jesus and Big Think

The things we think big can be curiously small to God. We often make this mistake when watching the news, for instance. When the TV starts chattering about Washington or New York or inflation or politics, an incautious person could easily get the impression these things are important. But in light of the way God seems to actually deal with us this geopolitical Big Think stuff–like virtually everything on television–usually vanishes into microscopic insignificance.

Consider ancient Israel. Gobs of Old Testament ink is spilled on the fortunes of kings and the policies of princes. Just like when we watch the news, we may think we know what we’re seeing. Real life is What Happens to Top People. What happens to a bunch of obscure peasants is small beer.

Yet despite all the sweep and scope of the vast Old Testament drama with nations rising and falling, kingdoms in conflict, armies marching, and enormous geopolitical forces at work, God saw in all this, at best, a metaphor for where life really happens: in a one-on-one encounter with Christ. Everything in the Old Testament was leading up, not to more politics and bigger armies, but to a Jewish girl named Mary at her prayers, to the birth of an obscure peasant baby and the death and resurrection of an obscure peasant carpenter on the fringes of civilization. The giant miracles like the parting of Red Sea and the manna in the wilderness point not to bigger Cinemascope productions but to quiet human encounters with God in the simple miracles of Baptism, Eucharist, and the repentance of a human heart. Jesus ultimately had very little use for such Big Picture Thinking as the Six O’Clock News offers. That is why he spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well so directly in John 4. She was, no doubt, a big fan of CNN. When Jesus spoke to her about her actual life of marital musical chairs, she diverted conversation away from such “small matters” to the Big Picture of Religious Conflict Between Israel and Samaria. Not for her the small life of integrity before God. She wanted to talk Big Think abstractions like “Temple and Worship Regulations in Jewish and Samaritan Theology: Comparison and Contrast.”

Jesus would have none of it. He firmly redirected conversation back to the two of them, face to face. When she tried again to duck by pleading dumb (“When the Messiah comes he will explain things.”), Jesus replied with characteristic bluntness: “I who speak to you am He.” Willy nilly, she had to face God here, in the ordinary present moment, not in some vague Future.

Nothing’s changed. God knows that for many of us Politics, Philosophy, the Future and other Big Think diversions are often what we do in order to keep from having to talk about where we really live right now. How easy to blab about Federal Programs to Help the Family. How hard to actually talk to your spouse. How easy to love Humanity. How hard to love your mother-in-law. How easy to chatter about Posterity. How hard to change diapers.

Does this mean that geo-political matters are worthless? Far from it. Whether we create a free republic or a Nazi hell, a healthy world or a polluted cesspool is of great interest to God. But politics was made for man, not man for politics. Such matters interest our Father only insofar as they help or hinder us in loving him and one another. They do not exist for their own sake, but for ours. As the Pope has pointed out, it is not kingdoms, corporations, philosophies and political systems for which Christ died. It is, rather, you and I, with our runny noses, dirty diapers, mundane problems and 5 o’clock shadow who are the only things in all the world created for our own sake simply for the delight of God.

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