“I still have many things to say to you but they would be too much for you now.” These are indeed very consoling words of Jesus for us. Consoling because of the fact that many of us are impatient at the mysteries of life. We are often puzzled by the things that happen to us in our personal life, in society and in our spiritual journey. On the personal level, perhaps some of us have certain weaknesses that we cannot yet overcome. We’ve tried to overcome them but somehow we cannot come to terms with them. At times, we feel like giving up. On the social level, some of us might moan the situation that we are in. Often we wish, for example, that the situation at home or at the office may be different from what it is now; or that our society could be more gracious and free. On the level of faith, some of us might be grappling with our belief. Some of us think that by reading or attending bible study courses we will be able to deepen our faith, only to discover that we have more questions and doubts than ever, and that there is no simple solution to the mysteries of faith and spiritual life.
However, the words of Jesus should console us and help us to see our lives in perspective. When Jesus said that He had many things to tell His disciples, but that it would be too much for them to bear, He was simply speaking of the fact that revelation takes place according to our capacity. We do not explain algebra to a child when he has not yet learnt arithmetic. We do not try to explain the difficulties of marriage life to our little child. They will never understand and even if they do, they would be overwhelmed. Indeed, a young man who was looking after his mother who was diagnosed to be suffering from cancer, did not let her know what she was suffering from. His reason was that she should only be told when she was ready; otherwise she might give up the will to fight the disease. That might be the case, although I am of the view that such life-changing news should be shared with the patient without loss of time.
What is true of our human situations is also true of the revelation of God to us. Grace respects nature. Hence, God will not reveal something to us that we are not ready to understand or accept. God would not reveal our life events to us if they are going to overwhelm us. This is illustrated in today’s first reading when St Paul preached the good news according to the level of faith of the people. He picked up the fact that they were worshipping an unknown God and thus led them to understand that this God had revealed Himself in Jesus Christ. He did not ridicule their faith. Instead he praised them for their devotion to God and from there tried to help them to advance further in their search for God.
From this we arrive at another insight, which is that revelation is an unfolding process. God does not reveal everything to us all at once. Many things can only be understood on hindsight. There are many things that happened in our lives which we could not then understand. But over the years and over time, these became clearer, and we began to understand. This was equally true for the disciples. They too could not understand the full import of the significance of all that Jesus said and did when He was with them. Their understanding of Jesus grew gradually. Indeed, we know that the divinity of Jesus was not something that the disciples came to believe all at once. Jesus gradually came to be understood as divine only after His resurrection. For this reason, we must be patient with those who are slow to understand or change their sinful way of life.
Again, this was also true for the Athenians. They too could not understand who God was. Nevertheless, deep within them, they knew that God was real. After all, as Paul said, some of their writers had said that “it is in Him that we live, and move, and exist.” For this reason, they erected an altar to the Unknown God. But Paul helped them to understand that God could not be anything that had been formed by human hands. Rather, God surprises us by becoming man in Jesus. In Jesus, God revealed who He was, especially by His death and resurrection.
Revelation therefore cannot be reduced to some idea or concept. Revelation cannot even be reduced to the scriptures or the bible. Certainly, the bible contains the revelation of God. But God’s revelation goes beyond scripture. Of course, Revelation also includes information about the world, about ourselves and about God. But for Christianity, revelation is basically a person. For in Jesus, truth is fully present and experienced. In His teaching and life, Jesus revealed to us who the Father is, since all that He had was given to Him by the Father. Jesus is therefore the truth in person.
That being the case, it means that if we want to understand ourselves or to understand life and its mysteries, we must come to Jesus. Only by coming to know Jesus will we know ourselves. In this sense, revelation is still ongoing. There is no end to God’s revelation because Jesus is inexhaustible and unsurpassable. Jesus as a person cannot be fully understand or absorbed. On the contrary, the more we come to know Jesus, the more we discover how little we know of Him and about Him.
The question we need to ask ourselves is, what kind of response do we give to Him? There are three ways of responding to Jesus. We can be like those who sneered at St Paul. They made fun of Him. They were skeptical and proud. They did not take the message seriously. We, too, often make fun of others who have experienced God in their own ways. We ridicule the charismatics, or those whose way of praying is different from us. We must be careful because we might be depriving ourselves of such possible avenues of coming to know God. Indeed, it is said that “those who make a jest of life will find that which began as comedy must end in tragedy.” (William Barclays).
Secondly, some of us might act like those Athenians who said, “we will discuss it at some other time.” These are the people who would like to delay. They are afraid to make a decision. They want to be totally safe before making a commitment. And so they postpone their decision. Many of us are like that too. We want to investigate thoroughly before we make an option for God. This is particularly true for those of us who are too rational. Such an approach will make us regret. The truth is that it is not possible to gather complete and full proof empirical evidence. There are many things we need to accept in faith. If not, we would one day regret with St Augustine who said, “Too late have I know you Lord, too late have I known you.” By postponing our decision to believe, we will miss out on the joy of knowing and loving the Lord and be loved by Him.
Finally, we could make an act of faith and accept Jesus into our lives. Only by entering into a relationship with Jesus in faith and love, can we really begin to understand who Jesus is. In embracing Jesus, He will give us His Spirit of Truth who will in turn reveal to us about life, ourselves, God and the world. As we come to know Jesus more, we will also learn to embrace the mysteries of life. In this way, we will be led gradually but surely into the fullness of truth. There are many things in life we do not understand fully but as we embrace them, we will come to understand them gradually. This is particularly true of relationships and of love. Only when we take the courage to open ourselves up to the other person, will we then experience liberation and love. By putting up a false front and a mask, we alienate ourselves from others. By becoming vulnerable, we actually become even more loved.