An encounter with the Lord

By Patricia Kasten | The Compass | April 30, 2015

When and where have you met Jesus?

“There was no horse.” We all remember the story, heard last Friday (April 24) in the first reading, when Saul encounters Christ on the road to Damascus (Acts 9-20). Saul, “breathing murderous threats” is intent on imprisoning followers of Jesus. Then he met Jesus. (As the priest at our chapel Mass at the diocese noted – “There was no horse;” there was only Jesus, a bright light and Saul (soon to be Paul).

Last Friday, Pope Francis’ homily noted how we each have personal encounters with Jesus.

“He never forgets, but we forget the encounter with Christ,” the pope said. “And this would be a good assignment to do at home, to consider: … ‘When have I felt the Lord asking something of me? When have I encountered the Lord?’”

Of course, Christians know it’s important to be close to Jesus. But how often do we remember the joy of that encounter? Or do we fall back to old Saul’s pattern of breathing threat and fury? Do we remember encounters with Jesus when we meet bad drivers on the highway? Do we remember Jesus when facing difficult co-workers? Do we remember Jesus when hard questions like the death penalty or how to counter terrorism come up?

On April 27, violence erupted in Baltimore, following the funeral for Freddie Gray. Marchers became rioters during rallies about the 25-year-old’s death while in police custody. Gray’s family had asked for peace that night.

Some tried to give them that peace. CNN reported that some peacemakers — clergy, Gray’s family and residents — stood in the rioters’ way.

“It’s disrespect to the family,” one, the Rev. Jamal Bryant, said. He and men he identified as both members of local Christian churches and the Nation of Islam made a human wall against rioters.

In Boston, the parents of Martin Richard, the youngest victim killed in the marathon bombings two years ago, are asking that the death penalty be taken “off the table” for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. The Richards belong to St. Ann Parish in Dorchester. They are not saying whether they oppose the death penalty categorically, but they now want peace for their family. The death penalty, they say, would “prolong reliving the most painful day of our lives. We hope our two remaining children do not have to grow up with the lingering, painful reminder of what the defendant took from them …”

These two examples are not earth-shaking. They are not necessarily life-changing. But they are also not full of threats or fury. There are no horses — horses that have for centuries been used for force. These are examples of people living as they believe they must because it is the right thing. And they are Christians.

These are stories of people — imperfect people — who have met Jesus. In some small way, that encounter changed them and carried them to these moments.

In his April 24 homily, Pope Francis had another assignment: “Take the Gospels and look at the stories there and see how Jesus encountered the people. … Maybe one of them is similar to mine.”

In the Gospels, we see chaos and riotous crowds — just think about the woman taken in adultery. Think of the crowd in Nazareth that wanted to throw Jesus over a cliff. Think about the blind man thrown out of the synagogue because he had been healed by Jesus — and changed by that encounter.

When and where have you met Jesus? How did it change you? How does that encounter ask you to live today, just as Jesus asked Saul to live in a first-century world full of religious change and political upheaval?

Pope Francis said to “ask for the grace of memory … so that we might not hear the complaint the Lord makes in Revelation: ‘I have this against you, that you have forgotten your first love’.”

Remember — there was no horse. The only horse was a colt that Jesus, our first love, rode into a crowd. A crowd that made its choice a few days later.

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