Without having seen him you love him; though you do not now see him you believe in him and rejoice with unutterable and exalted joy.
— 1 Peter 1:8
Christians should be eager to lift this world from its pettiness to true greatness, but this task can be accomplished only through the mediation of Jesus Christ. St. Paul calls us “to re-establish all things in Christ” (see Eph. 1:10), and St. Josemaría says, “We want Christ to reign!” (“Regnare Christum volumus”)
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus tells us. “No one comes to the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). Right there lies the answer to man’s deepest, most vital longing in his life — to see God! The bridge over the divide is no other than Jesus Christ, the God-Man. Through St. Catherine of Siena, God said:
I told you that I have made a bridge of the Word, my only-begotten Son, and such is the truth I want you to realize, my children, that by Adam’s sinful disobedience, the road was so broken up that no one could reach everlasting life.
I want you to look at the bridge of my only-begotten Son and notice its greatness. Look! It stretches from heaven to earth, joining the earth of your humanity with the greatness of the Godhead.
The future Benedict XVI wrote:
Life shared with God, eternal life within temporal life, is possible because of God living with us: Christ is God being here with us. In him God has time for us; he is God’s time for us and thus at the same time the opening of time into eternity. God is no longer the distant and indeterminate God to whom no bridge will reach; he is the God at hand; the Body of the Son is the bridge for our souls. . . . God is no longer merely a God up there, but God surrounds us from above, from below, and from within. He is all in all.
The greatest manifestation of the Almighty to mankind occurred when the Word was made flesh in the womb of Mary, the maiden of Nazareth. This is how God facilitated man’s discovery and love for Him through His splendid and sacred Humanity. When the fullness of time arrived, the light came in the person of Jesus Christ.
Pope Benedict affirmed:
True, no one has ever seen God as He is. And yet God is not totally invisible to us. He does not remain completely inaccessible. . . . God has made Himself visible. In Jesus we are able to see the Father (1 John 4:9).
Yet Jesus’ light is not like the overwhelming one of heaven. Man’s earthly pilgrimage takes place among shadows since it requires faith and free cooperation with grace.
The Restraint of Jesus Christ
Jesus was born without display in Bethlehem and lived silently in Nazareth. Even His greatest miracle, His Resurrection, was not worked with fanfare. He quietly left His tomb empty. Nobody saw Him rising from the dead. He appeared many times afterward to different people. All was done according to His characteristic discretion.
With the exception of the episode in the Temple in Jerusalem when He was twelve, when He amazed the teachers of Israel with His knowledge and wisdom, Jesus spent thirty years of His life without revealing His divinity. In the eyes of His contemporaries, He was just the son of Joseph, the working man. At the wedding in Cana and at the request of His mother, Mary, He performed the first of His signs by changing water into wine.
From that moment, His hidden life was over, and His public life began. Throughout the next three years, He showed much restraint, even while he worked great wonders. Many times, He told witnesses not to tell anyone about what they had seen. In great part, this was due to His wish not to be mistaken for a new political or religious leader, like Moses, Joshua, or Judas
Maccabeus. At that time, the expectation among the Jews was for a Messiah to liberate them from the Roman yoke.
But an important reason for Christ’s restraint was His desire to remain concealed. Ronald Knox states:
In the Incarnation, God is half revealed and half concealed; that is the point. He revealed Himself, but not in a way to startle or cow the imagination. . . . Why did He do that? Partly, of course, in order to exercise our faith. Conviction should not force itself upon the mind. There should be a loophole, once again, by which doubt could creep in, if men were resolved to doubt.
He did none of His miracles to entertain or for display, or set up an exhibition. That is why, when Herod, out of curiosity, asked Jesus to work a miracle, he got neither his request nor a reply. Rather, “the healing miracles that Christ performs in the Gospel demonstrate that God has drawn near to humanity. With this, Jesus wants to reveal the countenance of the true God, the God who is near, full of mercy for every human being, the God who makes a gift to us of life in abundance, of his own life.
Christ Makes Exceptions
Jesus is the ever-enamored Lover. Like people in love, He makes exceptions to the rules of the game. A good example is the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor. For a few minutes, Peter, John, and James were gifted with an extraordinary proof of Christ’s divinity. Jesus prepared them for future trials by showing Himself in His divinity, talking to Elijah and Moses, both of whom had died many centuries before. In those great moments the disciples hardly needed faith. That experience was not a trial, but an affectionate caress. In those unforgettable moments that made them tremble, they felt taken to a higher order of things. But this was an exception and everything was soon back to normal.
In the Acts of the Apostles, Simon Peter is quoted as saying: “God raised him on the third day and made him manifest; not to all the people but to us who were chosen by God as witnesses” (Acts 10:40–41). Christ often made self-disclosures on a selective basis. The Gospel of St. Luke records one such disclosure to his apostles:
In that same hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, “I thank thee, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to babes; yea, Father, for such was thy gracious will. All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, or who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him (Luke 10:21–22).
In John’s Gospel we hear Jesus say:
“Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, for this purpose I have come to this hour. Father, glorify thy name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” The crowd standing by heard it and said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.” (John 12:27–30)
Jesus expressed His merciful attitude when He gave the assurance that “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7); when He made it clear that He did not want the sinner to die but to be converted from his ways and to live (Ezek. 33:11); and when He said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13).
The following passage from Matthew’s Gospel gives insight into the rationale for the Almighty’s ways of dealing with man:
Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. . . . This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.” (Matt. 13:10–11, 13)
These words fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah which goes: “You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive” (Matt. 13:14). He only mentions the immediate reason for parables, so that they will not understand the ultimate purpose He had, which was mercy.
That is, to those who had faith in Him, Jesus spoke plainly, for they could take the responsibility that came with understanding. He refused to speak clearly to listeners who did not heed his message, afraid of the heavy burden on Judgment Day, because “everyone to whom much is given, of him will much be required” (Luke 12:48). Jesus spoke to the crowd in parables to help those with goodwill, but not add a burden on those who do not believe. “If any man has ears to hear, let him hear” (Mark 4:23).
The Almighty is very careful not to burden the conscience of anyone, for He knows that the one who is well exposed to and receptive of His message has to give an account. He will not manifest Himself to those who are not disposed to receive Him, lest it be taken against them on Judgment Day. To such as these, He spoke only in parables. It is a touching manifestation of His wisdom and mercy.
In St. John’s Gospel, our Lord explains this, saying: “I have said this to you in figures; the hour is coming when I shall no longer speak to you in figures but tell you plainly of the Father” (John 16:25).
Delicate and Refined
During His stay on earth, Jesus Christ worked more than enough miracles to prove His divinity. Many times, he exhorted witnesses not to tell anyone about them. He always avoided stepping on man’s freedom and responsibility, for with light comes an added duty.
Christ continues to ask everyone the question he put to Simon Peter: “Who do you say that I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Who am I for you: a myth, a legendary person?
Do you recognize me for who I truly am: your redeemer, your teacher, your light, and your resurrection?
Am I absolutely real to you?
Am I, for you, the same yesterday, now, and forever?
Editor’s note: This article is adapted from a chapter in Why God Hides, which is available from Sophia Institute Press.