“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.”
This startling quote from the great American poet Henry David Thoreau captures an insight into the challenge of our human lives. All too much of the time I find myself asleep to the true dignity and purpose of these years granted me by my Creator. And what’s worse, there are moments of clarity about this situation that terrify me.
How many men have reached that “middle aged” point in life and seemingly “lose their minds” with behavior that seems so self destructive? We call it a “midlife crisis.” How many women do you know who reach those early “empty nest” years and have a crisis of identity that causes either crushing depression or other reckless choices? The truth is unless we struggle with our identity and purpose in a purposeful way, we will usually struggle with these issues in a destructive way. But we will struggle with them and they will rear their ugly heads in our lives in one form or another.
Did you know that the number one prescription medication in America is an antidepressant? This crisis of the human soul struggling with our own mortality and the unstoppable ticking of the clock will simply not be ignored.
So, how do we struggle with our mortality, our fears, our purpose, and our true dignity in a way that brings peace and contentment rather than the knee-jerk destructive behavior that leads to broken lives, disappointment, and ultimately an unsatisfying race toward meaninglessness?
In our Gospel Lesson this morning on this Bright Wednesday we see our Lord Jesus asking the very question and providing the very answer that will be our path to purpose and peace with our own mortality.
In St. John 1:35-52 our Lord Jesus is declared by His cousin John, the Forerunner, to be the “Lamb of God.” No Jewish person hearing this could mistake John’s declaration for anything else but a public statement that Jesus is the Messiah. In the Temple days of the Jewish people all faithful Jews knew what lambs were for. They were the perfect sacrifice for sin. And God’s Lamb certainly would become that very sacrifice for us just as we have experienced in last week’s Holy Week liturgies and prayers. And this “Lamb” will deal with the problem of mortality in an eternal way. He deals mortality a mortal blow!
But He also reveals how we are to embrace this victory over mortality by the situation that arises as two of John’s disciples start to follow Jesus. Our Lord noticed these men following Him and He turns and confronts them with the question that makes all the difference: “What do you seek?” (John 1:37).
If I am ever going to struggle in a healthy way over my purpose in life and my own fear of mortality, I have to struggle with that question, “What do you Seek?” Notice Jesus doesn’t ask them “Who do you seek?” No, He asks them a much deeper question, “What do you seek?” Stripping away all the delusions and self satisfying and self serving narcissism of my life, what do I seek? What do I really want? What is my purpose? These are the questions that have to be explored if I am ever going to know myself well enough to truly know who I am. And it is in the context of knowing Who God is that will reveal who I really am.
These disciples answered well! “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” (John 1:37). You won’t find answers to this fundamental question by yourself. You have to come, in humility, to the place where you honestly admit “I won’t learn about myself by myself. I have to go where He is to find myself.”
The Lord gives us the second half of our healthy and life-giving spiritual journey when He tells these men “Come and See.” (John 1:38) No answers. No philosophy. No high minded “head in the clouds” concepts. Only the path of following in trust and hope.
My life will find its purpose; my life will find peace; my life will find the strength to embrace mortality transformed into eternal life as I do what I must to follow Him Who is Life Himself.
Today, what do you seek? Can you hear the Lord’s offer to “come and see” so you will know Him? After all, He is the image of God, and we are created in the image of God, so to know myself, I must know Him. On this Bright Wednesday, hear the words of the Faith that “Christ is risen” and know that it isn’t in following a philosophy or an idea or religious concepts that set the human heart at peace with our own mortality. It is in knowing Him and being with Him that answers the most fundamental question of the human heart. If I am ever to escape a life of “quiet desperation,” it will be by embracing my true purpose in life – following Him Who has destroyed death and granted the world eternal life.
Christ is Risen!