I had a dream about meeting a contemporary author named Peter Kreeft. I show up at his home near Boston College where he is a professor. After knocking on the door, I breathlessly announce, "I'm here, Peter. One of your biggest fans. I've read all your books. I loved Socrates Meets Jesus. Pascal was tremendous. The Shorter Summa was just right. I keep your Handbook on my desk. You really let 'em have it The Unaborted Socrates. I've listened to your tapes. I heard you speak once in Seattle. Is it OK if I spend a few days here with you and your family?"
A long pause ensues. Then he says to me, "I'm sorry. I do not know you."
Jesus tells us something similar could happen to you or me. It's not enough to have heard about Jesus and to be able to quote the Bible. Even doing some great act for him is not sufficient. I can run a soup kitchen in Seattle or give my life as a missionary--and still be lost. The most frightening words in the Bible are "I do not know you" (Mt 7:23, cf. Lk 13:25).
The operative word here is "know." Because it is so important, it is worth taking time to understand its full meaning. Those of us who are native English speakers are at a disadvantage. Our is one of the few languages that does not distinguish two senses of the word. In Spanish you can translate "to know" as saber or conocer. The first refers to conceptual knowledge. Saber that two and two equal four. But conocer implies acquaintance, experience, intimacy. When Jesus says our salvation depends on knowing him, he is using the conocer sense.
The Bible employs the word know in a way which might surprise us. "Adam knew Eve his wife and she conceived and bore Cain." (Gen 4:1) That knowing involved more than chatting while they sewed fig leaves together. The same meaning can be seen when the angel announced to Mary that she was to give birth to the Savior. She asked, "How can that be since I do no know man?" (Lk 1:34) Mary was not talking about being shy, but of having dedicated herself to virginity. Otherwise her question to the angel (and his response) would have made no sense.
What we can see from the example of Eve and the New Eve is that "to know" refers to the most intimate experience possible between two human beings. The mystery of human sexuality is great. To reduce it to an animal act is like performing the Ninth Symphony with a kazoo. The Holy Father dedicates several chapters of his book Love and and Responsibility to a meditation on the meaning of human sexuality and what it means for understanding our relationship to God. Anyone who reads that could never say the Church looks down on sex. On the contrary our view of sex is exalted. We see it as (after the sacraments) the most sacred human activity.
This is why the Catholic Church rejects artificial birth control. It diminishes the meaning of human sexuality. Once I was interviewed by a college student who was doing a term paper on birth control. She was curious why the Church is against it. I began by asking her about the words we use to describe contraception. One of the most common phrases is "protected sex." I asked her if it did not seem odd that a person takes that stance toward someone they supposedly love.
"Hmmm," she said.
The biblical view of "knowledge" or intimacy does not admit barriers or stopping short. It implies total giving. Jesus calls for that when he says how crucial it is to know him, not just know about him.
Sometimes an Evangelical Christian will confront us with the question, "Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?" That is an important question and I would hope every person here could truthfully answer, "Yes, I have." But in itself that is not enough. Just saying "Lord, Lord" will not get a person into heaven. What is required is knowledge.
The prophets testify to this. Hosea tells us what is important is "knowledge of God." (Hos. 6:6) He is speaking about knowledge in the full biblical sense--an intimate relationship, a total self-giving which is open to life. That is what stands behind Jesus invitation to know him.
At this point some people get a sinking feeling. "My prayer is so barren, I am not sure if I know Jesus or not. When I come to communion, I am terribly distracted." Do not despair. Take another look at what Jesus says in today's Gospel. The "knowledge" involved is not so much from our side. If that were the case, I think most of us would throw up our hands. Fortunately, what matters is Jesus knowing us.
In our relation to God we are objects, not so much subjects. You and I are the pursued, not the pursuers. We are like moles who have spent so much time underground that we are afraid to peek into the daylight. The challenge is to emerge from our burrows--at least for a few moments. Prayer, communion, those are ways of allowing Jesus to know you. True, God can see everywhere. But when it comes to knowledge in his sense, he shows what we sometimes refer to as "refinement" or "nobility." He waits for us.
From Archives (21st Sunday, Year C):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Germaine Greer on Birth Control
My bulletin column
St. Mary of the Valley Album
My Vocation Story (23 minute video, made at Everett Serra Club on August 14, 2010)
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish
Parish Picture Album
World Youth Day 2013
(about 40 pictures in a slide show)
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)
KRA's & SMART Goals (updated June 2013)
A Homilist's Prayer