16th January 2013
The Second Vatican Council, in its Dogmatic Constitution on Divine Revelation Dei Verbum, affirms that the intimate truth of the Revelation of God, shines for us “in Christ, who is both the mediator and the fullness of all Revelation” (n. 2 ). The Old Testament tells us how God, after creation, despite original sin, despite the arrogance of man who wants to take the place of his Creator, again offers the possibility of His friendship, especially through the covenant with Abraham and the journey of a small nation, that of Israel, which He chooses not with the criteria of earthly power, but simply out of love. It is a choice that remains a mystery and reveals the way of God calls some not to exclude others, but so they become bridges that lead to Him. Electing, always electing the other. In the history of the people of Israel we can retrace the steps of a long journey in which God makes Himself known, reveals Himself, enters into history in words and actions. For this work He uses mediators, such as Moses, the Prophets, the Judges, who communicate His wishes to the people, remind us of the need for fidelity to the covenant and keep alive expectation for the full and definitive realization of the divine promises.
And it is the realisation of these promises that we have contemplated in Christmas: God’s Revelation reaches its peak, its fullness. In Jesus of Nazareth, God truly visits His people, He visits humanity in a way that goes beyond all expectations: He sends His only begotten Son who became man. Jesus tells us something about God, he does not simply speak about the Father, but is the revelation of God. In the Prologue to his Gospel, Saint John writes: “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed Him”(Jn 1:18).
I would like to focus on this “has revealed Him”. In this regard, St. John, in his Gospel, speaks to us of a significant fact, that we have just heard. Approaching the Passion, Jesus assures his disciples, urging them not to be afraid and to have faith; then, he begins a dialogue with them in which he speaks of God the Father (cf. Jn 14.2 to 9). At one point, the apostle Philip asks Jesus, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us” (Jn 14:8). Philip is very practical and concrete, he says what we all want to say: he asks to “see” the Father, to see His face. The answer of Jesus, not only to Philipp but to all of us, introduces us to the heart of the Church’s Christological faith; For the Lord says: “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9).This expression summarizes the novelty of the New Testament, the novelty that appeared in the cave of Bethlehem: God can be seen, he showed his face is visible in Jesus Christ.
The theme of “seeking the face of God”, the desire to see this face, to see how God really is, is present throughout the Old Testament, so much so that the Hebrew term pānîm, which means “face”, occurs no less than 400 times, 100 of which refer to God. Yet the Jewish religion, by prohibiting all images, because God can not be depicted – as their neighbors did with the worship of idols, and from this the prohibition of images in the Old Testament- seems to totally exclude “seeing” from worship and piety. What does seek the face of God mean then, for the pious Israelite, recognising that there can be no image? The question is important: on the one hand it is as if to say that God can not be reduced to an object, like an image that can be picked up, but neither can anything can take God’s place; on the other, it is affirmed that God has a face, that He is a “You” that can enter into a relationship, that He is not closed within Heaven looking down upon humanity. God is certainly above all else, but He turns to us and hears, sees and speaks to us, makes covenants, He is capable of love. Salvation history is the history of this relationship of God with humanity, of this relationship in which He progressively reveals Himself to man, making Himself and His face known.
Right at the beginning of the year, on January 1, we heard, in the liturgy, the beautiful prayer of blessing over the people: “The Lord bless you and keep you! The Lord let his face shine upon you, and be gracious to you! The Lord look upon you kindly and give you peace!”(Numbers 6:24-26). The splendour of the divine face is the source of life, it is what allows us to see reality; and the light of his countenance is our guide in life. In the Old Testament there is a figure which is connected in a very special way the theme of the “face of God”; Moses, whom God chose to free the people from slavery in Egypt, to gift the Law of the covenant and to lead them to the Promised Land. In chapter 33 of the Book of Exodus, it is said that Moses had a close and confidential relationship with God: “The Lord spoke to Moses face to face, as one speaks with his friend” (v. 11). By virtue of this confidence, Moses asks God: “Show me thy glory,” and the Lord’s answer is clear: “I will will make all my beauty pass before you, and in your presence I will pronounce my name … But my face you cannot see, for no man sees me and still lives … Here is a place near me … so that you may see my back; but my face is not to be seen “(vv. 18-23). On the one hand, then, there is a face to face dialogue, as friends, but on the other there is the impossibility, in this life, of seeing the face of God, which remains hidden; its vision is limited. The Fathers say this: you can only see my back, which means that you can only follow Christ and see from behind the mystery of God. We can only follow God, seeing his back.
Something new happens, however, with the Incarnation. The search for the face of God receives an incredible sea change, because we can now see this face: it is that of Jesus, the Son of God who became man. In Him the path of God’s Revelation that began with the call to Abraham is fulfilled, He is the fullness of this Revelation because he is the Son of God, he is both a “mediator and fullness of all Revelation” (Dogmatic Constitution. Dei Verbum, 2), and in Him the content of Revelation and Revelator coincide. Jesus shows us the face of God and teaches us the name of God in the priestly prayer at the Last Supper, He says to the Father: “I have manifested thy name to the men … I made known your name to them ” (cf. Jn 17,6.26). The term “name of God” means God as the One who is present among men. God had revealed his name to Moses at the burning bush, to be invoked, giving a concrete sign of His “existence” among men. All this finds fulfillment and fullness in Jesus: He inaugurates a new modality of God’s presence in history, because he who sees Him sees the Father, as he tells Philip (cf. Jn 14:9). Christianity – says Saint Bernard – is the “religion of the Word of God,” which is not, however, “a written and mute word, but an incarnate and living one” (Hom. super missus est, IV, 11: PL 183, 86B). In the of patristic and medieval tradition a special formula is used to express this reality: Jesus is the Verbum abbreviatum (cf. Rom 9.28, referring to Isaiah 10:23), the short and substantial Word of the Father, of whom he told us everything. In Jesus all of the word is present.
In Jesus even mediation between God and man is fulfilled. In the Old Testament there is a host of figures who preformed this task, particularly Moses, the deliverer, the guide, the “mediator” of the covenant, as defined by the New Testament (cf. Gal 3:19; Acts 7 , 35, Jn 1:17). Jesus, true God and true man, is not simply one of the mediators between God and man, but is “the mediator” of the new and everlasting covenant (cf. Heb 8:6; 9.15, 12.24), “For there is one God- St Paul says – There is also one mediator between God and the human race, Christ Jesus, himself human “(1 Tim 2:5, Gal 3:19-20). In him we see and meet the Father, in Him we can invoke God as “Abba, Father” in Him we are gifted salvation. The desire to really know God, to see his face is in every man, even the atheists. And we consciously have this desire to see just who He is and what He is for us. But this desire is only realised by following Christ, so we see his back and finally, see, God as a friend, His face in the face of Christ. It is important that we follow Christ not only in times of need and when we find space in our daily tasks, but with our very lives.
Our entire existence should be directed to the encounter with Him, to love Him; and, love of neighbour must also have a central place, a love that, in the light of the Crucifix, enables us to recognise the face of Jesus in the poor, the weak, the suffering. This is only possible if the true face of Jesus has become familiar to us in listening to His Word, and especially in the mystery of the Eucharist. In the Gospel of St. Luke the passage of the two disciples of Emmaus, who recognise Jesus in the breaking of the bread, is significant. For us, the Eucharist is the great school in which we learn to see the face of God, where we enter into an intimate relationship with Him and learn at the same time to turn our gaze to the final moment of history, when He will fill us with the light of His face. On earth we walk towards this fullness, in the joyful expectation for the coming of the Kingdom of God