Have you ever wondered what it must have been like to meet Jesus? Or perhaps wondered about what it would have been like to be sat in front of him as he spoke his parables and explained them? It would have been such a privilege to have heard him, to have seen the things that he did.
Yet time and again in the Gospel, we find that when Jesus speaks to people, or when he teaches and preaches, people simply didn't get it. It is easy to get frustrated when we read or listen to the Gospel, because people don't understand who Jesus is. They don't seem to understand what the message is about, and the power that the message might have. How could they be so blind?
Today's Gospel is just such a frustrating passage. Jesus is acclaimed as one with wisdom and an ability to work wonders that does not match with his background as the simple carpenter, the son of Mary. The people are so distracted by their own ideas about who and what Jesus is, and cannot allow themselves to really listen to what he says, and look closely at what he does. They are not attentive enough to be able to truly see, and through seeing, truly believe.
If we are frustrated by this passage and by similar Gospel passages, we must take care that we do not fall into a trap. It would be all-too-tempting to pity these poor people who could not understand who Jesus was and come to believe in him. In doing so we might end up thinking that we are so much better than them. This would be to succumb to pride, something which St. Augustine refers to as the 'love of our own excellence'.
Pride is certainly not good news, because it gives us the illusion that we already know it all, and prevents us being disposed towards receiving from God. We may think we know all about Jesus, about who he was, and about the message that he preached, yet how often do our lives fall short of the demands that following Jesus makes of us? We may think that we get the message, but our lives so often suggest otherwise.
So what are we to do? Well, we should take heart from our second reading. Paul had a dramatic conversion experience when he saw the risen Lord on his way to Damascus. This one profound experience was sufficient to change the whole course of his life, from being a person who persecuted the Church to being one of the greatest preachers and Church leaders.
Yet he understood that what he knew of Jesus might lead him to pride, and that God had his own way of keeping him in check. Paul's weakness was God's way of reminding Paul of who and what he was. The reality of Paul's weakness shaped this energetic man into one who was truly zealous for the things of the Lord. It kept him humble, kept him in need of God's grace.
And so it is for us too. The word humility comes from the Latin word for earth, or soil. To be good Christians we need to have our feet firmly on the ground, and this means knowing who and what we really are. This is important, because we are then open to looking more closely at Jesus, and recognising who and what he was. Then we can start living Christian lives that are shaped by God, attentive to his word, and open to the change that the Gospel message calls us to.
The next time we are tempted to think that we know all there is to know about Jesus, let us pause for a moment and think again. Let us dare to take a second look, and strive to live the Gospel at a deeper level, asking that we might receive that life which Christ has promised us.