A legend is told of how the emperor Trajan asked a Jewish Rabbi about God being present everywhere. “If he is everywhere, why don’t mortal eyes see him? I want to see him.” The Rabbi replied that “God is everywhere, but no mortal eye can see him.” Trajan was not satisfied with the answer. He insisted that the Rabbi must have a better way of explaining the teaching about God’s presence.
So the Rabbi brought the emperor outside in the noonday sun. “Now look straight at the sun.” “I can’t. The light blinds me.” “You see. You can’t bear the light of one of God’s creations. How do you think you could look directly at the Creator? If the sun blinds your eyes, would not the light of the creator annihilate all of you?”
The teaching about God’s presence has been used to help people strengthen their moral behaviour, do a better job in their profession and develop the arts of hospitality.
- The scientist, Linnaeus, wrote over his door, “Live innocently. God is here.”
- The Greek sculptor, Phidias, created a reclining statue of Theseus. His patrons told him the statue would be placed up in a prominent place in the Temple. Then they noticed the back of the statue looked as polished and perfect as the front. “Why did you waste your time and energy on the part of the statue no one would ever see?” “People may not see it,” said he. “But the gods will.”
The Old Testament states that no one can look into the face of God and live. At the same time, the Bible teaches that the mystery of God’s presence can be experienced in many ways. The heavens make known the glory of God. The masterpiece of creation discloses the divine artist. Just as tracks in the forest give us some idea of the presence of the animal pursued, so also the traces of the divine in the cosmos open our eyes to his presence.
For the biblical mind, one of the easiest ways to sense God’s presence is through hospitality. For example, Abraham once received a guest who told him that his aged wife would bear a child to be named Isaac. The stranger, to whom he showed hospitality, turned out to be God.
Jesus tells us this day that a cup of water given to a stranger is given to him. Hospitality both to those in need, to strangers and to those whom we call friends is the easiest way to get a glimpse of Christ.
No simpler method of practising the presence of God can be found than to serve others with welcome hospitality. The Catholics of Austria like to say, “The guest is Christ.” Thus these simple acts of kindness both make others feel better and also afford us the basic possibility of the religious experience of God.
Maybe we are not expert at reading the hints of God’s presence in nature and history. Perhaps we have no time for that. But we are always near people to whom we can show a little courtesy. Don’t bother looking at the sun. It hurts your eyes. Take a look at the people around you. The Son of God is there waiting to be cared for. He won’t hurt your eyes. Quite the opposite. He will warm your heart.