‘Rejoice in the Lord always….the Lord is near’. Phil 4:4-5.
St. Paul may well have been referring to the end times when he uttered these joyful words in today’s liturgy, but they also have a deeper meaning as we read in today’s Gospel, when St. John the Baptist says to the Priests and Levites who were sent by the Jews to question him, …’there is one standing in your midst of whom you know nothing’ Jn1:27. ***

Numerous times in the Gospels, we are confronted in the sacred texts with the Presence of Jesus passing unrecognised – surely our Lord intends us to penetrate something of the depth of this mystery – his unrecognisable Presence in our midst!

With the exception of the loss and finding of Jesus in the Temple at the age of 12 years, the Gospels give us no further details of Jesus’ life until he begins his public ministry. But we are given to understand that his life in the intervening years was a very ordinary one, so much so that when Jesus began his teaching in the synagogue at Nazareth, the people were astonished and said: ‘what is this wisdom that has been granted him and these miracles worked through him, this is the carpenter surely, the son of Mary, are not his brothers and sisters here with us?’ and they would not accept him. (Mk.6 3-4). In other words they thought they knew him well, they could not perceive anything to indicate his Divinity in their midst.

Similarly when we reflect on Jesus’ words concerning the last judgement, Mt.25 – the just ask ‘when did we see you hungry or thirsty, sick or in prison…and minister to you?’ and the unjust in their turn will ask the same questions, ‘when did we see you and not minister to you’? Jesus then gives his profound and beautiful teaching: ‘Amen, I say to you, as long as you did it to one of the least of mine, you did it to me’- and to the unjust ‘as long as you did not do it to one of these who are mine, you did not do it to me’. Here indeed is the precious jewel we must never let go of – the astonishing thing here for us to reflect on is that neither the just nor the unjust realised that they were, or were not, serving the Lord in others.

In the Old Testament too, we read of many occasions in which God brings his people to an awareness of his Presence in their midst. The Prophet, Jeremiah, cries out ‘Lord, you are in our midst…do not desert us Lord, our God’ Jer 14.9. In the Book of Genesis C.28;17, God tells the Patriarch, Jacob in a dream. ‘be sure I am with you, I will keep you safe wherever you go’. When Jacob awakes from his beautiful experience of God, he has become so aware of God’s Presence that he cries out in sheer joy – ‘truly God is in this place and I did not know it’! This was centuries before John the Baptist’s same proclamation to the Priests and Levites! And Isaiah C.45 tells us – ‘Truly God of Israel, the Saviour, you are a God who lies hidden.’.

Surely, these sacred texts and so many others in both the Old and New Testaments are a strong reminder to us that our Lord does indeed dwell in our midst and in all those who touch our lives, near and far away. Today’s Liturgy invites us, indeed, prompts us strongly, to prayerfully ponder and strengthen our faith in this great mystery, and to frequently ask ourselves ‘how many times do we let golden opportunities pass us bye, of living as fully as possible in this Divine loving Presence in and around us, and in all peoples, however unrecognisable? This precious jewel highlights for us the sacredness of every single person – no wonder St. Paul cried out – ‘Rejoice in the Lord always …. the Lord is near’.
‘I am with you always, yes, even to the end of the world’.

***Ronald.Knox translation