Beyond this most basic form of education young people learnt the ways of their parents either in the home or family business. There was no common writing portraying the news of the day, no radio, TV etc. to bring news of other parts of the world. Travelling traders could bring news of distant places far away but naturally weeks or months old. We could say it was a silent world, with the occasional Roman edict or Temple proclamation.
JEWISH WORLD OF THOUGHT
Overall the understanding of life fits into one simple picture. The simple picture of one God who guided their history and expected obedience to their law. There were some differences of opinion as characterised by the argument over belief in the afterlife. The Pharisees believed there was one and the Sadducees disagreed.
One belief they held was that a great King, ‘David like’, the Messiah, would come. He would be preceded by the return of Elijah, who had ascended into heaven on his chariot. The gospel alludes to the fascination they had in the eventual fulfillment of this prophecy. The appearance of John the Baptist had such significant impact on them that they wondered if he might be the one.
“The Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.” And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not. “ “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?”
Their world was simple, but they are human, they have beliefs and needs that must be met, and questions that must be answered…The most fundamental, relating to the search for their Messiah. This is the most fundamental question for the faith journey.
When Jesus came and declared the Kingdom of God was near, their spirit was stirred, even if not comfortably. His teachings were far superior to anything they had ever heard. He spoke with authority we are told and consequently the questions are far more probing and unsettling. They have begun a new stage of humanity’s journey, where old perceptions are being exposed as inadequate. The journey of faith will always challenge us with new understandings. It will arouse new questions in our own mind.
The story of Thomas brings this to mind. On three occasions he is mentioned in the gospels. And on three occasions a tense and conflicting discussion arises, but on each occasion it is his courage to ask the questions that led to three of the most profound insights.
· I am the way, the truth and the life
· I am the resurrection and the life
· And ‘My Lord and my God.’
Thomas is a wonderful example for modeling some of the expectations of the faith journey path.
Put in Jesus own words, ‘Seek and ye shall find, knock and the door will be opened’
This is one fundamental means of the journey of life.
Our world is so different to that of 2000 years ago. Knowledge has exponentially expanded to a point beyond comprehension. They say we live in the information age. Sociologist Charles Taylor contrasts the past centuries with today and highlights how in our world we have so many understandings of the world standing side by side. The questions of today keep pushing us further and further toward the furthest horizons.
And in one sense it is necessary for enhancing the experience of life. Yet the common questioning doesn’t always touch on the spiritual nerve of existence or consciousness. Too often, these get trampled upon. Fortunately this deepest of needs will never go away.
When compared to Jesus day, the Palestinians and Jews did not have the tools to explore life as we do.
Yet they did have one thing in common with us. It was that intuitive hunger for knowing the divine.
This is the foundation of life’s search. It is the pathway for engaging the prophetic voice crying out in the wilderness of today’s multi-complex humanity. We will only hear the worlds irritating clatter if we have not learnt to listen with discernment within our own interior quietness. We need to have the courage to engage with our own interior questions lest we plateau out on the journey.
We can all be responsive to the prophetic, wise and insightful voices of life. That’s the pathway we are called to commit ourself to. It is the pathway that opens our heart to the divine.
It can happen to all people, to shepherds, or wise men, or the seriously religious like John the Baptist.
All can be drawn into the deeper story of God’s love by listening with spiritual sensitivity.
It draws us to the Christmas manger, or as John the Baptist found, ‘to the one who was greater than him,’ or by implication to the one greater than any other prophet, saint, sage, shaman or guru.
The Advent calling, like the voice of the one crying out in the wilderness, is a call to engage with the constant presence of the divine in the midst of our daily life.