Going back to that first encounter with Jesus
A Reflection for Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
“He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.” (Jn 10:40)
Find today’s readings here.
Stones: We climb them, build with them, use them to line our garden beds. And sometimes we use them to kill. Today’s Gospel opens with a jolting line—Jesus has enraged the crowd, and they pick up stones, ready to aim.
Imagine the tension in the crowd. What is going through Jesus’ mind? Was he thinking about the woman caught in adultery, whose life he saved from a fate now awaiting him? Was he looking ahead to his suffering on the cross? Was he angry? Despairing? Defiant?
Before the scene escalates, Jesus slips away, escaping. Where he goes next is what struck me the most about today’s Gospel: “He went back across the Jordan to the place where John first baptized, and there he remained.”
Just as the grace of our baptisms, vows and marriages are meant to unfold over time, so too are these existential “Galilees,” where we first fell in love with that Jesus that the crowd wanted to stone to death.
The Jordan with John: In many ways, the place where it all began for Jesus, where John saw “the Spirit come down like a dove from the sky and remain upon him,” during his baptism.
I couldn’t help but think of Pope Francis’ homily from the 2014 Easter Vigil when I read about Jesus returning to the Jordan River. Francis remarked how after the Resurrection, there was a command for the disciples to go back to Galilee, “The place where they were first called, where everything began.” Pope Francis tells us we ought to likewise return to the moment of our baptism, not just our sacramental baptism that took place at a particular time and place, but another kind as well.
In the life of every Christian, after baptism there is also another “Galilee,” a more existential “Galilee”: the experience of a personal encounter with Jesus Christ who called me to follow him and to share in his mission. In this sense, returning to Galilee means treasuring in my heart the living memory of that call, when Jesus passed my way, gazed at me with mercy and asked me to follow him. To return there means reviving the memory of that moment when his eyes met mine, the moment when he made me realize that he loved me.
For me, my Galilee was a cheaply carpeted youth room in the parish hall, at 14, when I realized that there was a God who loved me unconditionally. It didn’t have the drama of St. Paul blinded on the road to Damascus, but still good enough for government work. Just as the grace of our baptisms, vows and marriages are meant to unfold over time, so too are these existential “Galilees,” where we first fell in love with that Jesus that the crowd wanted to stone to death.