I ran across this headline recently on an internet news website, “Heaven is a ‘fairy story’, says Stephen Hawking.” So stated the famed scientist in an interview with The Guardian on Monday. Of course, our modern age bows to “the wise and the learned” scientists, tossing us simpleton believers into the pile of drivel he rejects.
What I find interesting to note is the transition he has made over time. In the writing that launched his notoriety, A Brief History of Time, he conjectured that the possibility of the divine was not necessarily contradictory to his understanding of the Universe. That changed, however, in his most recent book, The Grand Design, where he states that there is no place for God in theories of creation in light of developments in science.
So what does this have to do with living the liturgical year? It ties directly into today’s gospel reading:
The feast of the Dedication was taking place in Jerusalem.
It was winter.
And Jesus walked about in the temple area on the Portico of Solomon.
So the Jews gathered around him and said to him,
“How long are you going to keep us in suspense?
If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
Jesus answered them, “I told you and you do not believe.
The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me.
But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.
My sheep hear my voice;
I know them, and they follow me.
I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.
No one can take them out of my hand.
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all,
and no one can take them out of the Father’s hand.
The Father and I are one.” (Jn 10:22-30)
Three things strike me in this gospel:
- “It was winter.” Winter is typically associated with a barren and difficult time of year; a time of endurance, struggle, and suffering.
- It was at the Portico of Solomon, the only remaining portion of the Solomon’s original temple. This portico sits at the intersection between the Jewish and Gentile worlds. Gentiles were not permitted to enter the temple area beyond this point. It is also here that we later see Peter and James heal the lame man, “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean.” (Acts 3:11)
- The crowd continues to ask for proof that Jesus is the Messiah. He responds, “I told you, and you do not believe.” He continues, “The works I do in my Father’s name testify to me. But you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep.”
This is where we come in. Without exception, Jesus calls everyone to Him. Some answer the call; some do not. For most of us, our parents answered His call when they brought us to the Church for baptism, but at some point, we made a decision to answer His call to discipleship. We are his sheep, and as such, we share a grave responsibility: to bring Him to our world so that the world will know that the Father and He are one.
The 69-year-old Hawking was not expected to live long after his diagnosis with a motor neuron disease at the age of 21, but indeed he did. Gifted with an amazing mind and trapped in an unhealthy body, his subsequent 48 years of life exceeded all expectations and have blessed the world with amazing scientific theories. Yet even with such an innate giftedness, a unique creation which sets him apart from others, he does not see God.
Please forgive my presumption, but I can’t help but think that part of His inability to embrace God stems from trying to make sense out of suffering. It is one of the greatest stumbling blocks for those who would believe. How can a loving God allow suffering, especially suffering of the innocent? This is the most profound mystery of the human condition, and it is an integral and inescapable part of life. No one evades it. How we handle it makes all the difference.
Our task as “His sheep”, especially in this Easter season, is to testify to Him in the works we do. We, too, are called like Peter and James, to heal “in the name of Jesus Christ the Nazorean.” Do we believe that? Do we “… lay hands on the sick, [that] they will recover”? (Mk 16:18) Are we bold in our witness to the power of Jesus? Do we have faith the size of a mustard seed? (Lk 17:6)
As we continue through the Easter season and approach Pentecost, let us double down our efforts to bring Jesus to the world, especially as it pertains to suffering. It’s easy to witness to the love of God when everything is rosy. It’s another thing when the troubles of the world weigh us down, but it is precisely in this time of weakness that His strength can shine through us.
Alleluia! Alleluia! He is Risen! Anne