We were having the first conference (inauguration here is with a two week conference) on body (materiality)in Christianity in French. It is interesting to see how little I understand. Still I thought I could write something on the culture of encounter, which is so crucial for Christianity.
In the Old Testament, we have many stories of encounter; encounter of God with his people, with some of the prophets and so on. But this encounter of God and humans achieves a particular dimension with the person of Jesus and his incarnation.
I was just thinking of a few incidents in the Bible;
- Parable of Good Samaritan
- Parable of the prodigal son.
- Story of the woman washing the feet of Jesus in the house of Simon, the pharisee.
One thing common to these incidents is the pattern of ‘the first becoming the last and the last becoming the first.’ When an encounter with a situation (or a person)converts one of them, the other remains a tough-nut to crack. There are different occasions of God before us; only question is are we open to encounter God.
When the real presence of Jesus in the Eucharist (not just a symbolic presence) is one option of an encounter, real presence of Jesus in the people and surroundings are another option to encounter. Definitely encounter leads to transformation. The best example is in the incident of woman washing the feet of Jesus (Lk 7:35–50).
This woman is called a sinner (not officially called prostitute, though many deduce such a conclusion; it is not a matter of great concern for me here). Everybody sees her as a sinner. Jesus sees her as a person. I don’t know whether she is conscious of her sinfulness (atleast in the gospel, she never asks for pardon). But she expresses her love to a person (may be one of the few or the only person who considers her as a person). Yes, she has an encounter with a person who realizes her worth. Jesus is forgiving her not because she asked pardon, but because of her great acts of love. And the great acts of love is possible because of an encounter.
Thus there could be two kinds of encounter…
- Between two persons
- Between a person and a situation
Situations are always open to us. It depends on the openness of the individuals which can result in encounters, which can be transformative.
Jesus treated the other as a person. Women was open to accept Jesus and express love to him. The younger son was open to 2 encounters (encounter with poverty and encounter with his father). Good Samaritan was open to an encounter with the man on the street.
The gospel shows many more encounters; the lives of saints and holy men and women (canonized or non-canonized, christian or non-christian) shows many such encounters. Buddha’s encounter with 3 life situations (death, old age, suffering) finally led to his renunciation and Nirvana.
God became human to teach humans that humanity is beautiful. When we accept that aspect, we should be open to encounter with God in innumerable forms (not just in my prayer), which will be salvific.
Politicians open to encounter could be able to solve the problems of the day like poverty, refugee crisis and environmental crisis. Church leaders open to encounter will help the Church to be a field-hospital, dealing with the present day crises and helping people to reach the fullness of life, that Jesus promised. This is equally true for a family, religious community or any other groups. You and I open to encounter can definitely make the world a better place…
[The importance of human body in an encounter is something worthwhile to think of. May be for a later time].