My parents taught me not to point my finger at strangers. I was told it was rude to point to another person and whisper behind his or her back. As a child I dared not point to a person with a different skin color or another child who somehow did not fit into my scheme or pattern of life. It was simply rude to be seen in public pointing to other people. Most other children were also taught not to point at anyone in public. However, on playgrounds everywhere, new kids, different kids, gentle kids, smart kids, big-eared kids, freckled kids, and fat kids were all pointed at by just about everyone I knew.
I now live on a block where children and adults still point. Strangers point at other adults who line up on the sidewalk outside our doors. They also point in the direction of a teen who is so stoned he cannot walk across the street. Other passersby do more than point — they spit, wag their fists, and kick men who are sleeping on the sidewalk. I still believe it is impolite even to point.
As we listen to the Scriptures during the beginning of Ordinary Time, once again John the Baptist appears strong and sure. We relied on him to show us the way to Christ and the kingdom of God all during the Advent season and even during the Christmas holiday. John continues to do one thing — he points toward Jesus. John has been portrayed in art throughout the centuries as pointing to Jesus. He has been caught in paintings and in sculpture doing the very thing so many parents and teachers have taught us not to do — point to another person in public.
John's pointing is different. He points to his cousin because he is sure Jesus is the one who will bring unity and peace to the world. John points to Jesus during his baptism because Jesus is the revelation of the Father's love. John assures us that the Spirit will continue to point us all in the direction of the kingdom. John also points to Jesus with more than his index finger. John's heart, mind, and soul are also oriented to the direction of Christ Jesus. His very soul knows that the only way through earthly life will be in the direction of the kingdom of heaven.
John's voice also points to Christ. As Jesus walks by, John proclaims with his entire being, "Behold, the Lamb of God." This is one of the most sacred statements and recognitions in the Scriptures. This is an act of sheer love and deep awareness of the living Christ. This statement is a profoundly contemplative act on John's part. His statement is the result of years of pointing in the direction of the holy. This is an awakening moment, a joy-filled expression, which comes from a loving and profound understanding of Christ on the earth.
As we continue in this Ordinary Time, we all need to reflect on how our lives point toward Christ. We need to take some retreat time for our parish staffs to view where we are heading. We need to evaluate our liturgies, education, and service to see if they are rooted in our deep awareness of the Lamb of God. Do we recognize the Lamb of God from our hearts and in our worshiping assemblies? Do we have the conviction and the awareness to know Christ in such a passionate way? Perhaps our finger pointing can be to our own selfishness as we point out the differences of other parishes in order to make ourselves look good; as we point to the fact that we have more money and parishioners; as we point to our music ministry because our liturgical style is certainly better than that of the parish next door; as we point out that we are glad that we have no one sleeping at our church doors and no homeless people sitting in our pews. Fingers, hearts, and lives may be pointed in many other directions than toward the Lamb of God.
These days of Ordinary Time also show us that Christ is pointing directly to us. Jesus rebukes our unclean spirits. He reaches out his hand to heal Simon's mother-in-law. He heals many who are sick with various diseases, and he drives out demons. He stretches out his hand to touch the people we have pointed to as dirty, such as the lepers. Even the leper pointed to him and asked to be made clean.
Our finger pointing must imitate that of John the Baptist so that we may know who Jesus is among us. We also must stretch out our hands in the name of Christ Jesus and heal the lepers, the outcasts, the marginalized, and every person whom we judge as different from ourselves. I long to point my finger in love, "Behold, the Lamb of God." ML
Rev. Ronald Patrick Raab, CSC, serves as associate pastor at the Downtown Chapel of St. Vincent de Paul Parish in Old Town, Portland, Ore. He hosts On the Margins, a weekly Scripture commentary on radio, KBVM.com. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org