From John’s Gospel . . .
Jesus said, “A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” Then some of his disciples said to one another, “What does he mean by saying to us, ‘A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me’; and ‘Because I am going to the Father’?” They said, “What does he mean by this ‘a little while’? We do not know what he is talking about.”
(From the Daily Office Lectionary, John 16:16-18)
“A little while, and you will no longer see me, and again a little while, and you will see me.” Say, what? I have to admit that I have the same reaction to what Jesus says here that the disciples seem to have – a sort of scratching of the head and wondering, “What the heck does that mean?” ~ On the other hand, when I read that statement what immediately comes to mind is that traveling carnival arcade game “Whack-a-Mole” – the one where the rodent pops up unexpectedly from holes and you’re supposed to hit it with a mallet! Undoubtedly, someone will tell me that I’m being blasphemous or sacrilegious or something, but the image that comes to my mind is that game with Jesus popping up out of the holes – “Now you see me. Now you don’t. A little while . . . you’ll see me again. Try to get me!” ~ And truly, that is the way Jesus sometimes “pops up” in my life. I see Jesus in the hungry who come to my church’s food pantry on Saturday mornings and in the volunteers who serve them, but then sometimes on Sunday I wonder where he is: “He was here yesterday. Why isn’t he here now?” Or sometimes, I do see him on Sunday morning in the wonder and glory of worship and in the fellowship among parishioners during coffee hour, but then on Monday I see folks I know driving less-than-courteously in what my daughter calls “gas guzzling SUVs” (confession: I drive one, too) and I wonder: “Where’s Jesus?” He pops up, I see him, he disappears, I don’t see him, a little while . . . there he is again. Like that darned rodent popping up in the game! ~ I know full and well that this is not what Jesus was talking about to the disciples. I know he’s talking about his crucifixion and his resurrection and his ascension; I know that . . . but I still see that “Whack-a-Mole” game in my mind’s eye! That’s one of the beauties of Scripture, that we can find applications of the text in situations that may not be exactly what the original story was about, but that are nonetheless related and valid. Jesus may have been talking about his immediate return in the resurrection, but he also returns in his community through the ages. The original disciples didn’t see him and then they did; church members today are still seeing him in many places and contexts. Sometimes we don’t, but then in a little while, we do. ~ I’m terrible at “Whack-a-Mole”, by the way. I have lousy reaction times with such things, always have – it’s why I was terrible at sports like baseball or tennis in elementary, junior high, and high schools. But I was good at shooting guns. I went to a military high school where we were required to pass Army ROTC firearms tests. I qualified as either a “marksman” or an “expert” with every weapon on which we trained. I was also pretty good at archery. Did you know that the New Testament word for “sin” comes from the sport of archery? It’s hamartia, which means “missing the mark”. Aristotle (384-322 BC) borrowed the term and used it in his Poetics to describe the “fatal flaw” in the hero of a dramatic tragedy; the writers of the New Testament then used it to mean “sin”. ~ So, sometimes I don’t see Jesus when I ought to. It’s not that Jesus isn’t there; it’s just that I don’t see him or if I do, like not reacting to the mole fast enough, I don’t recognize him. Like playing “Whack-a-Mole” and failing to hit the rodent, my reaction timing is just not right and I “miss the mark”. I sin by failing to “whack” when Jesus pops up! Therein lies the spiritual discipline to which this text calls me – to look, to recognize, to hone my reaction time, to respond quickly and affirmatively, and (if you’ll pardon some really blatant sacrilege) to Whack-a-Jesus!