by Fr. Pat McNulty.
I was on the internet trying to figure out the mileage of the round-trip-by-foot which God sent Elijah on in the Old Testament. That’s when I discovered a blog by a man who measured the number of miles he thinks Jesus walked.
Now that’s what I call trivia with a capital "T". I can’t believe you’re into that. I mean, who cares how many miles Jesus walked anyway?
I didn’t start out looking for that. I started out trying to put some real life on the incident from 1 Kings 19:4-8 about Elijah. That’s one of the readings for Sunday, August 12th.
The story only takes up about 12 verses, and yet it tells how Elijah had to travel from somewhere around modern day Haifa to the Sinai and back again, all within a couple of months.
And he did it mostly in the desert—a desert I’ve been to as well. I couldn’t help wanting to know how many miles this poor guy had to walk for God.
According to my measurements, it was about 600 miles, give or take. But in the process of figuring out Elijah’s biblical travelogue, I came across this blog by somebody who tried to calculate how many miles Jesus walked.
OK, let’s hear it for biblical pedometers. How many miles did Jesus walk while he was on this earth? Ho, hum.
Well, this man who obviously loves his Lord and his Bible—he often walks many miles carrying a cross similar to Jesus’—figures from the information in the Gospels that in his lifetime, Jesus must have walked about 21,500 miles—give or take.
Come on! That’s almost the distance around the equator.
How would you know something like that?
You’re not alone in your trivial pursuits, Reverend, but tell me, what in the world would interest you in something as trivial as how many miles Jesus might have walked while he was on this earth?
It’s not the number of miles that interested me but the sense of how many individual people he must have met and dealt with along the way simply by being present to them as he walked however many miles. But you never hear a thing about those people in the Bible.
I thought the Spirit put into the Bible what is necessary for salvation and not all the little tidbits which might tickle our trivial attention.
The point is, I think, that we can often forget about all the life going on behind the biblical episodes.
For example, we read in the Gospel that Jesus left Jerusalem for Galilee. Period. But that’s a lo-o-o-o-ong walk. He must have come across a lot of people during that time. There must have been a lot of life going on around him as he walked. He would have touched it, felt it, responded to it.
I can just imagine some young mother who had just brought her child and their pet sheep for a drink at the well in some village when Jesus came by like he did with the Samaritan woman.
I don’t envisage him sitting all three of them down right there in the hot sun for a biblical morality check or a teaching on the Good Shepherd.
I rather imagine him taking the child in one arm as he ran his other hand over the head of the lamb—he, the Lamb of God—and looking into the eyes of the woman as he had once looked into the eyes of his mother, and just smiling.
And I imagine that the touch, the look, and the smile of the Son of God was his teaching. I imagine that sort of thing happening over and over with lots of people over thousands of miles.
Well, I think we can forget that this biblical mystery of God among us is about real people in the Old Testament and in the New, about people who lived real lives and had real struggles, most of whom never saw any special signs or wonders.
And to miss that is, I think, to miss something that is essential to our faith as well.
Life! The mystery of salvation is all wrapped up in everyday life. And to proclaim the Gospel is to meet real people wherever they are, saints or sinners, "goodies" or "badies," in church or in the market place.
I always find it a lovely surprise when the Spirit uses something as trivial as the travelogue of Elijah or the hypothetical pedometer of Christ to bring me back down to earth where Jesus walked to remind me that he was dealing with real people.
We have to find ways to keep that profound biblical fact up front in our minds so that the Bible comes alive for us.
Sounds good, Reverend, but seems to me there’s gotta be ways of doing that that are more classy than going online to find out how many miles Jesus walked while on this earth.
Strange you would mention it: I found a whole new way of doing that in the last few months, and I didn’t even realize it was happening until just now as I am writing this article and talking with you.
Some might imagine that here in my poustinia I am fasting and praying 24/7 and having mystical experiences. (Ho Hum.)
But in fact, I have been caught up of late in reading biographies. Some days I think I read more than I pray or fast.
And because this is so out of character for me, not only in terms of poustinia but in terms of what I like to read, I knew the Spirit was doing something.
But it took me four biographies and this article to get the message, namely, that the true adventure of faith is the adventure of how people live by faith!
It’s not about how powerful their evangelical healing or proclamation is. It’s about how powerful and healing their life of faith is. We can miss so much of that if we don’t "listen between the lines" of Sacred Scripture.
All we sometimes see or hear are the refined teachings or the miraculous matters taking place.
That’s why the thought of how many miles Jesus walked interests me: however many, it was tells me graphically, in an image I can grasp, that Jesus Christ lived life on this earth, one foot in front of the other for thousands of miles.
So while he was focused on the will of his Father, Jesus’ life was a real life with real people in the real world.
(And, P.S., so should ours be.)
Whoa! What kind-a biographies are you readin’, Reverend?
Sorry about that, but I get so excited when the Spirit stirs up my curiosity about people and not just my curiosity about the Bible or the religion.
But for now I’d best keep the "who" of my biographies to myself; I don’t want people to think I am more trivial than I sometimes might appear.
No comment on that one, Reverend. No comment. (Smile.)
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