Fr. Francis Scaria
The greatest figures of the Old Testament are Moses and Elijah. They appear with Jesus at the transfiguration. In Ex 3, we see that the Lord spoke to Moses from the burning bush. In the cloud and in the fire the Lord continued to appear to the Israelites. In Deut 4:12 we read: “Then the Lord spoke to you out of the fire. You heard the sound of words but saw no form; there was only voice”. Ex 33:11 says, “the Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend”. Yet if we continue to read the rest of the narrative, it is clear that Moses did not see the face of God. He experienced the presence of the Almighty in the cloud and in the fire but could not see His face. In fact in the episode that follows, Moses makes a request to God, “Show me your glory, I pray” (Ex 33:18). In response to this the Lord puts Moses in the cleft of a rock and covers him with His hand until He passes by and then takes away His hand allowing Moses to see his back, not the face. (cf. Ex 33:17-23).
Elijah was a man of great God-experience. The climax of his God-experience was on mount Horeb where God came to him in “the sound of sheer silence” (1 Kgs 19:12). Thus we see that in the Old Testament the chosen ones hear the voice of the Lord and see fire or cloud out of which God speaks. We also find the expression “angel of the Lord” which would refer to appearance of God in some human form. Our human eyes are incapable of gazing at God in His divine glory. Hence Israelites believed that they could not see God and be alive. We find the angel of the Lord assuring Gideon after meeting him, “Peace be to you; do not fear, you shall not die” (Judges 6:23). Manoah and his wife were afraid after seeing the angel of the Lord that they would die (cf. Judges 13:22).
At the scene of the transfiguration, Jesus’ “face shone like the sun” (Mt 17:2). It was only a glimpse of His heavenly glory. Even later Peter would claim to have been an eye-witness of the “Majestic Glory on “the holy mountain” (cf. 2 Pet 1:16-18). In the New Jerusalem “the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the lamb” (Rev 21:23).
It is against this background that we should try to read 1 Jn 4:12: “No one has ever seen God”. Jn 1:18 has a little more detail: “No one has ever seen God. It is God’s only Son who is close to the Father’s heart (Gk: bosom) who has made him known”. The only human being who has seen the face of God is Jesus of Nazareth. Col 1:15 tells us that Jesus Christ is “the image of the invisible God”. Jesus is God in a human way. In response to the request of Philip, “Lord, show us the Father” (Jn 14:8), Jesus tells him, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (Jn 14:9). No wonder in Lk 10:23-24 Jesus says, “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see! For I tell you that many prophets and kings desired to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it”. Therefore St. John proudly says, “We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life…” (1 Jn 1:1).
It is note-worthy that many believe that the Shroud of Tourin and the Veil of Veronica which are treasured relics possessed by the Catholic Church have the imprint of the Holy Face of the Lord. Pope Benedict XVI during his visit to Manoppello in September 2006, prayed before the relic, which is known as the "Holy Face" and the "Veil of Veronica." In his address the Pontiff said, "This is the meaning of my visit. So that together we can try to better know the face of our Lord, so that from it we can find strength in love and peace that can show us the path".
The Psalmist often sought the face of the Lord (cf. Ps 27:8; 31:16; 119:135). It is also significant to note that the Lord asked Aaron to bless the Israelites with the words: “the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you” (Num 6:25).
We, human beings are created in the image and likeness of God Himself. St. John says, “if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 Jn 4:12). Speaking about final judgment Jesus teaches us that we should see him in the faces of the hungry, the thirsty, the strangers, the sick and the imprisoned (cf. Mt 25:31-46). Look around for the Holy Faces!
MUSINGS : 1-25,