Where Is God?
GUIDING LIGHT - Rev. Fr. Benjamin Sim sj (The Freeman) - April 14, 2019 - 12:00am

From the lives of saints of Islam, there’s a story of Ebrahim ibn Adam, king of Balkh. Ebrahim was a wealthy man, but at the same time he was a man very sincere, very concerned in matters religious – what we might call the search for God.

One night the king was awaken from his sleep by a fearful stomping on the roof above his bed. Alarmed, he shouted, “Who’s there?!”

“A friend,” came the answer from the roof. “I’ve lost my camel.”

Annoyed by such stupidity, Ebrahim shouted, “You fool! Are you looking for a camel on the roof?!”

“You fool!” the voice answered. “Are you looking for God in silk clothing, and lying on a golden bed?!”

These simple words filled the king with terror; he rose from his sleep, and from then on he became a remarkable saint.

The camel on the roof raises an important question this Sunday of passion and palms. In fact, the camel on the roof is a profound prelude to the whole of Holy Week. It compels us to ask ourselves: Where are you looking for your God?

Which raises a prior question: Where is our God to be found?  And the final question: Where do we go from here?”

So first, where is our God to be found? You will probably answer, “God is everywhere.” He’s in every corner and space of the world. He’s there in the flower, in the birds in the sky, in the sea, and in the mountains. He’s everywhere, because he is active everywhere, because without Him, the sun could not shine, the raindrops would not fall.

Without Him you could not know Him or love Him. All this is true, and there is a tremendous richness here.

But Passion/Palm Sunday stresses something very different; it tells you that your God is to be found where no one in his or her right mind would expect to find Him. It tells you that He is to be found in our flesh in “the form of a slave” (Phil 2:7).

It tells you that this Son of God is to be found not in silk clothing, but in swaddling clothes, not in a golden bed, but in a manger crib. It tells you to look in a garden called Gethsemane, the “oil press” where the God-man’s sweat became like great drops of blood falling down upon the ground, where God-with-us begged God the Father, “Don’t let me die!”

It tells you to find God in a prisoner mocked, blindfolded, and tortured; kept captive while a convicted murderer went free; crucified between two criminals, while “darkness lay over the whole earth.” It tells you to find your God in a man, who “breathed his last” in agony of body and spirit few human beings have ever tasted.

For those who have eyes to see, where does Passion/Palm Sunday locate our Lord? – In humiliation and obedience, in our frail human body, simply nailed to a cross, hung on a cross.

If our Scripture and our liturgy find our God on a cross, this raises a challenge: Where in fact, do you and I look for Him?

Rarely do we resemble the man looking for his lost camel on a roof. I am not denying that God is everywhere. I am simply suggesting that we rarely look for Him in the unlikely places where He has promised to be.

Read the Book of Exodus: the liberation of Israel from Egypt, and the Book of Numbers, Israel’s wandering in the wilderness. Yes, the people of Israel found God when He drowned the host of Pharaoh in the sea of reeds. But it was difficult for them to find Yahweh in the wilderness.

When Moses delayed his return from the God of Sinai, they fashioned a new god out of their gold. They loved their God, when first He rained manna upon them; but they got fed up with the manna and clamor for the meat and fish they had gotten free in Egypt, “the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic.”

Yahweh brought them to a land flowing with milk and honey, but they murmured, because they were afraid of being killed – so much so that the Lord said: “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs, which I have wrought among them?”

Take the Gospels. Peter could find his Lord on the Mount of Transfiguration, but when Jesus told his disciples that he had to “suffer many things… and be killed.” Peter “began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.’ ”

And surely you remember the two disciples on the road to Emmaus after Christ’s crucifixion: “We had hoped that he was the one to deliver Israel.” We had hoped…

Even today, many a Christian can live comfortably only with Easter Sunday; Good Friday is too much. Perhaps we should ask ourselves: Is it only on Easter that the exclamation of doubting Thomas – “My Lord and my God!” – burst from my lips?

You know even now, at this moment, the risen Christ somehow still carries the wounds and passion – glorified indeed, but still the scars of Calvary.

To be a Christian, I believe, is to look for a camel on a roof. Which leads to another question: Where do we go from here?  How do we move from the abstract theology to our concrete situations, to our daily life? After all, Jesus is no longer on a cross, even when I find him there in history.

Granted I reproduce his dying in my baptism and in my personal Calvary, he no longer suffers, he dies no more. “Christ has died; Christ is risen.” Now it’s not very hard to find Christ to discover God’s image, on lovely faces, loving faces, strong faces, charming faces among you. Indeed Christ is there.

And yet, he told us to look for him especially in “the least” of his brothers and sisters, those who seem insignificant, those who are in trouble or forgotten. We are to find him, therefore, in stomachs swollen by starvation and malnutrition, on lips parched with thirst, in hands arthritic with age, on faces torn with terror, in eyes empty in hopelessness, flesh eaten by cancer, bodies raging behind prison bars.

Here, my sisters and brothers, is today’s Calvary. No longer limited to Jerusalem; the cross casts its shadow over the face of the earth. Whether it’s the people in the remote barrios in Tawi-Tawi dying of malaria or measles, whether it be the poor farmers in the war torn areas of the NPA or Abbu Sayyaf, whether it be the thousands losing their jobs, because of the current economic crisis, where there are people who are lonely and friendless, suffering hunger, fear and injustice, Christ is crucified again, and again in his children.

My brothers and sister, reach out to someone – to anyone in agony of body or spirit. Share that person’s pain, com-passion – for that pain is the passion of Christ.

Please God, on that Calvary, where another Christ hangs, in your divine “foolishness” you will discover, or rediscover, your God.

Believe me, it beats looking for a camel on a roof?

EBRAHIM IBN ADAM
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