The search for black holes in the cosmos; the search for the Anointed One. At first, you might not expect them to have much in common.
In reflecting on this Sunday’s gospel, though, I was struck by the parallels between its narrative…and the fascinating episode of NOVA I saw on public television just a few days ago.
PBS bills the program – “Black Hole Apocalypse” – as a “mind-blowing voyage to the most powerful and mysterious objects in the universe.” Over the next couple of hours, the show pretty much delivers on that promise, tracing the history of scientific efforts to learn more about these fundamentally unknowable phenomena.
Intriguingly, humans first began speculating about the existence of black holes a little over a century ago. German physicist Karl Schwarzschild made the initial calculations in 1915, expounding on Albert Einstein’s theory of general relativity. In effect, Schwarzschild functioned as herald and prophet, encouraging Einstein to see what he was not inclined to see – much like John the Baptist in this week’s gospel story:
John was standing with two of his disciples,
and as he watched Jesus walk by, he said,
“Behold, the Lamb of God.”
The two disciples heard what he said and followed Jesus.
Mysterious, all-consuming, assumption-crushing – black holes are like nothing else in our experience of the universe. Everything we know about black holes we have learned by observing what goes on around them. So, too, with Christ:
Jesus turned and saw them following him and said to them,
“What are you looking for?”
They said to him, “Rabbi” — which translated means Teacher —,
“where are you staying?”
He said to them, “Come, and you will see.”
As the NOVA story unfolds, you can’t help but be struck by how collaborative the discovery effort has been. No one astrophysicist or astronomer has anything approaching all the answers. The mystery is simply too big. Rather, each researcher builds on the experience and insights of others to deepen their encounter with a cosmic force beyond all reckoning. Not unlike the tactics used by the earliest apostles:
Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter,
was one of the two who heard John and followed Jesus.
He first found his own brother Simon and told him,
“We have found the Messiah” — which is translated Christ —.
Then he brought him to Jesus.
The parallels ultimately break down, of course. Jesus is no black hole. Rather, he is Lord of the Cosmos. Somehow, our friend Jesus is both source of…and preceding…these stupefyingly massive objects, many of them millions of times more massive than our sun. At the same time, this Christ is extraordinarily intimate – generously sharing even the most profound mysteries of the universe with those who seek him.
So they went and saw where Jesus was staying,
and they stayed with him that day.
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.