A lady doctor was fond of letting little kids listen to their heartbeat during their check-up. She loved seeing their face light up when they hear the thump of their own hearts from the stethoscope. In one of those usual routine, the question from a little boy touched the pediatrician the most. As he listened to his heartbeat, he looked at the physician in the eye and asked: “Is that Jesus knocking?”
Heartbeat is a sign of life. It is an indicator that the human body is pulsating with energy. It came to me as a surprise that it is actually electricity that makes the heart beat. The cardiac conduction system generates a small electric current through a group of muscle cells in the walls of the heart allowing blood to flow in one direction with each heartbeat. About 2,000 gallons of blood energizes the human body every day. And by the time a person reaches 70 years old, his heart has made more than 2.5 billion heartbeats. Isn’t that amazing? Every waking day is a continuous miracle!
Coming from the Christmas experience, we continue to reflect on the mystery of Jesus. John’s gospel begins with this prologue: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” The Word is characterized as transcendent, distant, really far. But at one moment in time the evangelist confirms: “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” The once-distant Word, through whom all things were made, became close. John became Jesus’ friend. He saw him, heard him; he was Jesus’ witness. Yet it was all God’s own initiative.
It would be impossible for man to reach God; it is God who reached-out to find him. He made himself known. He gave us a glimpse of his mystery. He disclosed himself in person – in Jesus! From the letter to the Hebrews we read: “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son. When Jesus was born, God’s heart started to beat. Mary and Joseph listened to his heart. It was the heart of a little child, small and helpless. But that heart already contained the whole world. It was beating with compassion. It started to hear the cry of a world lost.
Before Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope (now Benedict XVI), he addressed the Catechists and Religion Teachers on 12 December 2000 during the Jubilee of Catechists. He spoke about the New Evangelization: Building the Civilization of Love. He taught that “human life cannot be realized by itself. Our life is an open question, an incomplete project… the unum necessarium (one thing necessary) for man is God.”
The heartbeat of Jesus made the impossible, possible. He was able to synchronize in his person the contradictions that existed between God and man. He made the invisible visible while allowing the finite to cross the boundaries of infinity. He became mortal to give us license to assume immortality. His coming down is our stairway to heaven. This very revelation confused the brightest of mortals. God knows how to impart learning to mere children and hide it from the clever. Indeed, God’s foolishness is wiser than man’s wisdom.
The fresh insight of a little boy in the vignette gives way to faith: our heart’s heartbeat is a gentle knock from Jesus. This symbolism has long been employed by artists. In St. Paul’s Cathedral, London a life-size portrait hangs entitled “The Light of the World” painted by the famous English artist William Hunt in 1853. This allegorical painting shows Jesus preparing to knock on an overgrown and long-unopened door, illustrating Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any man hear My voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with Me”.
According to Hunt: “I painted the picture with what I thought, unworthy though I was, to be by Divine command, and not simply as a good Subject.” The door in the painting has no handle, and can therefore be opened only from the inside, representing “the obstinately shut mind.” Man’s folly makes the door of his heart shut. In his self-sufficiency, he thinks he can do without God. It is only humble faith that makes his assent to the truth that he is nothing without God. In the meantime Jesus continues to knock like an avid lover. And every heartbeat of the human heart is a gentle reminder of God’s power over his life as well as His immense patience over his continued obstinacy.