John 1:11 Heaven Can Wait

Is there a more poignant verse in the Bible than John 1:11? Especially in the Revised Standard Version. “He came to his own home, and his own people knew him not.” You know that image of returning home unremembered and unrecognized is poignant, because it shows up in movies so often.

It’s a Wonderful Life, of course (if I had to pick one movie as an emblem of my life, it would be that one); Family Man is another (an underrated Christmas fave here, mostly for Don Cheadle’s bit part). Tom Hanks’ Cast Away has an element of this. But the closest analogue is the Warren Beatty classic Heaven Can Wait

What must it like for your home to forget you? To show up and have your people say, “No, that face doesn’t ring a bell”? Heaven Can Wait has this device in which, no matter which body Beatty’s Joe Pendleton is in, it’s Beatty, as Joe, that the audience sees, while everyone else sees the person whose body he’s taken over. And Joe has to convince people (really, just a couple of people), that he’s not the guy they see; he’s JOE.

I can imagine God nodding at this device. And while John the gospel writer is making the point about the Jewish people, God would nod today, too. 

Because when you look at the story of God as told in the Bible, when you look at the message and example of Jesus in the gospels, and then you look at the collection of people who claim to be the Body of Christ, just like Jesus, a lot of times you have to shake your head. It’s not the same guy. It’s just Leo Farnsworth or Tom Jarrett. It’s not Joe. It’s not Jesus.

In Heaven Can Wait, Joe didn’t have a love, really. So in some respect, the poignancy of John 1:11 is more like George Bailey not being recognized by his Mary, or Kate not recognizing Jack Campbell, or Hanks’ Chuck coming back from the desert island to find his Kelly moved on.  But how much more must it hurt to be unrecognized, not only by your love, but by your creation?

Yet here we are. Read the gospels; heck, just stick with the verse from last week’s mass (also from John), “Love one another.” And then look around at the Church and the world. How could we convince anyone that we are who we claim to be?

In Heaven Can Wait, the late Jack Warden plays a character, Max Corkle, who gives me hope. He was close to Joe, and he catches enough of a glimpse of Joe in Leo (and Tom) to realize that it’s still him, even if nobody else can recognize him.  Even when everything about Leo (and Tom) screams “not Joe”, Max somehow discerns that Joe’s in there, somehow, sort of. 

I guess my wish would be to have the eyes of Max Corkle. Because there’s a lot in the Church and in the World that screams “not Holy,” “not God,” “not LOVE.” It would be a good assignment to go through the day squinting at people like Max, to find the Holy inside that nobody else can believe and the Love that nobody else can notice. Because nobody should be unrecognized at home.

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