We celebrate St Irenaeus of Lyon today. A sentence often quoted from his works is that 'the glory of God is the human being fully alive'. But this is just the first half of a sentence which continues: 'and the life of the human being is the vision of God'. God is pleased with the flourishing of his creatures, their living life to the full. But the life he wants them to live - and the life that is best and most fulfilling for them - is the life that comes with seeing God.
Irenaeus understood the entire history of salvation as a matter of 'getting to know you' on the part of both God and human beings. Like a couple long involved with each other there is a history to be related, moments of drama and ordinary continuation, moments of intense engagement and moments of disappointment and dejection, great understanding and serious misunderstanding. Just as Abram becoming Abraham is drawn now this way and now that, and God seems a bit unpredictable in the ways in which he acts towards him and what he asks of him, so in the life of any believer: there are things to be learned, moments requiring trust and perseverance, God seems to be understood and then is deeply mysterious again.
The story of the Bible speaks of God being like this also, learning (so to speak) the implications of what He has got into with the creation of human beings. There is increasing intimacy and deeper involvement, coming to a climax with the Incarnation of the Son. If the human being is only truly alive in the vision of God then God must make himself visible so that the human being can come alive. This is a theme common in the Fathers of the Church, that the human being is understood only when seen in the light of God, of God's call and destiny for him. Augustine speaks like this in his work on the Trinity: the human mind points to the Trinity not when it is knowing, remembering and loving anything but when it is knowing, remembering and loving God. So too for Irenaeus, the life of the human being is in the vision of God, God seeing us and we seeing God.
The time of intimacy in the relationship of God and humanity is powerfully represented by the encounter of Jesus with a leper. The transgression of the leper in approaching a rabbi is trumped by the transgression of this rabbi in touching - touching! - the leper. But both transgressions are subsumed in the redeeming compassion of the Incarnate Son. Here is God, dwelling among His people, getting to know them (so to speak) in a new and definitive way. And here is the human being, needy and poor, approaching Jesus so that in his touch he might be brought to life, to new life, and to the fulness of life which comes from seeing God.