“Come and see,” Jesus said to those would-be followers who wanted to know where he was staying, and they came and saw, or so the story goes (John 1:39). But often seeing is not as easy as that. I can look and look at what is obvious to someone else and not see a thing. Sometimes, seeing is not something we do; it’s something we’re given.
Take Nicodemus, for example, who wanted to see, to understand, the kingdom of God Jesus had been talking about (John 3:1-10). Well educated and undoubtedly sharp as a tack, he knew there must be something to what Jesus had been saying – “we know that you are a teacher who has come from God,” he said – but try as he might, he couldn’t see it, like a fish looking for the Ocean and seeing only water. You won’t see what you’re looking for, Jesus told him, unless you unlearn your old ways of looking and see with new eyes.
After undergoing surgery to give her sight for the first time, one girl described seeing “the tree with the lights in it.” Annie Dillard described the girl’s experience in her book Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and she described eventually seeing it herself. I looked for the tree for years after reading about it, without success, until I finally quit thinking about it. Then one day while descending the hill after visiting an old country cemetery, I casually glanced over my shoulder, and there it was. Intense blue from the sky pierced the dark green of an ancient cedar tree, looking for all the world like globules of liquid, iridescent blue ready to drop on unsuspecting passers-by. A tree with lights in it!
As quickly as the vision came, it faded. In two or three seconds, the lights blinked out and became sky again, the cedar tree merely a cedar – an ordinary sky, an ordinary tree. Try as I might, I couldn’t turn them back on, couldn’t recreate the vision, and I’ve not seen it since. But once, I saw it, and I know the tree still is out there, perhaps waiting to surprise me again.
Maybe that’s always the way it is with the kingdom of God, the quality of life Jesus compared with a pearl of great price or a treasure hidden in a field, something you’d give everything you own, even life itself, to have. You’ve heard about it; you’ve read about it; you’ve probably gone in search of it. Some have even followed the call to “come and see,” and like Andrew, they’ve found it. But most of us are still looking, certain it’s out there, though we’ve never seen it.
Or maybe we’ve seen it once, caught a glimpse of it before it blinked out and went back into hiding. And maybe we know it’s out there, so certain of it that we stake the rest of our lives on it, though we may never again see it so clearly. But how do we tell Simon about it in a way that helps him see? How do we tell others about our transforming experience in a way that brings them to transformation as well? I can tell you about the tree with the lights in it. I can tell you how it appeared, describe the physics and optics of juxtaposing intense colors from opposite sides of the color wheel, but I cannot make you see it. The seeing is pure gift from out of the blue.
So what do we do, you and I, who are entrusted with the good news that the kingdom of God is at hand, spread upon the earth, so common and ordinary that we can look right at it and not see it? How do we tell others of it and get them to come along and see it, too? I’ve been trying for more than forty years of my career as a preacher to do that, and I’m not sure I’ve ever done it as well as the botanist described in Gerhard Frost’s poem, “These Rude Feet” (Blessed is the Ordinary, [Minneapolis: Winston Press, 1980], 2).
It isn’t my story,
but let me tell it:
In the Scottish highlands
a man of science knelt,
crouched in the morning dew,
the better to hold a microscope
over a heather bell.
Lost in blue traceries of exquisite design,
he saw a sun-drawn figure,
the shadow of a man.
Gazing up into a shepherd’s face,
he quickly bade him look.
One long moment
the old man stood, beholding,
pierced by microscopic patterns
in the flower.
Then he spoke: “I wish
you’d never shown me that!”
“But, why?” was the surprised response.
“Because,” the old man said,
gazing at two worn boots,
“these rude feet have crushed
so many of them.”
These rude feet,
and this God’s day,
this most resplendent hour!
Father of mercies,
give me eyes,
make me aware:
I walk in gift today.
We help people come to see where Christ is, I think, not by raising grand visions of the peaceable kingdom or painting great pictures of a heavenly home. We help people come to see where Christ is found by inviting them to look at the ordinary ground where they’re already standing, at the ordinary life they’re already living. To make a difference in someone’s life, you don’t need to be eloquent or wealthy or perfect. You just need to care enough to value where they already are standing, and love them, just there.
Questions for reflection
- Why would you refer to Jesus as “Teacher”? What questions would you bring to him that you hope he could answer? What hunger do you have that you hope he could satisfy? (Be specific.) What is there about Jesus that makes what he teaches authentic and credible, something lacking in others?
- One of John’s disciples who followed Jesus was Andrew, who then brought his brother Simon to Jesus. What might Andrew have said to Simon, what experience or insight might he have shared, that motivated Simon to come along?
- Name two or three people who have been most influential in drawing you into a deeper journey of faith. What about them makes them credible to you? What have you seen in them or learned from them that deepens and enriches your faith?
- What is the best, most important part of your faith that you would share with others? What do you do, consciously or unconsciously, that witnesses to your faith? What do others learn from you about your faith? How is your faith influential in the lives of others? Choose a few people who are close to you, people whom you trust, and ask them what your life tells them about your faith.
- How does the faith others see in you compare or contrast with the faith you think you have? What do their responses tell you about the faith you really have?