I guess I've always thought of the disciples as always knowing Jesus somehow. Or someone knowing him, anyway. That he’d just always had followers, believers, as though the Church always just was. Like your parents or grandparents, the stories you usually hear are from them already being together, stories of after the relationship began.
But the really intriguing stories are the ones about when they met. Before they knew each other. When she saw him across the dance floor for the first time, when his friend introduced her at a church picnic, when her blind date entered the restaurant or he laid eyes on his sister’s college roommate. How did their story start? When did they recognize that this was the One?
Matthew, Mark, and Luke tell the story of Jesus in a certain way, they tell about his birth, and then his baptism and then the calling of the disciples, very orderly and matter of fact. And the prophets foretold his coming, or his genealogy is there and somehow, in their versions of the story, it’s easier to assume everyone always just knew each other, the world and Jesus, that is.
But John does his own thing. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God… and the light shines in the darkness… and he came to what was his own but they did not know him… the whole cosmos which he had a hand in creating didn’t recognize that this was the One.
And the baptism story in John is not actually the baptism, it’s John the Baptist telling about the baptism. Because that is what John does in the gospel of John (different John), he doesn’t actually baptize, that is, he is not “John the Baptist”, he tells about it, he testifies, he’s “John the Witness,” the seer, the teller, the one who makes known, and who points always, in all things, to Jesus.
So John tells about how he didn’t know Jesus, and once he was baptized the Spirit came upon him and John suddenly recognized him, and now he can testify that this is indeed the Son of God!
But being his cousin and all, John surely knew who Jesus was; they’d grown up together, right? Or at least seen one another from time to time! "But I myself did not know him!," he says. Twice. I didn’t see! he cries. I talked about him and anticipated him and prepared the way for him but it wasn’t until God pointed him out to me that I SAW, this is the ONE, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
He was among his own, and yet his own did not recognize him.
"I once was blind, and didn’t recognize the light of the world, John reports, but now I see!" And we plunge deeper into Epiphany, or rather, epiphany plunges deeper into us. And the world and her people get acquainted with their creator.
So a couple of people are chatting with John, and they overhear John him say about Jesus as he is walking by, “That’s the one I’ve been telling you about!” So they shadow Jesus. This scene cracks me up. Because following someone without being invited is always, without exception, awkward. Like the time a friend and I were getting in our car in a mall parking lot in L.A. and she swore she saw George Clooney just pulling out, so we tailed him obnoxiously until he lost us at a stoplight. Or when I stood next to Jack Black in the subway in New York, and my sister in law and I giggled and pointed under our breath, and pretended we weren’t staring at him so much that he got off at the next stop.
They just followed him. Intrigued enough to tail him, not quite sure what they’d say if he ever saw them, no plan after that, just following. Turning corners when he did, slowing down to keep the pace. Finally, I can see Jesus sigh, and stop and turn around. And they’re caught. He sees them. They see him. They see him seeing them. “What are you looking for?” he asks, What do you want to see?
That’s a question, right there. What are you looking for? Really? In all the world, what do you most wish to find? When you are looking, which isn’t all the time, for most of us, it’s not even much of the time, but when it does happen that you are really looking, what is it you are hoping, truly longing, to see?
Well his question caught them short. Perhaps they weren’t really sure what they were looking for. They weren’t even sure what they were looking at. They were just curious, interested, and that was about all. So, perhaps to avoid seeming rude or maybe because they don’t know what else to say but they want the conversation to continue somehow, they ask him, “Teacher, where are you staying?”
And he answers, “Come and see.”
But he says See. Not “look”, like a surface kind of noticing, like, I’ll show you the address and you’ll see it and be on your way. But SEE, in the deeper knowing, recognizing, experiencing sense of the word. In the sense of what happened to John when he baptized his cousin, and what is about to happen in the coming chapters to Philip, and Nathaniel, and the Samaritan woman at the well, and a whole bunch of other unsuspecting people who haven’t yet been looking but end up seeing as this story unfolds. “Jesus is calling these disciples to the kind of seeing that opens a door, a seeing that draws us into a journey that will change us in ways we cannot know or imagine at the outset.” one writer describes.
Come and see. Experience.
So they do. They spend the day with him; they hang out, they abide, they loiter with no agenda in particular, with no goal, or obligation, or project. Just being with one another. Listening, talking, sharing food, hearing and seeing. It becomes an encounter of mutual finding – they find him and when they do, he finds them. And they go from not knowing, not recognizing that this is the One, to seeing, witnessing, and the next day they tell a couple others, we have seen, you should come and see too!
The light is in the world and the world does not know him, yet. He comes to his own and they don’t recognize him, yet. Until they hang out with him a little bit, and then they see. And the whole world changes view. The light that is in it illuminates it all. Because if you see that God is in the world, how can the world ever look the same?
Come and see! Come and see what God is up to! Come and see what God has done! Come and see where Jesus is staying next! Come and hang out with the one who walks among us hidden.
I’ve been pondering the paintings hanging in our Artspace, or rather, the painter, Annie Young, who lost her sight as an adult and began painting these vibrant and amazing things as her eyesight faded and her vision disappeared altogether. She titled this exhibit, “Blessed Beyond Belief, an exploration” and writes, of her work, “I seek to nudge your heart, your mind...my work may bring to you a smile, peace or a yearning to take action. I create the images that hold my mind's eye hostage, make my fingers itch...it is my never-ending hope that you see what I feel.”
And it occurs to me that while she cannot see what she has painted, her painting is witnessing to what she Sees, she is testifying to what she recognizes, inviting us to come and see what she can feel, the presence of God, the experience, to see with our eyes, what she sees with her soul. Her paint is her witness; her art is her testimony.
The Church is the witness, we’re like John, the seer and teller. We are the community who sees. And not all of us see all the time; in fact, most of us don’t see much of the time. But we keep inviting each other, Come and See! God is at work! Jesus is here!
Sometimes we need others to see for us, and sometimes we can see where others can’t. And we tell our stories of how we ourselves missed Jesus in front of our eyes, how we didn’t recognize that God was there until suddenly we did. And our story helps another come and see for themselves. And before long, we are a whole people with the eyes to see that redemption is happening all around us, all throughout the world while we’re not looking, and so we start looking.
Today we join our own journeys together with some more witnesses, more seers, more people whose eyes and souls scan the landscape, the nooks and crannies, for the light of the world. More people who recognize Jesus in places we might miss, who have their own abiding experience quite different from each of ours, who have their own personal encounters with the Messiah who moves among us.
And they bring their own vision, their own unique ways of noticing and witnessing to who God is and what God is doing. Their lives reflect the presence of God in ways yours might not and mine never could. And by coming together, we get new lives and stories to see into, and we get a new set of eyes on our own lives, as together we seek to recognize where Jesus is and what God is up to in all of this. And side by side, this community witnesses – looks into the world and sees Jesus, points to where he is, follows him there, and tells others what we ourselves see.
What a crazy week it has been in the world. Politically, meteorologically, historically… Epic floods and mudslides, enormous blizzards and ice storms, countries defining themselves in historic elections and bloody coups, and in our nation finger-pointing and grieving and reeling from terrible violence and divisive rhetoric and the world continues on.
A couple of nights ago, at the dinner table, Owen, thinking, of something he had learned in school that day, asked me if I had ever heard this song, and then raised his sweet high voice and began to sing out, “We shall overcome, we shall overcome… Oh deep in my heart, I do believe, We shall overcome someday.” And I heard the words, in all these contexts simultaneously. Martin Luther King Day tomorrow, remembering and commemorating that incredible struggle for freedom, but I also heard it against the backdrop of the people in Haiti still pulling bodies from rubble a year later while their friends and loved ones die of cholera.
And when he sang, “We’ll walk hand in hand…” I heard the words with the news on the TV in the background going over again the aftermath of the shooting in Tucson and the partisan arguments and blaming even while a nine year old was being buried.
And as they talked about the right to carry hidden guns and being more suspicious of troubled people Owen sang, “We are not afraid…”
And by the time he sang, “We are not alone…” I was weeping.
Oh deep in my heart, I do believe.
I see it. I recognize. The light has come into the darkness and as dark as the darkness gets it cannot overcome the light; the creator has joined creation and our story is now one story. And even when we forget to look or it's hard to notice, the Word is here in the flesh and I touched him! John says, I dipped him under the water and I saw the Spirit come on him and I KNEW, and before I didn’t know but now I know, and I can testify to it, it happened to me, I was there.
Come and see. Come see. Hang out a while. He’s up to something. I’ll help you look. You help me recognize. We’ll walk hand in hand. And then we’ll tell each other about it. We’ll tell the world what we see.