John 6:35, 40-51
There are lots of things we can’t see, but that doesn’t mean they’re not there. Ultra-violet rays, viruses, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. We can’t see them, but if we don’t protect ourselves from them, we’re in trouble. Oxygen, hydrogen, nitrogen—we can’t see these things, but we trust that they’re really there because we see the way they act on us and the world around us. They’re invisible, but we know that we benefit from them. We say we see the wind, but what we’re really seeing is the effect of the wind as it blows things around.
If you were to stand face-to-face with another person right now and really look at them—I mean really look at that person as fully and carefully and completely as you can—there is a whole lot of that person that you would not be able to see. And I don’t just mean because they’re wearing clothes.
For instance, you wouldn’t be able to see their microbiome. The average person has about 30 trillion human cells in their body and somewhere around 39 trillion bacteria, according to Ron Milo and Ron Sender, researchers at the Weizman Institute of Science. Even though you can’t see them, those 39 trillion bacteria play an important role in shaping that other person you’re looking at. A change in the balance of the bacteria in that person’s biome can alter the condition of their skin and hair. It can alter mood and personality. A change in their biome can even lead to genetic changes. Their invisible biome has a profound effect on the person you’re seeing, even though you can’t see it.
You can’t see their thoughts, either. You may see hints of their thoughts in their facial expression or body language, but the thoughts themselves remain invisible.
Have you ever gone to the refrigerator or the cabinet to get something and, no matter how hard you look, you just can’t find it, but then someone else takes a look and it’s right there in plain sight, right where you were looking? For some reason, you really could not see it. You had a mental blind spot. Those mental blind spots, by the way, have a name. They’re called schotomas.
Sometimes we have a schotoma, a mental blind spot, a failure to see what’s right in front of us because we just don’t expect to see it or because it’s not where we think we should see it. We can be blind to things that don’t fit our preconceived idea of how things are supposed to be.
In John 6:40 in today’s gospel lesson, Jesus says a really interesting thing—a thing I didn’t really see for the longest time. Jesus says, “This is the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.” I think we all catch the part about believing, but it’s easy to overlook the part about seeing Jesus.
The word that’s used here for see in the original Greek is theôron. It means “to observe something with enhanced attention; to perceive.” In other words, to really see as completely and fully as possible. Jesus wants us to see him. That makes all the sense in the world, because to really and truly believe, to trust him, we first have to see him for who he is and what he is.
That’s the problem the religious leaders who confronted Jesus are having in today’s gospel lesson. They have a schotoma, a mental blind spot. In spite of all his miracles and the wisdom of his teaching, they are simply unable to see Jesus for who he is and what he is. Their preconceptions about God and religion and the way the world works just don’t have any room for Jesus as the Son of God, as Immanuel, as God With Us. Their theology gets in the way of what God is doing right in front of them.
“Isn’t this Jesus, the son of Joseph?,” they say. “We know his parents! How can he say he came down from heaven?” Their skepticism is understandable. It’s more than a little bit of a leap from “Jesus, the teacher and healer” to “Jesus, the divine presence in our midst who has come to us from heaven.” It’s such a leap, in fact, that a lot of people try to put Jesus in a category with less outrageous claims. They think of him as a great moral teacher or an important social pioneer.
But here’s the thing…C.S. Lewis said we either need to take Jesus at his word, or put him aside altogether. In Mere Christianity, Lewis wrote: “A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with a man who says he is a poached egg — or he would be the devil of hell. You must take your choice. Either this was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us.”
To really believe in Jesus as the Son of God, first you have to see him that way. But a lot of people—maybe most—just aren’t prepared to see him that way, and the most brilliant theological arguments in the world won’t change their minds. Jesus understood that. “No one can come to me unless the Father draws them,” he said. And the word “draws” here, by the way, is the same word that’s used for hauling in a fishing net. People come to faith because God draws them to faith. Martin Luther wrote, “I believe that I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him by my own reason or strength, but instead, the Holy Spirit has called me.”
God can reel you in, but God won’t force you to believe. It’s like they say about a horse and water: God can make us come to Jesus, but God can’t or won’t make us believe or trust. God will lead us to the bread of life, but God won’t force it on us.
Jesus is inviting us to a faith that’s anchored in love and trust. Jesus wants us to believe in him because we see him for who and what he really is. And Jesus wants us to learn to see each other as children of God, too—as persons who are created in the image and likeness of God—even when it’s a stretch, and the person you’re looking at seems far removed from God or anything like God’s grace, generosity, compassion and love.
Jesus wants us to really see him. And he wants us to learn to really see each other. That requires a deeper kind of seeing. That requires us to put aside a lot of preconceptions that tend to create a schotoma—a mental blind spot—around Jesus, and frankly, around each other, because so often we seem to be truly blind to each other as children of God, shining in the image and likeness of God.
Sometimes, in order to really see Jesus, we even need to put aside our creeds and theology. The problem with them is that they make us think we understand what it means to believe. They give us a formula to recite, boxes we can check off, things we can assent to in theory. But that’s not what Jesus has called us to.
Creeds, professions of faith, theology, doctrine and dogma—these all have their place, and once we come to faith they can help us see more deeply the life we’re experiencing. But it’s important to remember that God did not write a creed for us in words that can be debated or that change their meaning. Instead, God gave us a living example. God gave us a life that we can see—a mirror to show us how we are to be in the world and with each other. Theology can be argued about. Faith, as a life, can only be lived.
Jesus is the bread of life who not only sustains us in a living faith, once we learn to see him, but who opens our eyes so that we can see him and each other more deeply—so that we can see God With Us, in him and in each other.