Julian Meeting for May 2020
What Jesus demands of his followers is a shift of focus: a new childlike yet mature innocence of perception that sees beneath the surface, a seeing that goes from without to within. “If your eye is sound”, he tells them, your “whole body will be full of light.” Those first disciples, who being closest to him had the best chance of achieving this kind of enlightenment, failed to do so when they looked at him. They saw further than the crowds or the religious authorities or Pilate. But as John looks back from the far side of Easter, he reveals that only after that final week that culminated in the Cross and in the extraordinary days that followed did they really begin to see who this man might be and what he was trying to show them. In his words: “The Word became flesh…..and we saw his glory….full of grace and truth.” In the words of St Paul we can now encounter “the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ”. And if you were to ask St John, “Where chiefly did you see that glory?” I think he would either have replied, “When he was hanging on the cross” or, more probably, “When he left the supper table, wrapped a towel about his waist, and began (despite our startled protests) to wash our dusty feet. For that stands the notion of glory – and the concept of God – on its head. It is to enter a foolish, topsy-turvy world, where the first are last and the last first, where value lies in being, not in achieving, where the just law of ‘an eye for an eye’ is countermanded by the radical action of forgiveness, and where greatness lies in the compassionate, often humdrum, service of others.
Yet what they saw in the end, what the professional persecutor-turned-missionary Paul saw after he had so dramatically regained his sight, what John saw once his eyes had been opened, was that they had to see beyond the figure of Jesus to God himself. When he said, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father”, the point Jesus is making is not about himself but about the Father. “You want to see the glory and the love of God – in so far as human eyes can do so?” asks John. “Then look on this man whom we have seen with our own eyes.”
Yet it is not quite so simple. For it is one thing to have known Jesus, watched him, lived through the devastating final days of losing him, followed by the wonder of daring to say once again to each other “we have seen the Lord”, knowing it could not be true, yet knowing that it was; it is one thing for them to see all that and to understand that the world would never be the same again; it is quite another for us to do so. Yet they didn’t see, not at first. John writes of Jesus telling them that only when “the Spirit is given” will they fully understand the truth, and Paul was to write that “no one can say Jesus is Lord except under the influence of the Holy Spirit”.
If I am to see God and the world, myself and my neighbour, as Jesus saw them I need to be open to his spirit. That is not as strange as it may seem. We are embodied spirits and we relate to each other both at a physical and a spiritual level; we influence deeply those we love and are as deeply influenced by those who love us. Those who were inspired by Jesus were so persuaded by his vision of what life might be, by what they had seen of his glory of living and dying, by what he had enabled them to see of God and by what he had shown them of the meaning of true personhood, that they wanted to live in his spirit. That had been God’s desire from the beginning of time and the whole Bible leads to this point where through Christ eyes are finally opened.