Easter 6, Year A
Do you have a dog and do you walk her? Or a child? A walk with a child or a dog can be an exercise in frustration. Dogs and children don’t walk in straight paths, they meander, zig zag, go up and down, stop and start. This can be a problem if you have a destination in mind, if you want to get somewhere, but if you want to see? A walk with a dog or a child can open up whole new modes of perception.
This is the truth that Alexandra Horowitz writes about in her book On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to Observation. Horowitz, a cognitive scientist by trade, takes walks with eleven experts, each one helping her to see the journey in a different way. From a geologist and a sound designer, a dog and a child, and a host of other curious observers Horowitz learns to see her Manhattan neighborhood in whole new ways, noticing what she’d long ignored, seeing what she’d never been able to perceive, all because someone came alongside her and showed her what had always been there.
On those walks Horowitz writes: “I would find myself at once alarmed, delighted, and humbled at the limitations of my ordinary looking. My consolation is that this deficiency of mine is quite human. We see, but we do not see: we use our eyes, but our gaze is glancing, frivolously considering its object. We see the signs, but not their meanings. We are not blinded, but we have blinders.”
Horowitz sounds like the prophet Isaiah when he proclaims the message of God:
‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;
keep looking, but do not understand.’ (6:9)
A passage Jesus quotes in the Gospel of Mark, a sentiment found in all of the Gospels from Mark to John. There is something in us that keeps us from noticing and in the case of the Kingdom it can keep us from seeing the reality of God, the presence of Jesus in the world. This is one of the things Jesus tells us in our Gospel reading today. He tells his disciples that “in a little while the world will no longer see me.” His presence in the world will change and become obscured. Following the resurrection, however, we need help seeing Jesus. It takes time for even his closest companions to recognize him. We need someone to come along and help us see what we can’t notice.
Jesus promises that such a person will come, that they will have someone with “expert eyes” to help them see God’s reality in a world where our attention is distracted, focused on the things that don’t dwell in the truth. Jesus tells his disciples that he is sending an Advocate to come alongside us, a Spirit that knows the truth and can join us on the sidewalk saying “look!”
The word John uses for this Spirit is paraklétos. This is a word drawn from “para” which means to come along side and kaleó which means to call, to invite. The Paraclete is then the one that comes alongside us and invites us to see, the one that helps us perceive the truth about the world.
Of course, experts are not the only ones who notice things. We all more or less gather information about the world, and our perceptions are true enough to help us survive. But still we sometimes notice things we know are important, but don’t understand. This was the case with the Greeks Paul encountered in the Areopagus. They had a lot of knowledge about the world and some of that knowledge included an unknown god. But their understanding was incomplete, they didn’t realize who this god was and the consequences that knowledge held for them. Paul explains that this was a God beyond the forces of the world; not an element but the creator of all elements. He points out that this God made stone and cannot be contained in it, that this God made gold and cannot be reflected in an image formed from it.
Moreover, Paul tells them that there are now no more excuses for not seeing. “While God has overlooked the times of human ignorance, now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31). We can imagine the snickers from the crowd, this was indeed “foolishness” to these Greeks. But Paul could see something they didn’t and that something was a focal point that guided his attention so that he could see everything else clearly. What Paul could see was the risen Lord, the Jesus Christ he had encountered on the road he traveled through Syria.
It is Jesus, the Gospel of John shows us, that is the first Paraclete. Jesus says “another” Advocate will come. It is Jesus that is the first one who shows us how to see reality, the truth of the world. But in order to see we have to follow, we have to not simply see him, to know that there is an expert, but to go with him and look so that we can learn to see as he sees.
The world sees Jesus and sees a good man; they admire him like they admire Gandhi. Nice guy, did great stuff, but they don’t want to do what he did, see as he saw. They don’t want to fast and suffer beatings, upset their family or employer or government. And so Jesus disappears for them. They can’t see the Kingdom he came to show them and they can’t see the risen Christ who is the focal point that makes that Kingdom clear.
As Horowitz writes: “An expert can only indicate what she sees; it is up to your own head to tune your senses and your brain to see it. Once you catch that melody, and keep humming, you are forever changed.” We have to be disciples of Jesus, not simply his admirers. We have to immerse ourselves in the melody of his teachings, his commandments. Only then will the Spirit of truth come alongside us and say “look!”