For 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,
A key theme in today’s gospel reading is that of seeing. In verse 36 Jesus tells the crowd that although they have seen his works which are of God, they do not believe. In verse 40 he says that those who truly see, and as the scripture scholar Raymond Brown points out, “seeing” (theorein) here is not merely physical seeing but also the insight of spiritual seeing, will have eternal life. To really see Jesus is to recognize in him the light and life “that has come into the world.”
The etymology of our word respect is to look back or to look again. Those in today’s gospel who see Jesus but do not believe have not “looked back” at him beyond their superficial viewing. To see spiritually, which means to see the reality before us in its manifold significances and meanings, requires that we look back after suspending our initial judgment and interpretation of what we think we have seen. A recent story on the public radio program Radio Lab described a scientist who developed an experiment in the perception of color with his young daughter. No one in the family was ever to say to the child for the first few years of her life that the sky was blue. As a result, the child did not see the sky as blue but rather as white. In time, as the idea that the sky was blue became more and more familiar to her, she began to see and to refer to the color of the sky as blue, but before being taught that it was she saw it in a very different way.
Is it perhaps this process in reverse that today’s gospel calls us to practice? It may be that our preconceived notions determine what we see more than our actual seeing illumines our ideas and understanding. So, perhaps life needs to be a process of learning how to see anew. If we are to come to see more than our preconceived expectations of the world, we must practice looking back over and over again, with the kind of receptivity of heart and mind that allows the mystery of creation to show itself to us beyond our deep-seated preconceptions.
My sorrow’s flower was so small a joy
It took a winter seeing to see it as such.
Numb, unsteady, stunned at all the evidence
Of winter’s blind imperative to destroy,
I looked up, and saw the bare abundance
Of a tree whose every limb was lit and fraught with snow.
What I was seeing then I did not quite know
But knew that one mite more would have been too much.