Seeing is Believing or "Drawing with The Right Side of the Brain"
When I was a freshmen in high school my mother and father signed me up to take art lessons from Mr. Bohannon. He was a wizened old man, who walked with a cane. The year before I arrived at my school, he retired as the art teacher, a position he had held for some years. My mom thought it would be a good idea to cultivate what she believed to be my artistic abilities.
At our very first session, Mr. Bohannon set a cup in front of me and had me take out my sketch pad and a pencil. "Draw the cup," he told me, "but don't look at your paper." I hesitated, but he nodded that I should continue. So I drew the cup without looking at my paper. The result was an abomination. Then he had me hold my left hand out in front of me, and do the same thing...draw it without looking at my paper. If I tried to peek at what I was drawing, Mr. Bohannon would reprimand me. I tried to follow the intricate lines on my hand, fingernails, knuckles, what have you. Again, the result was an abomination. It looked like Frankenstein's hand drawn by a three year-old.
"Do you know why you are drawing like this?" He asked me.
"Because I am not looking at my paper." I replied.
"No," Mr. Bohannon said, "it's because you have spent your whole life trying to draw what you think you see rather than what is really there." He went on to explain how I needed to train myself to begin drawing from the right side of my brain--the more creative, open and free side--rather than the left side of my brain, which constantly told me the way things ought to look.
Jesus spent three years with his disciples trying to get them to do the same thing. I probably could pick a number of them to single out, but I'll pick on Philip today.
In John chapter 12 there is this awesome story. There are these Greeks that show up in John's Gospel of Jesus. They approach Phillip, one of Jesus' followers and ask this incredibly poignant and strange question:
Sir, we want to see Jesus. Can you help us?
No one knows their names, because they are just referred to as "some Greeks." I read that they might have been what was known as "proselyte Gentiles," which meant that they were keeping the laws of Moses, but had not gone so far as to have a circumcision.
Now, for my part, all of that...circumcision stuff... was done when I was like a day old and didn't have any real capacity to argue about it. If someone was suggesting that the same procedure take place now--I would put up a serious fight. Like to the death.
So I can't really blame these Greek fellows for not wanting to go "all in." But they still wanted to worship and to participate in the Jewish faith and tradition as best they could. They showed up at Passover to take part in the celebrations, and were probably hanging around when Jesus showed up on the back of a donkey and people went nuts with singing, shouting and waving palm fronds. They came to Philip because he had a Greek name.
Philip's name means "lover of horses" in Greek. There is no indication that Phillip had horses, rode a horse when he was Jesus, or had any contact with horses. But Philip was a kingly name for people with an affinity for all things Greek. Philip of Macedonia was the father of Alexander the Great, who was perhaps the most famous Greek of his age--or any age for that matter.
And no, Constantin Maroulis from American Idol does not count as a "most famous Greek." Maybe a slightly famous Greek. Or just Greek.
Philip's journey as a disciple is so amazing. His was a journey that could best be described with the phrase, "Seeing is believing."
Philip's first encounter with Jesus was short, sweet and to the point. Jesus ran into him in the Galilee and said to him, "Come, follow me." The words of Jesus made a huge impression on Philip, because he started following. But before he took one step, Philip went and found someone else to go with him.
According to John's Gospel, when he finds his friend Nathanael, Philip exclaims "We have found the Messiah!" Nathanael balks a bit at such a statement, and Philip tells him, "Come see for yourself."
Seeing is believing.
Once Jesus leaned over to Philip as they two of them surveyed a crowd of over five thousand people gathered on the hillside. "Where can we buy bread to feed these people?" The Bible indicates that Jesus was messing with Philip. I swear. It's in there.
"Two hundred silver pieces (which was probably a lot) wouldn't be enough to feed them all." Philip responds.
Then he watches while Jesus busts out enough bread and anchovies to feed the whole lot.
Seeing is believing.
There is this other moment where Jesus tells his disciples, "If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him. You've even seen him." Philip sort of raises his hand and states the obvious.
"Master," he says to Jesus, "show us the Father, then we'll be content."
Now I don't blame Philip one bit for making that statement. All he was doing was basically saying what most of us would have been saying, too. "Jesus, I get that you have incredible power, and there is just something about you that is... well, unexplainable. I mean, we gave up everything to follow you. But could you do us a favor, and just let us see what God is really like? Could you give us a special sign, a special message from God that would make us just CERTAIN that we signed on to the right gig here. Is that something you could pull off?"
Jesus turns to Philip and you can almost feel the hurt in his voice when he says, "You've been with me all this time, Philip, and you still don't understand? To see me is to see the Father, and the Father is in me."
Philip had seen with his own eyes what God was like through Jesus. It was right there in front of him. To see Jesus, was to see God--at least God in human form. To know Jesus was to know what God was all about, what God loves, what God is up to and the lengths that God will go to save.
Seeing is believing.
There's also a short Philip story in Acts, which is the last time that Philip shows up in the New Testament of the Bible. It seems that Philip took Jesus' words pretty seriously about taking the Gospel to Judea and Samaria and then to the ends of the earth. In Acts chapter 8 Philip goes to a Samaritan city to preach the Message of the Messiah. The Samaritans pretty much hated Jews and vice versa. But Philip had a captive audience. He healed people, and everyone was hanging on his every word.
There was this guy named Simon, a wizard, who became fascinated with Philip's ability to do all sorts of miracles and he began following him around, trying to find out how he did it. Eventually, he tried to purchase the ability to do miracles, which made the apostles get a bit testy with him. Peter used some of his salty fisherman language on the guy, "To hell with your money and you along with it!" he told Simon. It sort of went downhill from there.
Interestingly Simon begs for the apostles to pray for him. He knew the real thing when he saw Philip doing powerful miracles, and speaking with authority in the name of Jesus. But Simon assumed that the power was something you could earn, or buy. Philip and the other apostles had seen up close and personal what it meant to be filled with the power of God's Spirit. They knew such talk was what led to pride, and to a fall.
Seeing is believing.
After this, Philip is led by God's angel to go out into the wilderness on a desolate road that led from Jerusalem. Philip, who has seen and believed what God was all about in the world, doesn't argue. He goes. And he meets a an Ethiopian who was the minister in charge of all of the finances of Candace, Queen of the Ethiopians. Because he was in such close proximity to the Queen, this Ethiopian had been castrated.
That is a little worse than circumcision, I am thinking.
In the eyes of good Jews (and pretty much every one else, too), this guy was not a man, he was not even really a full human being. But something had driven him to come to Jerusalem and to worship. Maybe he was curious. Maybe he was just searching for truth, wherever truth might be found. He was reading a scroll that contained the prophet Isaiah. He could not understand what he was reading.
Philip, led by the Spirit, runs alongside the chariot. This must have seemed weird to the Ethiopian, but not nearly as weird as when Philip shouts out, "Do you understand what you are reading?" They guy looks over at Philip who is running beside the chariot, and must have thought, "This brother is out of his mind." But he responds, "How can I, unless someone shows me." Philip gets in, and shows him, and the eunuch, who was not considered a man, and certainly not even close to being Jewish, believes and is baptized.
Seeing is believing.
Let's go back a bit...
When Philip brought the Greeks to Jesus, he got more than he bargained for. Jesus pulled no punches when he essentially told his disciples, "Training is over. You've got to be ready to run the race." The words that he spoke were simple: "If you want to cling desperately to your life, to your self, to the person that you think that you need to be to be successful, wealthy, strong, powerful, all the things that the culture is telling you that you must be... you will lose that life." The word that Jesus uses is appolynai which means to "destroy." He goes on, "But if you want to turn your back on your life, then you will find it and keep it forever."
Then he said, "A seed has to die in order for it to produce something, in order for life to happen."
Jesus knew that his disciples would not understand right then what he meant. They needed to see it. They needed to see his death and resurrection with their own eyes. They needed to see their own re-birth with the coming of the Holy Spirit. Then it would all make sense. Through Christ, God was saving all of Creation. Jesus proclaimed to the apostles, what he proclaims to us today through the power of His Spirit in the world: "Give up your life, and I will give you mine."
Seeing is believing.
We know the real thing when we see it. We have seen the power of Christ in the world. We have seen the signs of Resurrection in the midst of a culture that denies it's existence. We recognize the saints who have turned their back on the self that the world has created for them, and found the life God had in mind all along.
We have seen these Christ moment in the world, and so many more. But most of of us have seen only what we want to see, or what we feel we ought to see. When we see Jesus, I mean really see Jesus... It changes everything. We never look at the world the same way again. We don't see ourselves in the same light. All of a sudden, we no longer are concerned with the selves that we have made in order to fit in, to conform, to be exactly as we ought to be.
In the end, if we wish to follow Christ, "Seeing is believing" becomes a truism only if the sight we are using is not our own, but His.