“Come and see” is repeated like a refrain in John 1. It’s a phrase I gravitate to, and live my life by. I believe God is calling us to come and see for ourselves. Every time I have been brave enough to do so, my heart has been changed. I think about people like Oscar Romero, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Pope Francis, who live a life defined by going and seeing how people are really living. I believe that curiosity, that seeking, that crossing of boundaries is part of the work of the gospel. We see Jesus going to see things for himself throughout his ministry.
Last week I looked at John 1 with senior high students. I asked them for examples of times when their parents or friends said, “Come here, you have to see this!” The overwhelming examples were funny or amazing Youtube videos. This is interesting. Today more than ever before, the entire world can be streamed into our home. We can see things – amazing things, beautiful things – with very little effort. But isn’t effort part of the process? Isn’t the journey, the discomfort, the waiting in lines, the climbing of the mountain, the getting lost on the way part of what makes going and seeing so pivotal? Does the seeing transform us if the coming only requires us to walk to the screen in the next room?
A good friend of mine** emailed me the other day from Ethiopia. Her husband is an eye doctor and is taking a year to travel to countries like Nepal, India, Ghana and Ethiopia to gain skills in eye surgery. There are more opportunities there because there are fewer doctors, fewer state of the art facilities and less country-wide preventive eye care available. They are spending the first year of their marriage answering the call to “Come and see” by literally helping people see. Here is a part of her email:
So watching formerly blind patients get their sight back sing and ulate and dance might be one of the greatest, most spiritual things on earth. I’m sure there are many others, but this definitely makes it in to the top 10. We have been kissed, hugged, danced with, and simply smiled at with unbelieving blinking eyes that register. There are many tears too – many of joy – today an Ethiopian man who was blind in both eyes for many years got sight back in one eye (his other eye was inoperable). He’s elderly, maybe in his 70s (most Ethiopians don’t know their age), and is alone. He worked for the Church before he lost his sight and now has been cared for by the church and also begs. He’s cute as most of the old men here are in a grizzled endearing way and quite dignified. He has this way of sitting and holding his hands crossed over the top of his walking stick and resting his chin that gives him a very professorial look, as if he were about to enter into an old theological debate.
This morning the bandage came off, and he stood silently and wept. Then, when asked, he reached out without hesitation and touched the nose of the doctor who did his surgery. Finally he laughed and smiled, it was if he’d forgotten those emotions ever existed in him and they just bubbled over and his craggy old face turned into something of the boy and young man he once was, full of life and hope.
My friend’s husband wanted to go to Ethiopia because there is more work there than in the US at literally helping the blind to see. Many doctors I know who have done work abroad speak to the fulfillment of work in places where there is more immediate need and more striking results. We are told that Jesus made the blind to see and the lame to walk. We are told to follow Jesus, but we don’t always know how to translate his ministry into our own context. In our world of Youtube, what does it mean to follow Jesus? There is so much need in our country, true. There are also more and more jobs mediated by screens that do not require us to actually move to see things. Does this coming-and-seeing-that-does-not-require-a-journey affect our ministries and our ability to be transformed, our boundaries to be crossed and our minds to be changed?
After laughing at the trending, viral Youtube videos with the senior high students, I asked them, “What is God asking you to come and see?” Silence. “I’m not sure either,” I said, “but let’s keep listening for the call.”
**worth noting both that my friend gave me permission to post her email and that she and her husband are Jewish and would not put their work in the context of Jesus’ ministry– that jump is my own.