SESSION 5: A COMMUNITY TO CHECK OUR VISION
Matthew 14:22-33; Mark 8:22-26; 1 Corinthians 13:11-13
Below is the Individual Study Guide for Session 3 of Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus, a new 8-session video series and digital curriculum resource from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. Learn more at http://www.cbf.net/eyesofjesus.
By Paul Baxley, CBF Executive Coordinator
In the last two sessions, we have explored two very different, but equally powerful truths. On the one hand, when we really see Jesus, we are transformed. We have access to a life that really is life, a life that is far more abundant than anything we could ask for or imagine, a life that consists in sharing the very ministry and mission of Jesus himself. On the other hand, when we are distracted, we sink. We do not bear fruit.
When we lose sight of Jesus, we find ourselves operating in our own strength and power, which are not nearly enough. As we have also learned, our lives as Christians are not so much ones of immediate fulfillment, but instead are a journey in which we daily live more fully into our profession of faith that Christ is the highest authority in our lives and in our congregations.
Because we are on such a journey, we are like the man Jesus encounters as recorded in Mark 8. At first, the man is completely blind. Jesus begins his work of healing; but the healing is not immediate. The man sees, but not completely. Instead of seeing people clearly, the objects in his vision look like walking trees. It is only after Jesus intervenes again that the man is able to see fully.
We should pause and reflect on Jesus’ encounter with the blind man. Not only does the text tell us that our sight is restored through a journey, but that it is not just a momentary experience; there is so much more here. When Mark describes the final intervention, he not only tells us that Jesus touches the man’s eyes, he also describes the truth that Jesus looks intently into those blind eyes. Before the man can really see, he has to be really seen by Jesus.
There is an unmistakable connection between being seen by Jesus and his really being able to see. Jesus looks at the blind man, looks deep into his eyes, and it is the combination of seeing and touching that leads to the restoration of sight. So, we begin to discover that the kind of intense seeing that Jesus wants to produce in us is a reflection of, even an extension of, his own sight. “Because it is no longer I who lives but Christ who lives in me.” It is also no longer I who sees, but Christ who sees in me so that my seeing is an extension of his. My seeing is restored as he sees me. As I remain focused on him, I come to see everyone else as he sees.
But this healing of a blind man also makes it clear that our sight is not restored by our effort alone. We learn that the blind man in Mark 8 cannot come to see in his own agency. His sight has to be restored by the healing sight and touch of Jesus. When his sight is imperfect and incomplete, he needs Jesus’ sight and touch just as much as when he was completely blind. In the same way, if we are to come to really see Jesus and see through eyes made whole by Christ, we need to live our lives in the constant presence of Christ.
Christ restores our vision as we make ourselves available to him in prayer, in the devotional reading of Scripture, in the worship of the Church, and even in mission. I began my life in ministry as a youth minister. Back in the 1990s, the focal point of a whole year in the youth ministries of the congregations I served was a summer mission trip. We spent months preparing youth and adult chaperones for that 10-day experience, and then considerable energies carrying out the mission projects around which the trips were built. In the preparation and in the implementation, we made significant space for reflection.
Three decades later, informed by more life and ministry experience, there are things I would do differently. But in the course of those mission trips, I learned a powerful truth: Sometimes our vision is healed in the midst of participating in Jesus’ work in the world. Many nights on those mission trips, I would invite teens to reflect on the question: “Where have you seen Jesus today?”
Then I would listen as one after another would offer a testimony of how they had seen Jesus at work in the life of some person they had met, or experienced Jesus’ presence or come to see Jesus more clearly because of what had happened in that day. In those days each year, those of us on that trip were paying attention to Jesus in ways more substantive than on many other days.
From those experiences, I learned that we can see more clearly when we immerse ourselves in the mission Jesus gave us, and that the practice of asking (even praying) the right questions can be used by Jesus to restore our sight. We experience the redemption and restoration of our seeing when Christ encounters us in worship, spiritual formation and even in mission.
Reading Scripture, praying, singing hymns, serving in our communities are all ways that Jesus restores our sight and even checks our vision. But another truth that emerges from Scripture, my youth ministry experiences and I dare say all of our experiences in faith, is that community with other Christians is essential. Now that Christ is risen and ascended, we encounter Jesus both through spiritual practice, but also through the body of Christ, which is the Church. When the Church lives faithfully, we experience Christ’s healing touch through relationships within and beyond our congregations.
From the early beginning of the Church this has been true. Following Jesus was never intended to be a purely individual experience. From the first pages of the Gospels, it is clear that Jesus knew that following him would require a community. Staying focused on him would require the support of other believers. That’s why Jesus’ call is always not only to him but also to community.
From the beginning, there was always Simon and Andrew, James and John, Paul and Priscilla and Timothy. We have been drawn into a community to follow Jesus so that we can help one another see, check one another’s vision, be instruments of Christ’s healing touch for one another’s eyes, and encourage one another to keep paying attention to Jesus. I’ve experienced the power of genuine community and holy friendship across my journey of faith and I imagine you have as well. We’ve spent much time in Matthew 14:22-33.
We’ve seen the power of being focused on Jesus and the danger of distraction. But today I want you to notice a missed opportunity in the text. The way the story reads, when Peter is walking toward Jesus on the choppy waters, the other disciples are silent. We don’t know if they even noticed what Peter was doing. Could they have been straining at the oars so hard they did not see? Or were they watching in silent disbelief?
Was anyone calling out to Peter, challenging him to get back in the boat where he belonged? What might have been different if the other disciples had called out to Peter with words of encouragement? What might have been different if his fellow believers had supported him? If they in word and deed had cried out to him and said: “Keep paying attention to Jesus. Keep looking into Jesus’ eyes”?
Might Peter have been able to walk on those waves longer if at least some of his friends had encouraged him?
In his powerful book, Life Together, Dietrich Bonhoeffer celebrates the necessarily communal nature of the Christian life. In a passage from that book that has stayed with me since I first read it, he affirms that the Christian always needs access to Christ in his brother’s heart because sometimes Christ in his own heart is not strong enough.
When we are prone to wander, to slip and fall, we need others who are also following Jesus to support us, to encourage us, to challenge us, to embrace us and to help us stay in the way that leads to life. If we are really to abide in Christ, if we are to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, we need others walking with us who can help us. What has to be true for a church to be that kind of community?
What sorts of relationships do we have to foster? What qualities must exist? Wouldn’t it require us to be committed to being in relationship with each other? Wouldn’t we need to cultivate honesty, vulnerability, transparency and trust?
Wouldn’t congregations need to be communities marked by the fruit of the spirit and the kind of love Paul described in I Corinthians 13? What must be true about me to receive Christ’s healing through a community that checks my vision and helps me see Jesus?
Don’t I have to be a person who is honest about my own need for help? The blind man we meet in Mark 8 certainly was. Even Paul in I Corinthians 13 acknowledged that he saw through a glass darkly; in those words, there is a necessary humility. If I believe I see perfectly and know everything, then I’m not likely to believe I need the touch of Jesus directly or through sisters and brothers in Christ.
I have to be humble enough to recognize that while I see more than perhaps I once did, I still need Christ to help me see more clearly. Neither our current political climate nor even many dominant faith expressions these days encourage that kind of humility; but it is absolutely essential to authentic growth in faith.
Without that humility, without a community that can help me see more clearly and point me more and more to Christ, at best I will find myself sinking with Peter. But, held by Christ’s astonishing grace and surrounded by a community of holy friends, I can see more faithfully, live more gracefully and be part of a truly abundant life. That is true for each of us and for our congregations.
Questions for Reflection
By Harrison Litzell
1. The poet Donald Hall, upon the death of his wife, poet Jane Kenyon, said, “We did not spend our days gazing into each other’s eyes . . . most of the time our gazes entwined as they looked at a third thing.” How does your gaze entwine with Jesus’ gaze? What “third” things do you gaze at together?
2. Where have you seen or encountered Jesus today?
3. How does your community impact your view of Jesus? Has your view of Jesus changed because of the community in which you live and move?
4. How can we more fully foster authenticity and trust in our church communities?
5. Where in your life, in or out of a church setting, do you experience authentic and trusting community?
Invitation to Prayer
This week, we invite you to share a prayer with someone in your community. It can be a prayer of thanks, request, praise or anything else. Write a prayer, record yourself on your phone, or sit with a friend and share a prayer together. Approach Jesus in community.
Seeing Through the Eyes of Jesus is a new resource from the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship that calls us back to the central focus of our Christian faith—the Risen and Living Jesus!
Access this free 8-session video series and digital curriculum resource at https://www.cbf.net/eyesofjesus
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