Seeing is Believing
And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. (Matt. 17:2 NRSV)
In the Hollywood movie of the mid-eighties The Natural, Robert Redford stars as thirty-something baseball player Roy Hobbs, who having not played any form of the game in 16 years, is drafted mid season by the New York Knights to make his debut in professional baseball.
The onetime child prodigy had left his farming hometown as a teenager to try out as a pitcher for the Chicago Cubs 16 years earlier, but a strange encounter with a sinister woman on the train to Chicago ended his dream of becoming the “best baseball player there ever was” before it even started. But now, after playing for an unknown club in a semi-professional league for just two weeks, the Knight’s talent scout has offered him a contract as a batter.
Hobbs arrives at the Knights home stadium midway through a game. The team, who are the competition “easybeats”, are once again losing badly when Hobbs introduces himself to Pop Fisher, the team manager and part owner. Learning that Hobbs has been contracted to play for the Knights, and that he hasn’t played baseball since high school, Pop says to Hobbs, “Fella, you don’t start playing ‘ball’ at your age, you retire!”
Pop determines that he will pay Hobbs’ contract but will never actually let him play. One thing leads to another and finally Hobbs is given his opportunity to try out at batting practice. He promptly begins to hit one pitch after another into the grandstand, surprising all those watching, including Pop. When his assistant manager Red excitedly asks Pop, “Did you see that?”, Pop replies cautiously, “This is practice Red.” In the final innings of the next game, Hobbs is called by Pop to go out and bat. He scores a home run, hitting the ball so hard that he knocks the cover off it. The Knights win the game and, with Hobbs leading them, they go on to win the pennant and Hobbs becomes a batting sensation.
The gospel reading from the lectionary for Holy Communion on Wednesday was the story of Jesus healing a blind man in Bethsaida. It is found only in the Gospel of Mark, and it is the only gospel story where a healing performed by Jesus actually takes place in two stages. Positioned where it is in Mark’s Gospel, the message this story conveys to its readers is that the disciples of Jesus also suffer from blindness, that is they are blind to exactly who Jesus is. And just as the blind man in Bethsaida receives his sight in stages, the disciples come to see Jesus for who he really is in stages as well.
The disciples had witnessed Jesus feed the crowd of five thousand with five loaves of bread and then the crowd of four thousand with seven loaves, but they still didn’t fully understand who Jesus was. Then they witnessed Jesus heal the blind man at Bethsaida, but when Jesus asked them who they thought he was they still lacked the full depth of understanding. Peter almost gets it when he tells Jesus that he believes Jesus is the Messiah, but then still fails to comprehend fully when told that Jesus must suffer, die and be raised after three days. Peter finally understands when he witnesses the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain. The glory of God is revealed to Peter through Jesus.
Seeing is believing. Pop Fisher didn’t believe that Roy Hobbs was the “real deal” until he saw him in action in a real competitive game, even though he had seen what he could do in practice. Peter finally believed that Jesus was the Son of God when the glory of God was revealed to him on the mountain when Jesus was transfigured, even though he had witnessed Jesus perform several amazing miracles.
Thomas the apostle would not accept that Jesus had risen from the dead until he could see Jesus and touch his wounds for himself. Only after Jesus had appeared before him and asked Thomas to put his hands in his wounds did Thomas believe, to which Jesus proclaimed, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29 NRSV)
Coming to faith is not necessarily an epiphany experience. More often than not it is a gradual process that develops over time. And even when we have come to faith that is not the end of the process. Our faith will continue to grow and deepen as our understanding grows and deepens, much like that of Peter. And like Peter, our faith will be challenged at times. The very definition of faith is trusting completely in someone or something. We trust completely in Jesus, even though we have not seen him, and Jesus himself said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”