Grace and Truth
That old philosophical puzzle asks: if a tree falls in the forest when there's no one around to hear it, was there really any sound? The answer is NO. There were vibrations, waves, loosed into the air, but it takes an ear and a brain to translate that into sound. And a human person to interpret that sound as a tree falling. It takes a person, a subject, AND an outward object to make the specific sound of a tree falling. The inward something makes sense of the outward, and the outward something, the sound, validates the inward meaning.
This past Sunday, we read the story of the man born blind, whom Jesus healed. He starts out blind, but there's an inner something, a faith, a hope, a something, that prompts him to call out for help as Jesus passes by. Jesus gives him his sight, and that inner something blossoms. What do you mean, he asks the skeptics. For a person born blind to be made sighted is unheard of in the whole history of the entire world! So, inwardly, he is prepared when Jesus comes to find him. Now the man has that inner something by way of assurance, plus the outward data: he can see. Most importantly, he can see (and hear) Jesus. The outward experience confirms what is in the man's heart, and what is in his heart confirms Who it is he sees.
Skip now to the story of the disciples walking along the road to Emmaus. A Stranger joins them and asks why they seem so dejected. What, are you from some other planet, they ask. Haven't you heard of Jesus of Nazareth, who was just crucified the other day? Well, we were deluded enough to have hoped he was the Messiah. But of course he couldn't have been, because Messiah would never get Himself executed like a criminal.
The Stranger chides them for being so "slow to believe". What, is he a believer, too? The Stranger, as they walk along, reminds them of prophecy after prophecy about the Messiah, showing them what they mean, and that they do indeed speak of Messiah being cut off, rejected, having His hands and feet pierced, etc.
They all arrive at Emmaus and decide to eat supper together. The Stranger prays, gives thanks, takes the loaf of bread and breaks it — and suddenly, in that so very characteristic gesture, they recognize Him. As soon as they do, He disappears from their sight. It has to have been Jesus, they exclaim to each other; were not our hearts burning while He spoke to us?
Again, we have the inner something, here described as burning, and an outer something, the Stranger explaining the Scriptures. And the inner something validates their conclusion that it was indeed Jesus, while the outer events validate the inward certainty.
This coming Thursday, we celebrate the feast of the Ascension. Jesus says something to his followers that has puzzled me all my life, until now. He says, "It is good for you that I go, else the Comforter will not come." What??? How is it good for us to be deprived of Jesus' physical presence? Why couldn't Jesus stay and the Comforter still come?
Because Jesus is the outward, embodied Truth, but the Holy Spirit is the inward Reality, and enlightenment happens only when outward truth and inward reality meet. This is how it always is. We encounter some truth outside ourselves, and it touches some reality inside us, telling us what it means. It means a tree has fallen. It means Messiah has healed my poor blind eyes. It means the Christ Who died yet lives. We encounter Truth and something in us leaps toward it, as St. John leapt in his mother's womb.
Had Jesus stayed bodily with us, how would we ever have learned this? We would be forever looking to Him, as an external Source, to speak to us, show us, teach us. But He desired for us that we should know the Truth firsthand, from within our very own being, and not only from Him, indirectly. Because it is when the inward witness and the outward witness agree that we are enlightened.
And there are three that bear witness in earth,
the Spirit, [inward]
and the water, [Holy Baptism]
and the blood: [Holy Communion]
and these three agree in one.
Grace, the inward Someone, And Truth, the outward Someone, came by Jesus Christ. And it's because we have both, and because they agree, that with awe we can sing our grateful hymn:
We have seen the True Light, [Christ, outside ourselves]
We have received the heavenly Spirit, [inside ourselves]
[and as a result of both]
We have found the true faith:
Worshipping the undivided Trinity, Who has saved us.