Now we know

“Now we believe no longer because of what you told us; we have heard him for ourselves and we know.” Thus the people of Sychar to the woman who told them of the man at the well (John 4:42). Who was the well-known education psychologist who said, “you cannot teach another person anything”? His point was that learning comes from the curiosity and desire of a person to learn. If these are absent the teacher can do nothing.

An obvious point, you might say, but history is littered with people whose minds are fixed and are not curious to learn. “Nobody who has been drinking old wine wants new. ‘The old is good,’ he says” (Luke 5:39). In trying to explain to me the more advanced possibilities of this laptop, someone a good deal younger than me, became mildly exasperated; “the trouble is you don’t want to know!” And there was truth in his complaint!

But if we are open-minded, curious and free from preconceived ideas we are disposed to be surprised and “surprised by joy” to quote the title of a much admired book on the spiritual life by Gerard Hughes. The wise men from the east had this experience. The story in Matthew suggests they had a long and tiresome journey ending with a treacherous meeting with the devious King Herod. But in the end they saw for themselves the new born king and Matthew’s purpose is clearly to show how the eyes of the gentiles were opened at the beginning of his gospel just as he closes it with the words “go, make disciples of all nations.”

We call it the Epiphany, the story of the glimpse. It is a moment when we get some idea of the promise that awaits us. It was the first of a million pilgrimages to Bethlehem and pilgrimages have always been symbols of life’s journey. We are on our way, even if we don’t quite know where – like Abraham of old. It is not always clear. As the wise men saw, politics can intervene and threaten the good intentions we have, twisting them to serve some evil purpose. The star that rose in our youth may disappear behind the clouds as we go on our way.

But if, at Christmas, we say with the people of Sychar “now we know” and we have seen for ourselves, we will have courage to face – what Zimbabweans euphemistically call ordinary chores – the “challenges” of 2014. Eliot wrote of the wise men, “we returned to our places, these Kingdoms, but no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation, with an alien people clutching their gods.” Christmas has given us a glimpse of a better world.

Post published in: Faith

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