I know the movie Avatar was some years ago now, but for those of you who have not seen the film, I commend it to you. Even if you believe you do not like science fiction films, I still recommend it to you.
The science fiction part of the film is not easy to explain, except that it is set on the planet Pandora, which is inhabited by a tall, blue skinned, humanoid race, with their own language and culture, called the Na’vi. As a part of a study of the culture of the Na’vi, and a means for a mining corporation doing their capitalism, scientists have developed a genetic means of creating a Na’vi identity that is controlled by humans called and Avatar.
One Avatar controller Jake Sulley, infiltrates the Na’vi and, in the process, falls in love with the beautiful Na’vi, Neytiri, and Jake enters into a fight to save Pandora from the ruthless, capitalist, mining company.
In the process of the movie we are made aware of the depth of the pagan spirituality, culture and language of the Na’vi. In particular is the Na’vi greeting, “I see you.” It is explained to Jake by his Avatar driver colleague that this means more than, “I am looking at you,” but carries the sense that, “I see you for who you really are.”
A part of the conclusion to the movie is a scene where the Na’vi, Neytiri, sees Jake as the human he is, rather than as the Avatar which he drives. Jake says to Neytiri, “I see you,” to which Neytiri replies, in great acceptance despite his being a part of the humans that are destroying her planet. “I see you.”
This is the problem for Saul when he is confronted, on the way to Damascus, by the sudden light that caused him to fall from his horse. When the voice of the light says, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul responds, “Who are you, Lord?”
Saul does not see. He knows about Jesus, but he does not know Jesus, he does not really know who he really is. Jesus is simply a threat to Saul’s religion.
Compare this to the disciples who have gone fishing one night and have caught nothing. Jesus, although unrecognised by the disciples, is standing on the beach and gives them instructions to cast the net on the right side of the boat. Of course, when they do this, they catch 153 large fish. The disciple whom Jesus loved, probably John who is credited with writing this gospel, says to Peter, “It is the Lord!” There is no hesitation, Peter knows it also, dressing, he dives into the water and swims to Jesus on the shore, the other disciples follow in the boat dragging the full net.
When they get to shore, Jesus is already there with a fire, cooking some fish, and some bread. He invites them to breakfast. John writes, ‘Now none of the disciples dared ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord.’
There then follows an interaction between Peter and Jesus that seems to me to be reversing the Peter’s three-time betrayal before Jesus was crucified. But it is telling that Peter feels hurt because Jesus asks him three times, “Do you love me?” “Lord,” he replies, “you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Peter and the other disciples do recognise Jesus, the same but different through the resurrection. They see Jesus, and Jesus sees them.
The problem with Saul was that he did not see Jesus. He knew about him, he knew information concerning him, he may have even visibly seen him, but he did not know him, he did not ‘see’ him.
We often speak about this part of Saul’s life as being a conversion. I the strictest sense, Saul does not change gods. However, Saul does make a leap in understanding about the person of Jesus in the God he belongs to. I can’t help wondering whether Saul is acting out of religious motives rather than faith motives here. We know he speaks of himself as once being zealous to the law. Now, clearly, this interaction with the risen Jesus, on the way to Damascus has brought him into knowledge of Jesus, not just knowledge about him. Saul sees Jesus.
With the aid of a reluctant and fearful Ananias, through prayer, the Holy Spirit gives him understanding. Saul becomes Paul. The physical restoration of his sight, as something like scales fell from his eyes, is a metaphor that he sees Jesus. Paul, now no longer persecuting Jesus through his disciples, is baptised and goes out proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God.
I am reminded of the parable of the talents (Matthew 25). The rich man leaves his three stewards a gift: one five talents, one two talents, and the last, one talent. Then he goes away. On his return he calls his stewards to give an account of how they have used a gift. The first two, five and two talent recipients, have doubled their money because they understood that they had been trusted with it. The third, the one talent recipient, simply returns what he had been given having buried it. The reason, he says, is because “he knew his master to be a hard man, reaping where he did not sow…” This parable seems to be indicating that our actions, with the gifts we have been given, will be determined by how we understand God to be. This is how he ‘sees’ his master.
I often hear stories about the members of certain churches, including our own, being full of people who lack commitment. I don’t think that is purely the case. I think the reason that people do not act and respond is because they do not, have not, yet come to understand the nature of God. They may know about God and they may know stuff about God and they may know the practices of their religion and tradition, but they do not know God. They do not yet ‘see’ God.
The death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection, speak to me about the extravagant generosity of God to us. When we get the enormity of what God has done, what God has surrendered, what God has given, because of and for us, then that will change the way we act and respond in the world towards God. Then we will be able to say to Jesus, “I see you,” as he says to us, “I see you.”