Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Come and See

"They said to him, "Rabbi!" (which means teacher), "Where are you staying?"

"Come and see", Yeshua tells them.

So they came and saw where he was staying, and they spent that day with him....

.....Phillip finds Natana'el and tells him, "We've found the one that Moshe in the Torah, and also the prophets, wrote about- Yeshua of Nazeret, son of Yosef!"

"Nazeret!", Natana'el answered. "Can anything good come from there?"

Phillip said to him, "Come and see."

-Yochanan 1:38-39; 45-47 (based on Tree of Life Bible translation)

"What is the nature of this dhamma (teaching) of the one you call the Buddha (awakened one)?"

"His dhamma is here-and-now, timeless, inviting all "come and see!", giving guidance, verifiable to everyone for themselves!"

- Pali Canon (my translation)

The latter quote is a summary of the nature of the Buddha's teaching that is chanted by Buddhists all over the world every day as part of "dhammanupassana" or contemplation of the wondrous nature of the teaching. The crux of the quote, in my eyes, is the central invitation "come and see!" It is this very invitation that is so inspiring to children of the secular enlightenment in the West. This is a teaching that apparently needs no faith, that lies completely open to empirical investigation. "Taste and see that the Dhamma is good!" the quote cries.

I was therefore struck when I read in the Gospel of Yochanan (John) that an identical invitation is presented twice in the early 2nd chapter of the book when Yeshua (Jesus) first begins gathering disciples. This invitation, "come and see!" serves the same function as it does in the Pali Canon- to provoke curiousity, to express joyous confidence, and to lay down a challenge.

There are of course diffferences. The disciples of the Buddha are inviting people not to come and see the Buddha, but to come take up the practice of his teachings- to apply a set of techniques- and see the results in and for themselves. Jesus, and after him his disciple Phillip, is inviting others to come and see Jesus himself. The Buddhist invites you to examine a doctrine and a practice, the Christian invites you to come see a person.

Herein, it seems to me, lies one of the difficulties of evangelism: it is not Christian doctrine, nor Christian community, nor the rewards of living Christian disciplines, that make a Christian. Doctrine may be intellectually scintillating- delivered in a beautifully dignified and complex harmony like the writings of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI or witty, biting and brilliant like those of CS Lewis. Community may be warm, genuine and supportive. Christian disciplines may fill days with meaning, joy, purification and warm ripples of heart-health. I think it true that none of these will make a true Christian, however.

These things will appeal and may draw one in for a time, giving a certain superfical sense of conviction and rootedness. What they won't do, in my opinion, is make one loyal to Christ through the tests of time, persecution, dark night, and doubt. Nor will they truly bring you into the heart of the Church.

The only thing that can do that is a direct encounter with the head of the Church and the full content of Christian revelation and religion- Jesus himself. Unlike the Buddha, Jesus lives. He is el chai v' kayam, the living and eternal God.

Jesus is the fulfillment- nay, the embodiment- of the Torah itself, God's instruction through Israel to humanity. He is the revelation of the Torah. Zoat ha Torah- Ish.
This is the Torah- a man (Num 19:4, based on traditional Hasidic midrashic reading of verse).

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