“Spiders in an Art Museum”

I think I came to a real turning point in my own walk of faith when, at last, it finally sunk in that I was one of the deaf, dumb and blind people Jesus was constantly referring to during the three years of His earthly ministry…even though I did not want to admit it. Up until that point I suspect that all of my readings of the gospel accounts were thoroughly tainted by a level of pride that would not allow me to see just how little of His message I was actually able to hear and process rightly. Perhaps the greatest deception of all is to think that we have “ears to hear” (Matthew 11:15) when the reality is, instead, that we are wretched, poor, pitiable, blind and naked (Revelation 3:17).

One of the surest signs, I think, that we probably don’t get what Jesus is saying is the near-universal tendency to want to view the Pharisees with scorn and/or label as “foolish” those crowds who actually watched Christ perform an amazing miracle but walked away from following Him afterward. “How stupid can they be?” we think, all the while resting comfortably in the “certainty” that if we had witnessed any of Jesus’ miracles in person, surely we would never – not even once! – have strayed from following Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength (Matthew 22:34-40). I guess I’d like to gently suggest that perhaps we are beginning to make real, meaningful progress in our own lives of faith when we identify with (rather than mock) the crowds who could not see God’s Kingdom breaking in, right in their midst. If we tend to think that we are in any way different from those who rejected Jesus, we might do well to recall that many of those who actively sought His death were considered to be the best and brightest minds of their day, as well as the most religious.

A few weeks ago, I began listening to an audio series entitled The Life and Teachings of Jesus taught by Daniel M. Doriani, Adjunct Professor of New Testament at Covenant. I downloaded all 38 audio segments free of charge from Covenant’s Worldwide Classroom website. The fact that I am not taking this as a course for degree credit freed me up considerably to “just listen,” without taking copious notes or fretting at all about names, dates, tests or term papers. The result is that, as of today, I have burned through 34 of the 38 segments and will in all likelihood finish up the series prior to the end of the month. If you want to learn more about the Person of Jesus as handed down to us through the gospel accounts, and you have about 24 hours of listening time to invest, I would encourage you to check out this good, solid teaching as well.

One of the plain truths of Scripture that I have thus far not fully taken in or settled for myself involves the chilling level of judgment that is implied in Jesus’ use of parables. On this side of the cross, and with nearly 2,000 years of faithful biblical scholarship to assist us, we are privileged to have access to a huge amount of commentary, cross-references, differing translations of the original Greek and just about anything else we need to come to a fairly-clear understanding of what we think Jesus was trying to say with His parables of the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32), the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:21-35) and so forth. But the wealth of scholarship we have was quite obviously not available to the original hearers of the parables; what makes me squirm a bit is the deepening realization that Jesus fully intended that not everyone would understand, repent and follow Him.

Wait a minute…doesn’t Jesus want everyone to come to Him? How is obscuring the beauty of the gospel message at all consistent with the seemingly-contradictory picture we have that God does not wish for even one person to perish (2 Peter 3:9)?

Matthew 13:10-17
The disciples came to him and asked, “Why do you speak to the people in parables?”

He replied, “Because the knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. This is why I speak to them in parables:

“Though seeing, they do not see;
though hearing, they do not hear or understand.

In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah:

“‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.
For this people’s heart has become calloused;
they hardly hear with their ears,
and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’

But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. For truly I tell you, many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it.”

Listening to Dan Doriani these past few weeks has been immensely helpful in many ways, not the least of which is his careful fleshing out of why parables were so central to the earthly ministry of Christ. While it’s impossible to condense down over 28 hours of teaching into one blog entry, there was one memorable word picture along the way that, as soon as I heard it, I knew it would stick. Referring to those in the crowd who met Jesus in the flesh, listened to his preaching and even partook in one or more of His miracles – but nevertheless chose at some point to stop following Him – Doriani compared those who could not see or hear to “spiders spinning their webs in an art museum,” uncomprehending animals very busily attending to their affairs, absolutely indifferent to the beauty and the majesty of the works on display in plain sight.

Look (Jeremiah 25:32). See (Job 42:5-6; Exodus 7:1). Behold (Malachi 3:1). Be utterly amazed (Habakkuk 1:5). I think we would largely agree that many of the proactive commands of Scripture (say, Deuteronomy 5) are incredibly difficult for sinful men and women like ourselves to live out. But how, then, do we account for the (for lack of a better term) “passive” commands of God that we still fail to follow through on? In many cases, God is calling us to do nothing more than to behold His majesty, perfectly reflected in the face of Christ. “Don’t do anything…just behold the glory of my beloved Son.” But we can’t even do that! Many of us (myself included) merely glance at Jesus every now and then, rightly apprehend that there is something of infinite worth to look at, but then inexplicably turn right back to “spinning our webs.” In other words, we continue focusing far more energy on the tasks that seem important to us, but will amount to little more than dust and ashes compared to the infinite worth of Jesus Christ.

As with my former, regrettable scorn for the “blind guides” that Jesus smacks down in Matthew 23, I note with interest how quick I am to take this compelling new word picture and immediately reflect it back on others, tempted to miss the lesson entirely and label other people caught up in “worse” sins than my own as blind spiders, totally focused on spinning a web to catch mosquitoes and flies while the transcendent beauty of a nearby Michelangelo or a Rembrandt utterly eludes them.

Moving to judgment a bit slower this time around, I suppose it might be more worthwhile to meditate on how much I, too, can live a lifestyle similar to a spider in an art gallery. Helpless to acquire sight outside the Spirit’s enabling, I am now inclined to spend more time asking God to open my eyes than to ponder the blind foolishness of others. Nowadays, by God’s merciful grace in my life, I am that much less inclined to see myself as superior in any way to those people who fill the pages of Scripture and ultimately fell away from God, that much more aware of how calloused my own heart remains to this day, and more likely to find a parallel for my own life of prayer in the simple tale of a blind man who will not stop begging for Jesus to open his eyes.

Luke 18:35-42
As Jesus approached Jericho, a blind man was sitting by the roadside begging. When he heard the crowd going by, he asked what was happening. They told him, “Jesus of Nazareth is passing by.” He called out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Those who led the way rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stopped and ordered the man to be brought to him. When he came near, Jesus asked him, “What do you want me to do for you?” “Lord, I want to see,” he replied. Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight; your faith has healed you.” Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they also praised God.

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