First, some scene-setting. You’re there with these other disciples, and this Jesus person is right in front of you looking you in the eye. He’s in the process of making this claim: “I and God are one. What you hear coming from my mouth is coming from God’s mouth.” And his question, “Do you believe?”
There’s a whole range of possible responses here, going from outright rejection all up the line to full belief. And so:
On first bounce. (Bystanders) “Are you kidding?”
Second. (Jewish leaders) “You’re not what you say you are. And we’re leaving!”
Third bounce. (Hellenists) “Let me think about what I’ve seen and heard. I’ll get back to you.”
Fourth. (The Disciples) “We’ll stay with you because we’ve got no place else to go.”
Fifth. (Peter) “We believe that you are the Holy One of God” (but not necessarily God’s own self.).
Sixth. (Martha) “Yes, Lord; I have come to believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, the One who is coming into the world.” [11:26]
What goes into moving up that line from “Are you kidding, no I don’t believe you” to “I believe you are the Christ!” Many things. But they all have something to do with moving on or better breaking out, breaking out of old thought patterns and learned expectations and acquired certainties. It means somehow letting the shell around your present grasp of things get cracked open so something wider and deeper can show itself. It points to something of the old self dying so as to let a new one be born and so take in more of what is coming at you.
You see this kind of thing in a long term friendship which grows and deepens precisely because first and second (and tenth) impressions are successively displaced (blown away) by ever deeper encounter. It started out with one of the pair meeting the other for the first time and having an instinctive reaction of, “She’s strange, a little weird and even a little scary.” But forty years later these two are the closest of soul-friends and each has a fuller entrance into the territory of the other’s heart than anyone else.
What had to happen along the way? The pile of preconceptions and certainties and firmly held beliefs (“this is the way the world is, this is the way people are”) has gradually – and at times not so gradually — been swept away. And that’s occurred because somehow the worth and lovability of the other person has been allowed to break through. Maybe more accurately, each person’s biases and assumptions about the other have been broken apart so as to allow the real truth and deep down worth of the other person to show itself.
Sometimes the process has been gentle and even tender, and at other times it’s been bloody. All along, however, what’s been taking place is a stretching to the breaking point of each person’s world view, and then an actual breaking so as to let in a bigger world. And at key times, it took a good dose of plain old trust to risk going beyond the immediate evidence and step across that line of “what I think I already know.”
Back to Jesus in that room looking you in the eye and saying, “I and the Father are one. Do you believe this?” How does a follower move through the different phases from “That’s an interesting question, Jesus” over to Martha’s response “You are the Christ, even the one who has come into the world.”
The answer, of course, involves much of the same business; i.e., letting go of some things I think I know about life and God, and allowing fresh things to break in. In Paschal Mystery terms, this is dying to old ways and expertizes in order to come alive to new ones. Or as that wonderful book title proclaims, it’s “Meeting Jesus Again, For The First Time.” That doesn’t happen without letting go something of my earlier take on Jesus, and dropping my previous estimation of how the world should go.
If I went around the congregation and asked for stories of how this kind of thing has showed up in people’s lives, I know we’d be listening in on some moving testimony. We’d be hearing of such times when, God’s presence and help came to me from places I never expected; my understanding of some article of the Creed got pretty much blown apart because it got set inside a whole new context; my certainty that “this is the way things should go” got turned inside out and the new way proved to be the right way; my idea of how and where God shows up in life shifted so much and even sometimes reversed itself – as with St. Vincent himself in his decade long conversion.
Another way we’d recognize this dismantling/opening-up is what has come to be known as discernment. In a recent talk, Sr. Loretto Gettemeir, a Daughter of Charity, touched on the openness and readiness needed for genuine listening to the Spirit. She said the person must ask him or herself, “Am I willing to look at all the choices before me, name my fears and then try to let go of them, set aside my preconceived ideas, and trust God ready to accept a yes or a no?”
This is still one more version of being back in that room with Jesus, (really, being back inside the whole Gospel of John) where Jesus keeps asking, “Do you believe? Does this shock you? These words I have spoken to you are Spirit and Life. Do you buy them? Do you believe I really am present in your midst and that my words and behaviors and stances and outlooks and instincts are God’s own?”
It’s the Who-do-you-say-I-am question being asked all along the line of the Christian’s life. “I and the Father are one. Do you believe that? Do you believe Me?”