Jesus said to them, "To you has been given the mystery of God's domain, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that 'they may indeed look, but not perceive, and may indeed listen, but not understand; so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.'" - Mark 4:11-12
One particular moment from math class — four decades ago, mind you — still remains vivid. Mr. Deegan drew axes on the chalkboard, horizontal and vertical. Then with a flourish he rapped the board, making a dot, and wrote after it "(X, Y)." I remember his right hand coated with chalk dust to the wrist, as usual. He turned to us and said, "Now, tell me the location of that point."
At one level I had a rough idea what he was asking: for us to come up with a formula that defined the coordinates, X and Y. Meanwhile, the louder part of my mind was yelling: "The location of the point is right there! I can see right where you made the chalk mark!"
In math, in other words, I was accomplished at looking without perceiving. Too bad Mr. Deegan didn't give grades for my ability. Instead, he coaxed us to "see" both the information our eyes conveyed to our minds, and more besides. The "more besides" was the real "point": not the chalky squiggle on the board, but the notion of where it was, how to find it, how to describe it so that someone else could find it again long after the board had been wiped clean at the end of the day.
In gospel terms, it wasn't the point itself that mattered so much as the story of the point. Not just looking, but perceiving; not just listening, but understanding: Jesus taught the story that is our way back to the mystery and shalom from which we came.
Holy One, your teaching is your life; your life is the story of justice and grace. Give me eyes that perceive, today, and ears that understand that best of stories. Amen.
John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.