Looking but not seeing

“And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says, ‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive” (Matthew 13:14 NKJV).

We were on the banks of the Rapti River in Chitwan, Nepal, watching a crocodile laying on the bank of an island. We were hoping that it would move toward the water or into the weeds behind it so we could get photos of it in motion. What we did not realize was that while we were concentrating on the croc there was a wild elephant crossing the river just above the island. Another visitor showed us his pictures of the elephant, which we never knew was there.

How can you miss seeing something as big as an elephant? Well, in our case it was easy. We had our eyes focused entirely on one small spot and were oblivious to everything else around us.

Jesus’ statements about poor vision in Matthew 13 are actually speaking of a different kind of blindness – that of willful misunderstanding. But, nevertheless, they apply to our experience as well. When we look we often leave large areas of potential interest unexamined because we are too focused on only one small region.

I have searched for something that I was sure I had left in a particular place and had difficulty finding it, only to finally discover it only a short distance away. I looked, but I didn’t look widely or well enough.

I have often found that the same thing happens when we study the Bible. We read a verse, or paragraph, or chapter and somehow fail to perceive the plain intent of the writer. It is often because we are looking for or expecting something else in the passage, so that we simply do not perceive the truth that is plainly revealed.

I was talking with a fellow-traveler on the airplane some years ago. We were discussing the new birth in John 3:5. In response to a statement of mine he replied, “But that is not talking about water baptism is it?” I answered, “why not? What is a more logical or reasonable referent to the phrase in the context of the rest of Jesus’ teaching, or of the rest of the New Testament?” As evidence of this we looked at Romans 6:3-5 where Paul described baptism in terms of the death of one life and a resurrection into another.

What is there in the entire conversation with Nicodemus that would render baptism an unlikely or impossible interpretation of Jesus’ analogy? There is clearly nothing. It is only if we have a “blind spot” regarding baptism, if we somehow have concluded that it is not important enough to be the right explanation, that we search for something else.

Decades ago I was studying the Bible with a lady from a denominational background. After we had studied the story of the Gospel, the problem of sin, and our need to trust in Jesus and obey him I turned to Romans 6 to show the purpose and importance of baptism.

After we had read those verses, before I really said anything about them, she looked up into my eyes and exclaimed, “Why didn’t someone show me that before?” Once she had achieved a proper focus, there was no difficulty in seeing what was there.

So, Jesus proclaimed to his disciples, “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear” (Matthew 13:16). Lord give us eyes to see and ears to hear that we may understand and be saved.

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