So… there’s this story.
It’s in the Bible, and you’ve probably heard it a number of times, especially at Easter. In the narrative of John’s gospel, this incredible thing transpires — it’s full of meaning and rich with implication… but here’s the twist: Even though you know the story? You probably can’t see what I’m referring to.
I’m not questioning your ability to read or observe, but simply the language that we’re expected to depend on... What I mean is, it’s not your fault: If you or the pastors you’ve heard speak were reading this passage only in English, then you literally can’t see what I was referring to. And you can’t see it because... it’s not there.
The New Testament, of course, was written in Greek, and some things get lost in translation. They always do.
Even if those things are a big part of the Easter story.
It turns out that you often have to get closer to a text if you really want to SEE its intent.
So let’s set the stage for the big reveal.
In John chapter 20, upon hearing of Jesus’ missing body, Peter and John leave the other disciples and go running like mad to the site of the tomb. John, you might remember, points out that he outruns Peter, and arrives there first. Standing at the door to the tomb without entering, we are told that John bends to SEE the strips of linen lying there. The text then tells us that Peter arrives, and in true and wonderfully impetuous Peter fashion, he barges straight into the tomb. And Peter, we’re told, SEES the same strips of linen and the cloths lying there — that they’re covering nothing, and oddly not providing a wrapping for a dead body as he would reasonably expect… Finally, John decides that embracing this moment is more important than maintaining his religious law, and more important than the Jewish culture of “purity,” and John, too, enters. When he does, we’re told that John SEES the state of things in the tomb. And he… believes.
Now maybe you’ve always kind of wondered about this, because you can just naturally feel that something is missing here — like the gravity of John’s believing is dependent on some dimension of the text you’re missing. You read it, waiting for that moment to hit, but when it does, it falls flat… and you get a sense that it shouldn’t. You’re left wondering why you see a narrative that comes across as less meaningful than it should at such a crucial moment. Know what I mean?
So here’s the thing: each of the three times the English text tells us what John or Peter SAW, the word is a different Greek word with a different implication. When John arrives on the scene and peers in, the first word used comes from the Greek “blepo,” and it means that John is seeing the tomb in the most basic and literal sense - just taking it all in. But as Peter then reaches him and rushes inside, the second word used comes from the Greek “theoreo,” and it means that Peter is wrestling with what is before him — he is seeing things in more detail, questioning the evidence, attempting to discern and scrutinize what he sees as he explores the possibilities. When John joins him inside and takes another look, the third word used is from the Greek “eido,” and it means that John is beholding with understanding and awareness — he is reaching a point of density, of revelation and implication. John is seeing the meaning of it all. And it is changing absolutely everything for him.
...But all those words? They are simply translated as “saw” in English.
So there’s an inherent depth to this text, a depth which ceases to exist when we ourselves observe it from the outside — passively and simplistically. Our language essentially leaves us stuck at the door, peering in, and there’s a progression that we ourselves (ironically) cannot see. But were this progression to form and take shape, we might begin to reach some new ideas in regard to what John’s gospel is stressing to tell us.
We might begin to see that, when taking in something of real value, beauty and meaning, the goal seems to be that we move with it. That we allow it to take us deeper: Perhaps from the “passive observation” category, to the “scrutinizing and questioning” category, to the “perceiving with depth and resonance” category.
AND HERE’S THE STRANGEST PART: WE CAN ACTUALLY FALL VICTIM TO THE VERY THING THE TEXT IS WARNING US ABOUT IF WE FAIL TO RECOGNIZE ITS EXISTENCE.
Superficial we remain—stuck at the doorway to meaning, assuming that we “saw” it and that’s all that matters, though we’ve yet to become aware, and yet to behold it with a richness of understanding and experience. We’ve yet to truly come to that place where everything changes — where we realize that, just seeing that something is THERE doesn’t mean we have truly seen it in any meaningful sense.
Here’s the big point: Observation is not the same thing as illumination.
The English version of the text of John takes us to a certain point, but no further. The Greek version, on the other hand, brims with a dense trajectory of implication and metaphor. The Greek version speaks to those great shifts in perception which so mark the Path. It ultimately champions the laying aside of our religious hangups and assumptions in order to get close enough to truth to experience it intimately. Whatever others might think of us (and whatever we might think of ourselves), we do not let any fear or superstition keep us from drawing near to our opportunity to truly SEE.
Such moments are too important.
We can’t be concerned with maintaining appearances.
We can’t be content to remain outside.
If we do, death still marks us, and we have not known resurrection.
The original text of John isn’t as clean and straightforward as it may now appear — it’s messy. It costs us something. It implies that we may all have to be okay with being “unclean” in the eyes of our tribe — in all its religious fervor and certainty — if we want to experience resurrection up close. John accepts defilement under the very Hebrew codes which have so dominated his perspective in order to go inside that tomb. And as he finds peace with what he has been taught his whole life to fear… As he willingly joins his friend Peter, and becomes rendered “unclean” (of all times, at Passover)… John comes to the kind of life-altering moment which would have never been possible any other way.
NOTE: THIS TRANSMISSION WAS ADAPTED FROM A PORTION OF AN ARTICLE I WROTE FOR THE STAINED GLASS COLLECTIVE, WHICH CAN BE FOUND HERE.