The phrase “Come and See” caught my fancy in the theme of Pope Francis’ message for the World Communications Day 2021. I divided the theme in three parts, the other two “communicating by encountering” and “people where they are”, for me, serve only to reinforce this particular one spoken by Philip in John’s gospel (Jn 1: 46). It also is Jesus’ powerful call to the disciples of John who sought to follow him in the same gospel (Jn 1:38-39). Yet another personality, the woman at the well, used the same words to announce her irruption into mission (Jn 4:29). In years past, the notion, “seeing is believing” was practically unassailable. Today, things have changed. Many so-called “eye witnesses” arrive fifteen minutes after the event they “witness” or don’t reach it at all. With the ascendancy of powerful digital technology which can create, alter or simulate images and events, much of what we actually ‘see” can be quite deceiving and misleading.
This is saying nothing of irresponsible journalists whose basic tool is to deceive. Yet the invitation to “Come and See” invokes very powerful concepts of realness, presence, understanding, empathy and solidarity, which are very germane to the sanity of humanity. As a result, the imperative to see, in order to verify and engage, cannot be simply discarded with the bathwater of illusory images and concern for misleading concepts. The call to “come and see” is enhanced by the fact that Jesus of Nazareth, the “grandmaster communicator” himself, used the very same words in his response to the inquiry of John’s disciples: “Teacher, where do you live” (Jn 1:38). If the promise made by Jesus: “Heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away” (Matt 24:35) is to be believed, then his “Come and see” must have enduring relevance. It is a sincere invitation to all disciples to abandon all fear and anxiety and come closer to him. In doing that they would discard their prejudices, biases and assumptions and ultimately engage a new purpose and a new mandate.
They would eventually assume a new personality and “become a new creation”. This, really is the ultimate goal of all Christian communication and mission (2 Cor 5:17, Gal 6:15). Indeed, the call to “come and see” already occurred at Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. The angels practically called upon the shepherds to come and see the new born baby who would change the course of human history. They did so and the ecstasy of their experience has been shared with the entire world in the irreplaceable Christmas carol: “Oh, come all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant… Come and behold him, Born the king of angels…” Essentially, all religious invitation to the human heart is to come and see Jesus in his every manifestation, his humanity and his divinity.
Yet another evidence that the “Come and See” invitation can create something new, can urge us to abandon old ways of ignorance, bias and discrimination, is in the woman at the well. Her encounter-experience with Jesus turned her from being a selfish, arrogant lady to a missionary. She abandoned her precious water jar to invite her people saying: “Come and see a man who has told me everything I have done; could this be the Christ?” (Jn. 4: 29). She went on from there to create, by her witness, a new people out of that initially incredulous bunch of Samaritans. Similarly, the call “come and see” has huge implications for pastoral presence in our church and society today. To bring God’s love to millions of needy people around us at the level of the local Church is an even greater obligation. Many who languish in isolation, induced by loneliness, unemployment and deprivation can thus share their challenges, be healed of many wounds and have their human dignity restored.
It is also a huge challenge to Christian journalists to tell their stories with love, an authentic story that can help many countries and peoples of the world which have been abandoned to their fate under racism, oppression, discrimination, conflicts, insurgency, epidemic and war to find sympathy and solidarity. Responsible journalism draws those who matter to “come and see” the plight of those who need help not simply dramatize or worsen that plight. This is one of the impacts of papal visits all around the world. After all the fact is that many countries and institutions and individuals who can make a difference, really rely only on the reports of media and journalists for their decision-making process for bad or for good. The “come and see” invitation can heal and remake the world of today.
Whether it comes from Nathaniel to his brother, from the woman at the well to her people, or from Jesus himself to the disciples, it is always a call to embrace the characteristics of Jesus, to become more like him and participate in his mission (Phil 2:5ff.) When Pope Francis once talked about his preference for a church, dirtied by its association those at the fringes of society and on the streets and when he called for shepherds who “smell the smell of the sheep”, this is what I heard him ask for. Such encounters are those which truly make us witnesses to Christ and as last year’s WCD message said, “authentic storytellers” who by the stories we tell, can engender hope and change. That surely would be the path for Christian communicators to tread. It is only through such solidarity, generated by the “come and see” encounter with people wherever they are that we can revive sane humanity. No doubt, it is time to optimize our strategies and methods