Bias to Belief

John 2:1-11

What causes you to believe? I like watching the old Perry Mason episodes on TV. Perry is defense lawyer and he is always going to court for a client that everyone believes is guilty. The hour of the show works like this: the show begins with one person saying to another, "I wish you were dead." The second person invariably ends up murdered and the police collect evidence that makes it pretty easy for the DA, Mr. Burger, to prove that Perry's client did indeed murder the person that they had wished dead. For some reason, though, Perry believes in his client and has the patience to follow a faint trail of bread crumbs until leads him to the real murderer. In the last fifteen minutes of the show, Perry leads the court through a series of witnesses that prove his client couldn't have done it. The guilty party is then forced into a confession. After the commercial, Perry's secretary always asks him how he believed in the client when no one else did. Perry smiles and shakes his head, as if it would be so logical if they had believed in his client from the beginning like he did.

 

Is faith in Jesus like that? Note that in every Perry Mason episode we, the viewers, find ourselves first believing one thing, then brought to doubt, then brought to believe in something else. This happens relatively rarely in real life. We are all victims of something called confirmation bias. We decide, sometimes on the basis of very little evidence, that something is true. We might use a particular brand of soap, because we believe it works better than another. Even with a side by side test, or an article in Consumer Reports that rates our product last, we remain true believers. We might be in a problematic relationship. They might be abusive. Still, because of this thing that psychologists call confirmation bias, we stick with them. On the other hand, our neighbor might be a good and decent person, yet because of prejudice or a false rumor that we accepted, we might not trust them. 

 

John begins his gospel with a series of seven little miracle stories. John assumes that his reader doesn't believe in Jesus. He has an uphill task, as he writes, for most people in his day and in ours, have a confirmation bias against really believing in Jesus. Oh, most people think Jesus was a great man and had something to do with religion. But few today really see Jesus as the son of the true God sent to earth to save us. John, though, remembers when he overcame his own bias against Jesus. John remembers standing there watching water being taken from a jar and as it is offered to the host of the wedding party, it becomes wine. This is the moment when John's confirmation bias is overcome.

 

For the rest of his gospel John is like Perry Mason. He calls forth his witnesses one by one. The wedding of Cana is the first of seven episodes. In it a few people really see what is happening. Everyone drinks the wine and wonders where it came from. Everyone has a good time. But only John and a few others see both the miracle and the meaning of it. If Jesus makes new wine and offers it abundantly for all, then the era of God's grace must be beginning. The good news is that our dull lives can be changed, just as this wash water can become the finest wine.  

 

All of this is hidden in the first miracle. Not everyone can be Perry Mason and believe from the beginning. But we all can change. There is not a single person who can't give up their prejudice and worldliness and become a believer in Jesus Christ. The last of the seven miracles involves a man who has been dead for four days. Even Jesus' disciples don't believe that he can do anything for the man named Lazarus. John tells us how Jesus had the tombstone rolled away and Lazarus called back into the living. Seeing this, many come to faith. But as we live our lives, we have to deal with our faith and our doubts with such subtle evidence. Like Perry Mason, we need wisdom to accept the truth early, but also, to be willing to dismiss the falsehoods and prejudices that can cause us to make bad decisions.

If you were on the stand, would you witness for Jesus?
Epiphany 2