The other day I came across a video expose about coin-operated games. It showed some of the test routines built into the games that allowed technicians to see if the games were operating properly. Some of the tests would make the game automatically go through a successful “win” without any of the usual manipulation of the controls.
What intrigued me was that the control buttons the technician used for such testing were there in plain sight, built into the facade of the game itself. But they were not labeled as such. These “buttons” did not look like the ordinary control buttons that were marked for customers to use in normal play. These “buttons” all seemed to be there for other uses. The game instructions painted onto the frame didn’t talk about the “secret buttons.” To learn about them you had to talk to the game creator, or read the manual that discussed the details of how the game worked.
This all came back to mind as I was reading the last great prophetic story Jesus shared with his disciples two days before his crucifixion (starting at Matthew 25:31). The “secret button” is revealed in verse 40. Reviewing the ways his servants have fed the hungry, clothed the needy, and visited those who were sick or in prison, Jesus tells them,
“Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
These people were in plain sight. But unless you had heard from their Creator, you would never know the important purpose He had in mind when putting them in front of you. They were there so He could test you.
As I reflected on this, I saw more clearly why God often changed someone’s name. For instance, look at Genesis 17:5, or John 1:42. Where new names were announced, additional identity and purpose was also revealed for the person. They might still look the same, but now they knew a deeper significance for their place in God’s larger design.
The fact that outward appearances conceal inward realities is something the Church has long recognized in sacraments. These have both an outward sign and they carry an inward grace for us. This supernatural significance cannot be perceived or understood by our natural senses. (I Corinthians 2:14)
And the two parts remain distinct, though related and connected. At the Last Supper, Jesus told his disciples, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) But the Church always understood this did not mean Jesus was himself the Father.
In the same way, Saul of Tarsus was throwing the new followers of Christ in prison. But when Jesus intercepted him on the road to Damascus, he told Saul, “You are persecuting me.” (Acts 9:4)
They may have looked like ordinary people. But Jesus took what was done to them personally. They were a test for everyone who came across them. Even when no one realized that purpose was there.
One of the tests that has caused great controversy in Church history comes at the Lord’s Supper. As Jesus shared a final Passover meal with the disciples, he said, “This is my body… this is my blood….” as he handed them broken bread and wine. There in his hands, in plain sight, these elements looked like simple bread and wine. But Jesus was telling them they were mysteriously more than that. And he was renaming them to communicate the new and deeper presence they would henceforth convey.
Crowds had abandoned him when he spoke of this. (John 6:53, 66) They failed to see what was right in front of their eyes. And they trusted only what they could understand from their eyes. Things only had one meaning, the one they assigned to them. When Jesus renamed things, to help us understand what our eyes couldn’t see, they didn’t want listen.
The visible sign said to put your quarters in the slot right here. So they kept doing that until they ran out of quarters or got tired of losing.
And they walked away empty handed.