Week 1: The discipline of seeing
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
Texts: James 2:1-8, 14-18; Matthew 25:31-46
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Master, when did we see you?
That’s the haunting question. Neither those who cared for the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, the naked, the stranger, the prisoner, nor those who did not, knew that these people were their King. Poignantly, those who are judged suggest that had they known it was Christ who was hungry, or naked, they surely would have done something. They just didn’t see.
It’s troubling, because all the people in this are followers of the King. All want to serve, to be disciples, like us. Yet half miss their opportunity. The problem is a problem of sight. Do we see the face of Christ in those whom we meet in the world?
Now, obviously, half of these folks were loving and caring without seeing. They had Christ’s heart in their heart, and cared for people in need, without hope of reward, with no hidden agenda.
But maybe Jesus told this parable because he knew that most of us struggle to see this way. Maybe he told it because by far the more common reality is that we don’t automatically live Christ’s love like the first group. We have to learn it, be shaped by it. We need to see with Christ’s eyes.
A rabbi once asked his disciples, “How do you know when the night is giving way and the morning is coming?”
One of the students said, “Won’t you know that the night is ending when you can see an animal well enough in the dim light to tell if it’s a sheep or a dog?” “No,” answered the rabbi. Another said, “Will you know the dawn is coming when you can see well enough to distinguish between a fig tree and an olive tree?” “No,” answered the rabbi.
The students pressed him for an answer, and at last the rabbi said, “You’ll know that the night has passed and morning is coming when you can look at any man or any woman and know that you are looking at a brother or a sister. Until you can see that well, the night will always be with us.”
Christ calls us to see that well, if we wish to follow.
Jesus told a parable about a rich man who had a poor, sick man sitting outside his gated community. The rich man must have passed this starving, diseased Lazarus every day. He never saw him. (Luke 16)
Jesus told a parable about two religious leaders who walked from Jericho to Jerusalem and passed by a man lying in the ditch, beaten and left for dead. They never saw him. (Luke 10)
But, that’s not true, is it? These three in the two parables had working eyes, optic nerves that connected to their brains. Their visual cortex registered Lazarus and the man in the ditch. But they didn’t see them. Not like God saw them. Not like the Samaritan saw the wounded fellow-traveler. “Until you can see a sister or brother in every person, the night will always be with us.”
This is critical for Jesus, seeing and not seeing. When he heals a man who was born blind, Jesus turns the tables, saying that the religious leaders who can’t see this was a healing from God are the ones who are actually blind. (John 9)
When Christ calls us to follow, Christ calls us to learn the discipline of seeing in God’s way.
Something about being centered on ourselves, focused on our own needs, blinds us. James today understood this when he criticized the vision of his people. They noticed rich, fancy folks, and ignored those who were poor. The two religious leaders and the rich man in Jesus’ parables were top of society, important people. So were the leaders who criticized Jesus’ healing of the blind man. All these people, their lives focused on themselves. It’s hard to see anyone else when we’re always looking in the mirror. The Samaritan was lowly, like the beaten man in the ditch, and a racial outcast in that society. Maybe that gave him better eyes to see another in pain.
Clearly the first group in Matthew 25 are people who see beyond their own need, their own comfort. When they see others in need, in pain, lost, alone, they see them. Then they act.
This is the way of the cross. Jesus calls us to lay down our lives, to love as sacrificially as God does. To get out of our self-centered obsession and begin to see, and then love.
So much of the pain in our world is deepened and spread by our inability to see others with Christ’s eyes.
If we can’t see a poor person lose their home and their family because they had catastrophic medical bills and no way to pay, really see them as our sister or brother, then it’s still night.
If we can’t see a child of God in someone who is different from us, if we defensively protect our opinions and our way and attack those who are not like us, then it’s still night.
If we can’t see that another’s pain, any pain, any person, is our pain, if we can’t vote beyond our own self-interest and greed and stubbornness to ease the pain and suffering of others, see all as sisters and brothers, then it’s still night.
When we take up Christ’s cross, begin to follow, we need new eyes to see. Eyes that see the world as God in Christ sees the world. Eyes that connect not just to our visual receptors in the brain but to our hearts and hands and voices.
And when we see as well as Christ, light shines everywhere we go.
Isaiah says when we see well enough to share our bread with the hungry and bring the homeless into our homes, to clothe those who are naked as if they were our own family, then our “light will break forth like the dawn, and [our] healing will spring up quickly.” (Isaiah 58:7-8)
We’ll be walking in light, we’ll be healed, too. That’s the mystery of the cross-shaped life. That as we lose, we gain everything. As we see the face of God in the face of others, we find ourselves in God’s healing grace as well. As we see well enough to give ourselves away in love we find ourselves awash in love.
Let’s make this our life-long discipline, not just for Lent. Let’s ask the Triune God to give us new eyes for seeing and loving as God sees and loves, that we might begin to welcome God’s morning dawning in the darkness of our world.
In the name of Jesus. Amen