On Seeing

"Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!" (John 4:35).

"Now a certain man was there who had an infirmity thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he already had been in that condition a long time, He said to him, 'Do you want to be made well?'" (John 5:5-6).

"Then Jesus lifted up His eyes, and seeing a great multitude coming toward Him, He said to Philip, 'Where shall we buy bread, that these may eat?'" (John 6:5).

"Now as Jesus passed by He saw a man who was blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world'" (John 9:1-5).

"Now Peter and John went up together to the temple at the hour of prayer, the ninth hour. And a certain man, lame from his mother's womb, was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, 'Look at us.' So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. Then Peter said, 'Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk'" (Acts 3:1-6).

I heard a sermon many years ago (more than ten, for reals) that I have never forgotten. A pastor from Cambodia was preaching at my church one night. I hadn't wanted to go to church, because I was very tired, and I went in much bitterness of spirit. I received a powerful rebuke. This pastor was always tired, because he had contracted hepatitis in prison in Cambodia, having been arrested and jailed for preaching the gospel. And he was going back to continue preaching the gospel, to suffer with and support his fellow believers. His sermon was on the "third eye"--of faith.

I think that, for most of Jesus' ministry, He was primarily trying to get His disciples to see. In John 4, Jesus has just had this incredible conversation with this down-and-out lady from a marginalized people group, and His disciples have come back from their city with some food for Him, and they freak out internally that He's talking with a woman. The become totally preoccupied with trying to get Him to eat. They are very involved with the here and now, but, really, not involved enough. As they're trying to figure out where He could have gotten food from ("My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me"), He's watching the hill on which Sychar rests, watching the men file out of the city in their white clothes to come see Him ("Could this be the Messiah? He told me everything I ever did!"). He interrupts His disciples, crying, "Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest!" Two simple instructions: lift up your eyes, and look.

The beautiful thing about Jesus is that He leads by example. Over and over He does this intentionally. In John 5, Jesus and His disciples are passing by a pool in Jerusalem called Bethesda, where a man has been waiting for 38 years. He's been living in the hope that somehow he could manage to fall in the pool when the pool was stirred up (they believed that an angel stirred up the pool and that whoever made it in first would be healed--luck of the draw). He has no one to put him in the pool; every time the water stirs, some slightly more able-bodied person, or someone with a helper, would beat him to it. I can't imagine waiting like that, perhaps for years, in a place where no one sees an opportunity to help. It's not so uncommon, though; in a city like mine, people go unseen every day. I have been utterly unseen, riding on transit. People can stare right through other people and never see them; the city trains them to do so. But not Jesus. Out of all the people waiting forlornly at the pool, He sees this man. He sees him and knows him. And He acts.

In John 6, Jesus is sitting with His disciples on a mountain, and people are coming to Him. He lifts up His eyes and looks at them. It's the exact same wording as in John 4. In the Synoptic Gospels, this comes right after Jesus has learned that John the Baptist is dead, right in the middle of seeking a place where He and His disciples can just rest together. Jesus could have turned away, could have ignored them or sent them away, but He didn't. Instead, He lifted up His eyes and looked at them. He was very intentional in seeing them.

In John 9, Jesus and His disciples happen upon a man blind from birth. The disciples see an interesting theological problem ("Did this man sin, or his parents, that he was blind from birth?"), but Jesus sees a person. More even than merely seeing him as a person, Jesus sees the work of God and the glory of God locked up inside this man, waiting to be brought out. So He heals him. The man immediately runs afoul of his friends, neighbors, family, and the Pharisees, and he ends up kicked out of the synagogue for his testimony about Jesus. Knowing this, Jesus tracks him down, finds him, and lets him see Him as the Son of God.

In light of all this, Acts 3 is beautiful. Acts 3 is a picture of people who have gotten the message. Peter and John come upon a man who is over 40 years old (see Acts 4:22), who has been lame from birth. (Sidenote: He has been carried to the Beautiful Gate at the temple to beg every day for who knows how many years. Jesus went to the temple several times a year, teaching daily at the temple near the end of his ministry, and this man wasn't healed then. Interesting.) Peter and John do not see a theological problem this time. They do not ask, "Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was lame from his mother's womb?" They see the glory of God waiting in the man, ready to be unlocked. When the man asks them for alms, Peter stares intently at him (Can you hear the wheels turning in his mind?), gets his full attention, and heals him in the name of Jesus. The three of them go into the temple together, worship together, witness to those at the temple together, and, in the next chapter, stand in front of the Sanhedrin together.  Something has changed in how the disciples see. They've finally gotten what Jesus was trying to teach them over and over in His miracles.

I borrowed a book from one of my friends who spoke at Peace Portal on Monday, and as I was reading it this past week I stumbled on a question that blew me away: "What if the greatest of our sins in the modern age turned out to be the failure to look at other human beings?" (Rowan Williams, The Truce of God, 39). I commit this often. Many times in transit I just look past or through people. Even in church I look through people. Sometimes at the Centre I look through people. Sometimes I see them as problems or nuisances or nonentities. How often I do not see the people. How often I fail to see the dormant glory of God.

Lord, teach us to see.

  • I got to have the neatest night hanging out on Saturday with some friends from the Centre. They are refugees, have only been here for 6 months, and they invited me to their house for dinner. I got to eat with them, laugh with them, see their family photos and watch one of their family films. I got to love on them and pray for their kids that haven't been able to come to Canada yet. I got to share part of their life and hear their hearts' cry for their people. God has blessed me greatly in letting me know these people.
  • God has been doing some good work in me, showing me the depths of idolatry in my own heart. It has been painful, but I am glad He loves me enough to deal with me this way.
Prayer Requests
  • Please pray for this refugee family. They have two teenage sons in their home country, and the police harass the boys, trying to track down their parents. They are part of an oppressed ethnic minority. Please pray for God to bring justice for these minority groups. Pray that He would raise up laborers for the harvest among them.
  • Please continue to pray for finances for the Centre. One of our major donors will have fulfilled their commitment by the end of April. Please pray that God would put it on the hearts of people to give to the Centre. Pray that He would raise up new donors.
  • Please pray for me, that I would be filled with the Holy Spirit to see and engage people here. Pray for eyes of faith to see the glory of God in people and where God wants to work in them. 
  • Please pray for wisdom for me in what relationships to focus on here. I have met many people, but I struggle with which people to give my time to.
Again, thank you for praying. Your prayers are so important.


Amanda McClure said...

So true Jen...I think this strikes a chord with all of us. Brandon Heath's song "Give me Your Eyes" sums it up nicely:

'Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so i can see
Everything that i keep missing
Give me your love for humanity'

Thanks for sharing this message and sharing your new prayer needs.

Cary Beth said...

This is a great post and very convicting. :) Thank you for sharing! Praying for you!!

Mrs. Pankhurst said...

Thank you guys for your comments! Good song, Amanda!