One afternoon some years ago, Lisa and I were walking with some friends along one of the many beaches that line the coast of southern Maine. As I recall, it was a beautiful day about this time of year, and as was so often the case living near the ocean, we were not alone in taking advantage of the chance to stroll up and down the shoreline while enjoying some fresh air and sunshine. At one point along the way, we were passed by a man and a woman, by all indications a couple; smiling, chatting and walking hand and hand as they walked by. The woman was young and attractive, probably in her 20’s; and the man, well, let’s just say he appeared to be quite elderly and was, in fact, moving considerably more slowly than she. And there they were, happily making their way down the beach!
We’d all taken notice of the two of them as they’d passed by, but nobody said anything at first; until a few minutes later when one of our party made the comment, “Did you see those two? Wasn’t that cute? Walking hand-in-hand like that, so sweet! Now that’s what you call a real May-December romance!” To which another in our group immediately replied, “Romance? Please! That girl was what they used to call a ‘gold-digger!’ You could tell just to look at her that all she was interested in was whatever money he has!”
We all thought about that for a moment before there was another theory, this one if I remember correctly, offered up by my wife: “Now, we don’t know they were together together! They could have simply been a grandfather and granddaughter out for a walk!” And for my own part, owing perhaps to many, many visits over the years to parishioners at local nursing facilities, “Maybe she’s a volunteer, taking an old man out for a walk on the beach, and she was holding his hand to help him walk steady on the loose sand.”
Interesting; we’d all seen exactly the same thing that day, but our perception of what we’d seen was for each one of us radically different! I suppose that’s typical; after all, each of us sees the world through our own eyes and thus interprets what we see each in our own way. Hang a painting on a wall, for instance, and one person sees color and form, shadow and light combined in such a way as to give meaning to some aspect of human experience, while another sees little more than some meaningless mess of colors spread haphazardly upon a canvas. Likewise, one person views life as a random set of mostly cruel happenstances, while the other sees it – even the difficult parts – as part and parcel of a larger plan inspired and nurtured by a loving God. It does indeed seem as though the truth of what one sees is largely determined by how one sees it!
This is particularly true as it applies to how we see Jesus. So much of what we know of who Jesus is – what he does, how he lives, the depth of his teachings – ultimately become a matter of perception on the part of those who would have ears to hear and eyes to see; or, conversely, on the part of those who don’t, or won’t! In my particular vocation, I see examples of this all the time, from well-meaning folk who like to inform the pastor that though all of Jesus’ words about things like turning the other cheek, forgiving seventy times seven and leaving everything, including all of one’s wealth, to follow him is all very well and good, this is the real world we’re talking about! All this faith and love stuff you keep preaching about, Pastor? It’s great in theory, but it doesn’t really fit into life as we live it in the world today!
I try not to take it personally (!), because of course, such skepticism has always been the case, even in Jesus’ own lifetime; consider John’s account of Jesus’ healing of the man born blind at the pool of Siloam (9:1-41), an act that was nothing short of a miracle – and yet, all the Pharisees could see was that this man Jesus had broken holy tradition by healing on the Sabbath, and everything that followed proceeded from that perception. Again, very interesting; that God was right there before, working among them in Jesus, and these men of faith couldn’t see it! Though their eyes were open, they were as blind as the man they had previously shunned for being sightless.
The end of that story says it all, however; even though the formerly blind man still could not wrap his mind around what had happened to him, and who this stranger was who’d given him this healing, he knew one thing for sure, “that though I was blind, now I see.” (v. 25) After all was said and done, it was that one new and certain perception that would change that man’s life forever, and so it will be for us.
This is the Jesus who comes to us, that we might see ourselves, our lives, our world, our eternity in a whole new way. Instead of the branding of sin, we perceive the gift of grace. Instead of viewing things with condemnation, we see forgiveness and salvation. And instead of looking at others from the perspective of judgment and shame, like Jesus himself we begin to view those around us and beyond with hearts of love and welcome.
Yes, if we’re being honest, we’re often still plagued with some Pharisaic-styled blindness, or at the very least, some occasionally warped perceptions of how things really are. But when you start making the effort to see things with eyes of faith and from the perspective of Christ, even the simplest and smallest of things in our eye view – say, for instance, a young girl and elderly man walking hand in hand along the beach – might just serve as a witness to the wonders of a beautiful day and the glory of love.
c. 2013 Rev. Michael W. Lowry