Eyes to See

Luke 7:36-8:3
Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, "Do you see this woman?

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As a child growing up in a Baptist church I sang Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world, red and yellow, black and white, all are precious in his sight. Jesus loves the little children of the world. I sang it dozens if not hundreds of times.

But people of color were not so precious in my sight. I saw red, brown, yellow and black people as things, part of faceless groups. I didn’t see them as people the way I saw whites as people. I didn’t think people of color were as loved or as favored by God as I was. But, then, I was only a child.

But, you know, I wasn’t born that way. Something happened. I was socialized on a false gospel and by a twisted society. That’s what happened.

Some of the adults who taught me to sing Jesus loves the little children used ugly names for people of color, and for certain foreigners, and for people with a peculiar sexuality which at the time I knew nothing about. All I knew were the ugly names. But, then, I was only a child.

From adults in my world I heard that the little yellow man in Japan was evil and thus deserving nuclear annihilation at Hiroshima. I heard that only us Americans could be trusted with such destructive power. No other nation had the high moral standards or self-restraint that we did. And I believed it for I was only a child.

I heard that the red man was a savage and thus deserving confinement on reservations. I heard that the black man was cursed by God to be slaves to the white race. Bible verses from Genesis were quoted to prove that outrageous claim. In Sunday School pictures I saw that Jesus and God always had white faces. All I can say is: It’s a good thing Jesus loved red, yellow and black children because the people in my church sure didn’t.

As a child I saw the world through adult eyes. I suppose most children do. It’s called socialization. It’s done by families, by nations, by sports teams, by cultures and by churches, synagogues and mosques. Socialization teaches us a way of seeing the world and others, including ourselves.

I saw people of color as inferior, not nearly as respectable as me and my kind. Even non-Americans were less, not quite as good as us. And certainly anyone who wasn’t a Baptist, or at least a born-again, Bible believing, Spirit filled, washed in the blood of the Lamb Christian was tragically inferior to us who had the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I was taught to judge others and calmly inform them of their eternal damnation in hell unless—unless they became like us.

Looking back I’m ashamed of many things I thought, said and did. We are not born that way. We are not born with prejudice and hatred. We learn it. And I got good at it. The way Simon in today’s gospel lesson was good at it.

Once upon a time Jesus was a dinner guest in the home of Simon, a prominent man in that town. In that time and place guests reclined on couches with feet extended away from the table. In this home, like many affluent homes, the dining room was open to public accessibility.

And thus it was a certain woman of the town stepped in and began to massage the feet of Jesus who, in all the gospel stories is the icon or personification of mature and healthy human love—Jesus is the ultimate grown up! This woman was grateful for the true and real compassion that had touched her life.

She rubbed sweet ointment on Jesus’ feet and mopped the tears that fell upon them with her hair. Simon, the master of the house and host of the dinner, began to smirk. You didn’t have to be a prophet or a psychic to know what Simon was thinking about this woman and Jesus.

After an awkward moment, Jesus said to Simon something like this: Simon, do you see this woman? No, not some thing or some type—but this woman? Do you see this person who is as precious and as complicated and as glorious and tragic as you and every other human being? Do you see her? Do you have eyes to see a beloved child of God as a child of God?

Simon stared at Jesus—stared at this icon of love in his midst, or we might say, in his heart. And just like that a lesson on the healing of the heart began by the One who knows all our thoughts and feelings. The Beloved offered a lesson on compassion. I’m guessing you’ve heard this lesson in your own heart more than once. It goes something like this.

Simon, Jesus said, you pride yourself on being pure, right, righteous and good. You think you’re above others and look down on this woman as a type, a stereotype, as just another sinner unworthy of your attention, respect or hospitality. But, you know something: out of gratitude for the grace she has received, she is doing for your guest what you failed to do yourself. She has welcomed me in your home. Her broken and tortured soul has been healed by love and she knows it. And she is practicing kindness in return.

If only we all knew the countless gifts we have received that keep us together, that keep us from falling apart, that give us hope, we too might live a life full of gratitude and kindness. You know: Show up. Be brave. Be Kind. Rest.

How blessed are the poor and the sick for their hands and hearts are open to receive. How unfortunate for the rich and righteous for they need nothing. And thus get nothing.

And then to the woman Jesus said: It’s not I who saved you. It’s your trust in God’s love and goodness that has healed you. Go in peace.

When I heard that story in the church of my childhood I didn’t get it. Instead I got more of what Simon had—more self-righteousness and a sharper eye to spot sinners.

When I was a child, I thought like a child, I acted like a child, I saw like a child. But now that I’m an adult I see things differently. Getting an education was part of it—a big part. But it takes more than a change of mind. It takes a change of heart.

One reason we assemble together each Sunday is to admit our prejudices and fears. And then with God’s grace, to adjust or re-adjust our vision, namely how we see the world, ourselves and others.

We can’t do this alone. We need to help each other see the world as a living organism, created by a loving God. Only love and a lot of practice can change our hearts so that our eyes see people, people to be embraced rather than as categories to be judged and dismissed. Whenever we look down upon another or condemn another it’s a pretty good chance there’s something in us that we don’t respect or accept. You might want to check that out.

It’s OK not to be perfect, or even close. After all, only the sick can be healed. As Jesus said, the well and well-off need no physician. Or so they think.

An old Rabbi once asked his student how they could tell when the night had ended and the day had begun. When is the hour of dawn?

"Could it be," asked one of the students, "when you can see an animal in the distance and tell whether it's a sheep or a dog?"

"No," answered the Rabbi.

Another asked, "Is it when you can look at a tree in the distance and tell whether it's a fig tree or a peach tree?"

"No," answered the Rabbi.

"Then what is it?" they asked.

"It is when you can look on the face of any man or woman and see that it is your sister or brother. Because if you cannot see this, it is still night."