Thursday, February 18, 2016
Lent - Our Eyes and Jesus' Eyes
Preached for the Lenten Service on Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Scripture readings: Isaiah 42:5-9; Acts 9:1-19
Paul was full of anger at his own people when they turned to Jesus. He was mad at Jesus too. Jesus had tried to reach him and Paul had tried with all his heart to not be reached. Paul had tried with all his heart to not see Jesus.
In later years Paul recalled his change of heart, and he remembered that one of the things Jesus had told him, in this vision of light and glory was, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” (Acts 26:14)
Apparently a young ox in training, pulling a plow or wagon, would try to kick its way free from the burden and from the plowman or driver behind it. When training a young ox, a wagon would have spikes put on the front to keep it from kicking. A plowman would carry a staff with a spike to do the same thing. Paul must have been kicking at Jesus for some time. But it was hard work.
Paul was afraid and angry at the thought of Jesus leading his people astray. Jesus claimed that God’s kingdom was based on the forgiveness of sins and even the forgiveness of enemies. Jesus claimed that God’s kingdom was based on the surrender of one’s own claims and one’s own advantages.
This seemed dangerous to Paul and his friends. This seemed like a huge weakness, if God’s people were going to survive in such a world as this.
For Paul, the kingdom had to be built on the laws that held God’s people to God. The kingdom had to be built on ridding the world of God’s enemies and the enemies of God’s people. Jesus took none of this seriously, and now it was claimed that his execution was for the sins of the world, and that Jesus had risen from the dead to rule a kingdom of forgiveness, and mercy, and grace.
This thought angered and frightened Paul and his friends. But the greatest anger and fear came from something that haunted Paul’s thoughts. It seems that Jesus had his eyes on Paul and Jesus was reaching out to him through the blindness of his anger and fear. Paul worked hard to kick against this thought, until he saw Jesus.
Once Paul had seen Jesus, the only choice that was left top him was the choice between blindness and Jesus. In some strange way Jesus decided to teach Paul (and us, through Paul) about true blindness and true seeing.
This world is angry and afraid, and (often) so am I. Anger and fear make us blind to a God of love and purpose who is not shaped by our angers and fears.
We want a God who respects our angers and our fears but there is a God who will not do this. There is a God who will not grant us a right to our angers and fears. Jesus is where we meet this God. It is strange that we seem to love our own blindness more than a God who would set us free from all that.
Have you ever tried to make an angry child laugh? When I was a child, my parents would try to make me laugh when I was angry or crying, and I simply hated that. It made me madder still.
Grown-ups are just the same, only they won’t admit it. We would rather be blind and mad than seeing and gracious. And so we miss a lot. We hold onto our blindness and we miss seeing anything that is real to God.
The whole grown-up world has been like this since the beginning, and horrible things have come of it. There is nothing grand, or majestic, or heroic behind the tragedies of this world. It is nothing more than the sad and pitiful preference to be blind that is the cause of it all.
It is a tragedy to miss seeing anything.
When I was ten years old I got glasses for the first time, and realized that I had seen trees, but not the leaves on them. I had seen grass, but not the blades of them.
When I was ten I could see trees but not the leaves unless I held them in my hand. I could see the grass, if I was sitting on it, but not the waves of grass blowing on a hill. I could see the sun and the moon in a fuzzy way, but I couldn’t see the stars.
Was I missing anything important? Was I missing anything you wouldn’t want to miss? If I told you what I could see, and that it was OK with me, and don’t make me wear glasses, would you have believed me, and left me alone, and not told my parents that something needed to be done? Did I know enough because I thought that I knew what I could see, and I was content with that?
As a 10-year-old, putting on my first pair of eyeglasses, I wept for the loss of what I had not been able to see, and I wept for the joy of seeing what I had never seen before.
As an adult, have I really grown up because I don’t know how to cry for what I still don’t see? Do you know how to cry for what you don’t see? Do your friends know how to cry for what they don’t see?
It is a tragedy not to see what God would give us: Jesus, the life and the cross and the resurrection that change everything, a love bigger than ourselves, a new self, a rescue from exile. It is a tragedy to not see what such a new life would make us care about: the depth of need of those around us, the world of need to which we could give our tiny gifts, or our whole life and love as small as those seem in comparison.
In Jesus we receive a new life with new eyes that see the world as he does. But, on the other hand, it is easy to see why people prefer to be blind. If you don’t have the eyes of Jesus, you don’t have to see your enemies with the love of Jesus. If you don’t have the eyes of Jesus, then you don’t have to see a world in which God offers himself in sacrifice and calls you to do the same.
The truth is that you either see this or you don’t. You can’t choose to be a near-sighted ten-year-old. You have to either see or else you have to live blind in this world that God has made to be seen; in this world that God alone rules. The only eyes that will truly see anything are the eyes of Jesus: the eyes that saw Paul, the eyes that see you and me, in a world of anger and fear.
Paul let himself be given the eyes of Jesus, and so he became able to see what Jesus sees. Jesus offers those same eyes to you and me.