Thursday, September 3, 2020
There are many factors involved in seeing.
If we have physical sight, we can observe whatever is in front of us.
However, we may see something and choose to overlook it—look over it as if it were not there. Also, we may observe something but still be blind.
Every person and thing we encounter has a story, but often our own story and our own filters, like beliefs and prejudices, hinder our ability to truly see others or even ourselves.
Can you think of a time when you had trouble seeing?
Do You See This Woman?
Based on Luke 7:36-50
Simon thought that he was pretty special. Every day he recited the dawn or morning prayers, which included, “Thank you God that I was not born a woman, a gentile, or a dog.” He considered himself more righteous—and more deserving— than any woman, any foreigner, and any animal of creation.
One day, when Jesus was in town, Simon said to himself, “I’ll invite him for a meal so I can find out if he really is a prophet. Besides, my house is big enough for an adoring crowd.” Simon expected to impress Jesus and those who would come.
When an itinerant teacher came into a small town or village, people with prestige liked to have a guest speak in their homes. They invited other “important” people in the community, which increased their own status. As part of this cultural practice, anyone from the community was allowed to come into the inner courtyard of the house to listen and watch. This was Simon's plan.
We might wonder why Jesus chose to go to Simon’s house. Perhaps he went to heal Simon from a type of blindness that had made him think that he was superior to all those around him and that he deserved his privilege.
On the day of the visit, Simon noticed that a woman had come into his home and he knew she was a sinful woman, a prostitute. Simon could not have imagined her having the gall to come in with the crowd, but she had—a woman, and a disreputable one at that.
But what could he do? She had moved into a position behind Jesus, which meant she was visible to most of the people. Simon assumed that because Jesus was a prophet, he would know about this woman and recognize that she clearly did not belong in this house. Surely, he would send her away.
But there she was, washing the feet of his guest with her tears and hair—in front of everyone!
No proper Jewish woman would have let her hair down in public. Her behaviour was disgusting. She used her dowery of pure nard, and no one could ignore how the expensive perfume made the whole room smell beautiful. She was stealing the show. Simon was incensed, but Jesus defended the woman, saying that she had welcomed him and shown hospitality.
Looking directly at the woman, Jesus asked Simon, “Do you see this woman?”
Of course, Simon saw her. What a silly question. Who hadn’t seen her?
The woman was the reason his dinner party was going sideways, and so he became increasingly angry. Simon could not understand why Jesus was not offended by the prostitute who had been touching him. Jesus pointed out that he thought Simon’s hospitality was lacking, and then to add to the insult, Jesus was willing to accept and even praise the actions of this despicable woman.
How had Simon been a poor host?
In that time and culture, when a guest entered a home, he could expect to receive a kiss of peace, water to wash off his feet and a refreshing anointing of perfume. Simon had offered none of these gifts to Jesus.
The woman, however, had practiced the common customs of welcome as she served Jesus. The interaction between the woman and Jesus was life-changing, but Simon could not see.
Who did Jesus see?
Who does Jesus see in this encounter?
He sees both Simon and the woman.
In his privilege, Simon wanted to overlook the woman. Blinded by his beliefs and expectations, he could not see beyond his own story. Therefore, he thought the woman was not worth noticing, never mind interacting with and certainly not hosting.
Jesus, on the other hand, saw more than what was visible only to the eye. Jesus saw a woman created in the image and likeness of the Creator, and so he did not reject her simply because she was a woman or because of her reputation. In fact, he made sure she knew that she had been seen and, shockingly, that she was forgiven.
By asking Simon the question, Jesus invited him to pay attention beyond his narrow, privileged world.
Beyond our Own Stories
An essential insight for living in community is that we are all created in the image and likeness of God.
In a speech (2013), Bishop Desmond Tutu said that we can only be human through relationships and that our humanity comes through connecting with others.
It is important for us to recognize that our humanity is bound up with all those we see at the market, at work, in our neighbourhoods or on the bus. This is a relevant topic for today as we are all challenged to consider our privilege and see beyond our own stories.
Who is worth seeing? Each one.
If only this were easy…
Any thoughts or comments? Send me (Al McKay) an email if you have insights and ideas to explore.
This article was written by Al McKay, a Chaplain, in collaboration with Mia McKay. Al's favourite part of his work is seeing Jesus in unfamiliar places of the Downtown East side in Vancouver. When Al was a kid, he wanted to be a teacher or a famous rock drummer when he grew up. If Al had a free afternoon, you'd find him spending time with his wife. To read more articles from our Al and our Corporate Chaplains, you can visit our Chaplains Blogs.