On our first afternoon up here, Pastor Jason from Urban Hope introduced us to some of the amazing stories of conversion and faithfulness that have happened in the church over the past years. In thinking about our following three weeks, he challenged us to do like Jesus:
"When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Matthew 9:36-38
I had recently read a chapter in Paul Millers Love Walked Among Us, that talks about how before Jesus even did or said anything, he would LOOK at the crowds and have compassion. It struck me, that maybe we could think about what this looking is all about, for it is no mere coincidence that the words looked and saw are mentioned so many times throughout the gospels. Moreover, many of us are visual thinkers (Ive heard its 60% of the population). So considering that we process the world through interconnected images and visual memories, it seems even more important that we understand the ways in which Jesus would see people.
As Ive thought about this over the past three weeks, Ive collected a few images that I find worth remembering. Its easy to see the lacking and the broken in a place where financial poverty is apparent. So that is not what Im going to talk about. Rather, I believe Jesus would also LOOK at:
- The love of mothers. In the majority of houses we walked into, we met mothers, grandmothers and children. While in some of the households the men were away at work, in others men were for the most part absent or uninvolved. That gave us a lot of opportunities to see and understand the remarkable sacrifices and commitments that mothers make to take care of and raise their children. I was often amazed at the extent of their unconditional love and care amid so much scarcity and chaos. Little girls always had very cute hairdos and mothers were always taking their children to play in swimming pools and hydrants. Many of the streets we went to were play streets that were closed off during the day so that children could spend the day playing in the streets. Each morning, a truck would stop by a designated house in each play street and deliver lunch and snacks to a mother who was responsible for feeding and watching over the children in the block. At a deeper level, we were able to hear several stories about mothers who quit doing drugs or quit smoking cold turkey so that they could offer their children a safer and more stable environment to grow up in.
- The humanity (aka. image bearing) in cities. While streets often displayed decay and violence, the interior each house we went to had a fresh and unique flavor of all the life, history and community that existed within that space. I would often let my eyes wander to the different portraits and decorations in each house, and found so much character represented in them! It was a great chance to get to see how the creativity and personality and trajectory in each house directly bore the image of God as the first creator, personal and relational being.
- Treasures of the heart. We heard several incredible testimonies of people who have endured unimaginable suffering and yet are able to trust in the goodness of God and hope in his promises. I was awestruck, particularly at our friend Aida, who showed me in a vivid manner what it means to fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal (2 Co 4:18). Thus, Jesus ministry, in many was about seeing in people things that go far deeper than what meets the eye upon an initial encounter. Well yes, I suppose this is what the gospel is about about the new and invisible kingdom that we are called to embody, and that Jesus started off in such amazing ways!
- Lastly, I am quite positive that Jesus wouldve also looked at my inability to look and have compassion (sorry if this is a bit of cheesy meta). I had a very hard time during my first week at SMI. I was emotionally exhausted and absolutely fed up with a sense of hopelessness because of the brokenness inside and around me, and that consequently drenched me in skepticism and distrust. I was unable to look, to love and to have compassion, and God taught then that not even my ability to look with compassion comes from my own strength. No no, it is God that gives it to us and it comes from our identity in him.
So yes, abba Father, please restore in us an eyesight that does not come from our own efforts, but rather are a fruit of all the joy and freedom that we celebrate in you!