Seeing the World Through God’s Eyes
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Whenever Jesus begins to grow in popularity, he says something very difficult in order to purify our motives for following him. The gospel today is a great example.
Jesus asks, “Do you think that I have come to establish peace on Earth?”
I think I would say, “It sure seems so, last week you told us, “Come to me all you weary and burdened and I will give you rest.” I also think I remember you saying, “I have told you these things that in me you may have peace,” and you also said, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you.”
Jesus answers, “No, I tell you, but rather division.” or earlier in today’s gospel, “I have come to set the earth on fire,” and in Matthews Gospel, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword.” Trick question? Jesus is good at those. Contradiction? No, for Jesus did come to bring peace, but not the type of peace that Merriam-Webster presents us: “A period of time when there is no war or fighting.”
This sort of peace was the great legacy of the Roman Empire. And when we look just below the surface, we see how fragile and futile this sort of peace is. Let us listen to Tacitus, a Roman senator who saw first-hand the oppression necessary to maintain this peace:
“To ravage, to slaughter, to usurp under false titles, they call empire; and where they make a desert, they call it peace.”
This is obviously not the peace that Jesus brings, he did not bring us a new even more effective UN treaty. If this is peace, Jesus came to bring division.
So what does he mean, what sort of division is he talking about?
As often happens when God speaks, we can easily miss the point. Yet he elaborates, and this give us a clue: “From now on a household of five will be divided.” The family, the core of society, that which is hardest to break down, will be divided. Jesus is giving primacy to the individual soul over against family, country, status. He is awakening to us to the distinct character of each person. (Erasmo Leiva-Merikakis)
Tell me truly, when you think of the millions of refugees from the war torn middle east who are roaming the world seeking refuge after losing everything, do you see each of these as an individual with a distinct, unique soul? Each of these refugees has likes and dislikes, favorite activities, favorite songs, and distinct tastes in food and drink. When you see footage of the shanty-towns of Calcutta, India, do you see those children digging through garbage piles in search of food as equal to you and I in dignity? These orphans have goals and desires like you and me. They might spend their days dreaming of having a family, gaining an education, and becoming a dentist. Sure, we as Christians know this is true, but nothing is more difficult to truly grasp, to feel, than the dignity and uniqueness of each human soul (John Henry Newman).
This becomes easier as it gets more local. As citizens of the United States, we live in a country that declared independence because we held it self-evident that all men are created equal endowed with inalienable rights. So when we look at other Americans, we are forced by law to see them as individuals with rights. Further, when I am down in Denver for seminary and I meet someone from Montana, I can immediately relate to them, trust them a bit more than the dodgy Coloradans, because they are one of the few and the proud from the Holy Land (My personal title for Montana). Even more so if you went to the same school, grew up in the same town, or were friends from childhood. Finally, there is family. Many of us have broken laws to keep our family safe, lied to keep our family out of trouble, hurt others to protect our family. Family comes first; it’s almost as if, when it comes to protecting our families, we are suddenly characters from the Godfather, ready to burn a place to the ground to protect my own.
This puts into context Jesus’ demand for intimacy. The trust, the duty and devotion we have for our own family cannot come before our love for him. In another place he says, “Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me.” Why must our Lord demand such exclusivity, what is wrong with loving our family, our home town, and our country? There is nothing wrong with this, in fact it is precisely by putting Jesus at the center of our lives that we begin to grasp the dignity of our loved ones. God loves my parents more than I do, so when I begin to fall more in love with God, it is then that I grow in love for my parents. I have no clue who that little boy picking through the garbage in Calcutta India is; it is only when I begin to see with God’s eyes that can I really begin to care for him, to desire his happiness.
With this vision also comes a burden, the burden of seeing those millions of refugees and actually caring for each and every one of them. The burden of seeing that seemingly-capable man begging on the corner and giving him the benefit of the doubt rather than judging him unworthy of alms. This burden calls us to action. That man down at the shelter really does need Jesus Christ, who is going to bring Christ to that man? Let us look to St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of missionaries. In only ten years of missionary work for the Jesuits, he traveled to much of India, Japan, and many of the Islands off the coast of Japan. He died of sickness while attempting to smuggle himself into China. His missionary work was hard labor alongside the poor to whom he preached. In those ten years he baptized at least 30,000 people and some accounts credit him 50,000. Yet amidst this amazing work he said,
“Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman.”
This is a man who saw the dignity of each human soul, who knew how restless we all are until we find rest in Christ. When we begin to know God and see the world as he sees it, we realize how much work he has left for us to do. When I look at those difficult situations that seem so far outside my control, I always find myself banking on God’s providence; He has it under control. This is true, but what if God’s providence in this particular case was to create me. For the people of Goa, India God’s providential plan was St. Francis Xavier. For the people of Calcutta, India God created Mother Theresa. For whom have you been created? There are souls in this world that will only hear the word of God if you preach it to them. Do you feel that burden; can you carry it? I know I can’t, none of us can unless Jesus carries it with us, otherwise it will crush us. So go to prayer, make God the center of your life, that he may give you his eyes and you may see the dignity of every person you meet.
Jesus came to set this world on fire! When he returns, will he find it already blazing? That, brothers and sisters, is up to us.
Photo Credit: Eric Connolly