Monday, June 15, 2020

Our Lord's Lenses of Love

Jesu Juva
St. Matthew 9:35-10:8                                                               
June 14, 2020
Proper 6A                                                    

Dear saints of our Savior~
          In all the paintings of Jesus I’ve ever laid eyes on, I don’t think I’ve ever seen the Son of God wearing glasses.  I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen the Savior with spectacles.  It is, after all, a possibility that our Lord’s vision was not 20/20.  As a true man, He was just like us—vulnerable to things like viruses and vision problems.  But based on today’s Holy Gospel, I’m more convinced than ever that there was something special about our Lord’s eyesight.  It’s as plain as the nose on your face:  Jesus just doesn’t see things the way we do.
          Today’s reading from Matthew is not one of those neat, clean readings with one central theme.  It’s a transition point in the ministry of Jesus; and there’s a lot going on.  The content is not neatly aligned and unified.  But at every twist and turn, it’s obvious:  Jesus doesn’t see things the way we do.  He doesn’t act—or react—the way we would.  Our Lord Jesus sees it all—and surveys it all—through the lenses of love.
          In today’s reading St. Matthew tells us, first of all, that Jesus was doing what Jesus did best:  He was teaching.  He was preaching.  He was healing every disease and affliction.  Jesus was out there.  The Son of Man was a man of the people.  It’s what you would expect of any self-respecting Messiah.  But what you might not expect is how Jesus reacted to that vast sea of humanity:  When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.
          Jesus doesn’t see things the way we do.  Jesus looked at those lost souls through the eyes of compassion—or, more accurately, he felt compassion for them in his bowels.  We westerners think that compassion is something you feel in your heart; but in Bible times the bowels (or the guts, if you prefer) were the seat of human feelings.  When Jesus saw the crowds, He had compassion for them, deep, deep down in His guts.  And this compassion is a divine compassion—different from anything you or I might feel.  In the gospels, this compassion is attributed almost exclusively to either Jesus or to God the Father. 
          But you don’t need me to tell you that this compassion is a godly compassion; because deep down you already know that compassion is the last thing you would have been feeling at that point.  At our best, we would have seen that crowd the way we see most people on most days.  On our best days we see other people as a drain on our time, our energy, our resources.  And on our worst days we view other people as worthless underachievers—as entitled, unenlightened, deadbeats who really don’t deserve our time and energy.  If only they were smart, successful, religious and virtuous, like us. 
          But Jesus—He doesn’t see things the way we do (thankfully!).  Jesus sees people through the lenses of love and compassion.  He saw the crowds as “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  Sheep without a shepherd aren’t long for this world!  Jesus knew that those harassed and helpless people were victims—victims of evil spiritual forces that were beyond their control. 
          These days, everybody claims to be a victim.  But Jesus sees who the genuine victims are.  He sees what that liar the devil does to you.  He sees what this dark world does to you.  He sees what your own sinful nature does to you.  He sees all that; but that’s not all He sees.  The Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky penned this profoundly helpful sentence:  To love a person means to see him as God intended him to be.  If you’re up for a challenge, give that a try sometime.  Start seeing people not as they are, but as God intended them to be.  From experience I can tell you, it is much, much harder than it sounds.  Hard for us, but not for Jesus.
          This is the mystery of our Lord’s great love and compassion for us—for us who are harassed and helpless, selfish and sinful.  Our Lord Jesus sees us through lenses that are, on the one hand, perfectly accurate.  He sees our sin.  He knows how terribly needy we are.  But at the same time, Jesus sees us through the lenses of love and compassion—sees us as children of God, made in His image, created by God for eternal life and eternal love.  We can’t quite see that; but Jesus can.
          Jesus doesn’t see things the way we do.  As we look out at our world today it seems pretty hopeless.  Strife and division and hatred and violence and lies—these things seem to have the upper hand.  Especially for you—for Bible-believing, Christ-confessing, baptized children of God—things don’t look good.  When it comes to the one, holy, Christian and apostolic church, things look bleak indeed. 
          But that’s not what Jesus sees.  Jesus looks at this world and He sees fields ripe for harvest.  The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.  If you were to drive through my home state of Kansas right now, you would see amber waves of wheat for as far as the eye can see.  The time for harvest is approaching.

          That’s what Jesus sees right now—a harvest of people who are ripe and ready to respond to the gospel in faith.  What should we do?  Step up our outreach efforts?  Invite more people to church?  Increase our offerings so that we can support more missionaries?  Maybe so.  But Jesus simply says, “Pray.”  Pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.  The harvest is His.  And behind every laborer—behind every priest and pastor and missionary—stands the Lord Jesus Christ who wants all people to be saved, who looks at all nations through the lenses of love.  We may not be able to see the harvest; but Jesus can.  Let’s pray earnestly concerning that harvest—just as we do every time we pray, “Thy kingdom come.”
          And to help with that harvest, St. Matthew tells us about the assembly of #TeamJesus.  The starting Twelve are called and claimed, named and sent.  Simon Peter and Andrew, James and John, Philip and Bartholomew, Thomas and Matthew, James, Thaddaeus, Simon, and Judas Iscariot (who betrayed him).  Judas may be the most notorious, but all twelve are sinners.  All twelve will find spectacular ways to fail.  All twelve will do and say disappointing things.  Why would Jesus want to partner with these men?  Why does Jesus want to give these men a share in the mission when He knows full well that these sheep will be scattered and will all run away into the deep darkness of a Thursday night?
          Well, once again, Jesus just doesn’t see things the way we do.  He came for a world of sinners—to save us from our sins.  He sees everything filtered through His cross and resurrection.  We’re all members of #TeamJesus.  Now, not all of us are apostles or pastors.  But we’ve all been named and claimed in the waters of baptism.  We’ve all been enlisted to lend a hand where the harvest is concerned.  We’ve all been entrusted to speak the truth in love.  And this is all grace.  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith, and this is not your own doing, but it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast. As with any team, we all have different roles on #TeamJesus.  Some of us just hang out in the bullpen most of the time, offering relief when needed.  Others are in the starting rotation, or batting clean-up.  [If you cannot speak like angels, if you cannot preach like Paul, you can tell the love of Jesus, you can say He died for all.]
          How can this be?  Because Jesus sees us through the lenses of love and compassion.  He sees you, here and now, as one for whom He died—one for whom His blood was shed—one whose sins are forgiven—one who will not perish, but have eternal life.  While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  His love and compassion are at work in you, helping you to see things the way He does.  His lenses of love can correct your vision too.  You can’t do everything Jesus did.  But you can indeed see the world the way He does, loving others as you yourself are loved by Jesus.
          In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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