Poet Thomas John Carlisle describes, in her words, the plight of the woman at the center of our text this morning:
Jesus Raised Me
I could not straighten up.
It is not easy
to see the world
from such a crooked angle
and keep one’s sanity
and smile while others
laugh at the warp
of my infirmity.
They should thank God
for the most precious gift
of being able to stand erect
but it never occurs to them
except when they observe
someone like me.
They are so sure
it could never happen to them
so they are not inclined
to try to feel my pain
and my frustration.
I would be crippled still
but Jesus raised me
to my full height-
in many more ways than one.
One hundred and thirty-eight times in the gospels Jesus is reported as “seeing.”
Jesus noticed. Jesus was a “seer”.
It wasn’t that others around him didn’t see, it was the way Jesus saw that contrasted with what others saw. Last week he called them hypocrites because they could see signs that told of weather changes, but couldn’t see that God was giving them the kingdom. This week they’re frauds because they can’t see God’s humanity on the Sabbath.
There are forty-four references to Jesus referring to, or working with, eyes. One of the recurrent miracles of Jesus was to restore sight. It would seem that the people of Jesus’ day had a problem with seeing. Certainly they did not see as he saw, and did not see what he saw.
In our text, Jesus encounters a woman “twisted” by arthritis for eighteen long years. No doubt after that long, her community hardly noticed. She was just another piece of the furniture. So when she shows up in the synagogue, no one except Jesus, would have seen anything other than “that twisted” woman.
What gives away that Jesus saw something else are his first words to her: “Woman, you are free!” Then he touches her. A simple human touch. Contact from another human being. There is no magical mud or transfer of healing energy. Just those words of release and simple touch, based on what Jesus sees, are enough to set this woman to praising God.
What if we could see like that!
The text points to three aspects of Jesus’ seeing that are to inform our sight:
- He saw the person and not the condition.
In the times in ministry when I have had the challenging task of leading a funeral for someone who took their own life, I have encouraged the family and congregation to remember that a person, any person, is much, much more than the way they died. It is a trap to speak of a person who died by their own hand as forever “a suicide,” as if that alone defines a lifetime of relationships, career and journey.
The leader of the synagogue in Luke’s story saw only the misdemeanor of a healing on the Sabbath. Jesus saw a miracle of a woman whose cure was immanent.
John Pavlovitz notes “Jesus was far more relational than theological.”
We must ask ourselves, regarding each encounter with another, are we able to see the person and not the condition?
- Jesus saw the potential and not the present manifestation.
It would be good to have the technology to note exactly at what point the healing of this disabled woman took place. Was it when she was seen by Jesus? Was it when he told her she was free? Was it when he touched her? We don’t have a way of identifying the moment, but I think that at some level, the healing began when Jesus saw her as a whole and not bent-double.
Just as quantum physics is teaching us that our expectations of outcomes can determine the data we observe in an experiment, so too I believe people often become and manifest what we “see” them to be.
As South Africa worked through the painful legacy of their Apartheid heritage there was a question asked in anti-bias workshops. The leader asks the group: “Why is it that when we see a white person running in the street, we ask, ‘I wonder what he is late for?’ When we see a black person running in the street, we ask, ‘I wonder what he is running from?’”
What effect do our shadow projections onto to people have on the experiences they and we have of each other? Jung told us the effects of our shadows, the dark side of ourselves, are significant.
The question for us becomes: “Am I able to see the potential in the seemingly suffering individual before me?”
- Jesus saw without prejudice.
Everything that Jesus saw, had kingdom potential. And he was not swayed by obvious external and past realities that might contradict what he was seeing at a deeper level.
Prejudice is where we fall short. It affects us all. The word means to “judge before.”
A story I read years ago told of a teacher who was given false information about the intelligence and learning abilities of a class of children. After just one semester the children were actually performing according to the false profiles the teacher had been given. His prejudice had created real behavior in the classroom.
The question then, to see as Jesus sees, “In all my encounters with people, am I able to see the reality of the person rather than be swayed by what I’ve been told or experienced of them before this moment? Can I act beyond my own prejudice?
Jesus is teaching us that healing begins when people are seen as Jesus sees them:
With unconditional acceptance; with appreciation for their person and not their problem; with vision for their potential and not their limitations; with insight into how our prejudice could keep them in bondage to suffering, or if we could let our prejudice go, to their liberation. The miracle of seeing, is just that, seeing. And seeing as Jesus sees, just might, as Carlisle intoned raise another human to her “full height- in many more ways than one.”