Do you see what I see?, 24 Pentecost, Proper 27 (B) – November 11, 2012

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17 and Psalm 127 (or 1 Kings 17:8-16 and Psalm 146); Hebrews 9:24-28; Mark 12:38-44

In two weeks, on the day after Thanksgiving, department stores and radio stations throughout our nation will begin their round-the-clock auditory avalanche of Christmas carols. You may find the constant repetition of “Silent Night” a soothing reminder of “the reason for the season”; or it may annoy you to the point of giving you a headache. But whichever position you take, if you are Anglican, you know that the appropriate liturgical time to begin caroling is during the Christmas season, not Advent. You know that during Advent, we sing hymns about our longing for the birth of the Savior and our faithful vigil as we wait for God’s light to shine in the darkness.

For Anglicans, the “official” singing of carols begins on Christmas Eve. On that holy night, we will gather in parishes across the globe, acknowledge the end of Advent – the end of the long wait – and give voice to the lovely songs we know by heart. We will sing “Away in a Manger,” “O, Little Town of Bethlehem,” and “Joy to the World” among others.

There is another Christmas carol that, though it’s known by the title, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” begins with the question:

Said the night wind to the little lamb,
Do you see what I see?
Way up in the sky, little lamb
Do you see what I see?
A star, a star
Dancing in the night
With a tail as big as a kite …
Do you see what I see?

In this Sunday’s gospel reading, we find Jesus taking a break from hours of engagement and debate with an array of people who sought to trap him in his own words. But he brilliantly escaped the traps and turned the questions back on the questioners. He dazzled the crowds and his own disciples with his wit and truth-telling. He called out those who were complicit in a corrupt political and religious system. He gave kudos to a scribe who demonstrated wisdom. He taught the crowds and then, after all that hubbub, “he sat down opposite the treasury and watched.”

But Jesus didn’t people-watch merely to entertain himself after putting in a long day at the temple. He focused his attention on those who were putting money into the temple treasury.

When he turned his gaze to that place, who did he see?

He saw a woman who was apparently invisible to everyone else around her. A woman who was invisible to the wealthy folks tossing their spare change into the tall jars that held the offerings; invisible to the crowds who had just listened to and delighted in Jesus’ teachings; invisible to his own disciples who had wandered off, who Jesus had to call over and say, “Look! Look there. Do you see what I see?”

It’s no accident that Jesus saw the widow and made her visible to those who were ignoring her. Sprinkled throughout the Bible there are scores of references to widows. In many of those verses, we find God either commanding God’s people to care for widows or castigating them for failure to enact justice and compassion on the behalf of widows.

Women who had lost their husbands held a special place in God’s kingdom because, though becoming a widow did not automatically mean a woman would become impoverished, the absence of a husband made her immeasurably more vulnerable to that fate. When Jesus, only a few verses before he sat down to watch the action at the treasury, warned the crowds against rapacious scribes who devour widows’ houses, he was describing a reality of his day and time. A woman without a male protector could be forced into debt more easily by the legal and economic system.

Understanding a little about the poor widow’s social context gives us a different entry point into this story. Typically, Christians are taught that she is an outstanding model of sacrificial giving. But here’s a funny thing: Jesus doesn’t praise her or her offering. He doesn’t claim that we should all follow her example of giving. He doesn’t use her offering to deliver a sermon on the virtues of tithing and stewardship. He doesn’t deliver a lecture on the importance of supporting church operating budgets. Rather, Jesus notices her and comments on her participation in a society that had turned its eyes away from her plight.

It’s instructive to bear in mind that God keeps a watchful eye not only on widows. In most of the verses about how we are to treat them, two other categories of people are usually mentioned: orphans and strangers or aliens.

Exodus 23:9 – “You shall not oppress a resident alien.”

Leviticus 19:34 – “You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the house of Egypt.

Exodus 22:22 – “You shall not abuse any widow or orphan.”

Deuteronomy 24:21 – “When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, do not glean what is left; it shall be for the alien, the orphan, and the widow.”

Deuteronomy 27:19 – “Cursed be anyone who deprives the alien, the orphan, and the widow of justice.”

Do you see what I see? There is a special place in God’s line of sight for people whose economic and political power is slim to none.

It is not always easy or comfortable to see who God sees. For when we open our eyes to the suffering of others, we also come face-to-face with our own complicity in systems that maintain our comfort while keeping “widows, orphans and strangers” in their place, out of sight and out of mind.

We don’t want to see the non-unionized immigrants who work in America’s fields and slaughter houses. We don’t want to see homeless people on city sidewalks as we make our way to the football game or the theater. We don’t want to see the children who in live in group homes around the country because they’ve been removed from violent families and are considered unadoptable.

But however difficult it is, we cannot ignore Jesus when he calls us over to sit with him for a moment and watch. Watch who participates in the life of our churches, our communities, our schools, our politics and our economies. Look into the dark corners of the world for the people who are in need of food, clothing, shelter, decent wages, a helping hand, an advocate, a friend. See the people who stand on street corners and speak only through messages written on cardboard signs.

And then don’t simply observe. Help those who we see.

Call over other people and ask them to open their eyes too. Go and talk with those who are hidden in plain view. Ask them about their lives. Ask them how we might partner with them to create hope and new life wherever there is misery and death. Demonstrate that God’s way is not the way of oppression, but the way of justice. Show them that God is love.

Two days before he was arrested and crucified, at a time when he could have been drawing his attention inward to ponder his own fate, Jesus sat in the temple and watched. He invited those he loved to watch with him, to acknowledge one woman who was otherwise lost in the crowd.

Do you see what I see? God became manifest in Jesus not only to offer us the beautiful gift of eternal life; God became manifest in Jesus to bring to our attention those who are invisible. God walked among us to help us direct our gazes toward those who may not have a great deal to celebrate this season. And God not only placed a star in the sky to light the way to the manger, God placed a light in our hearts and minds that we might learn to see through the eyes of Christ.

 

— The Rev. Christie M. Dalton is a deacon for regional ministry in the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina. She lives in Winston-Salem, where she is also a development officer for Wake Forest University School of Divinity.

Comments

  1. Roger Gentile says:

    This is a very good sermon! Thank you for your insights and skills.

  2. Rev. Mike Bell says:

    Ditto to Roger Gentile’s comments. I intend to utilize many of Rev. Dalton’s imagery in my own Sunday message. We have a homeless program where I am with church volunteers staffing it. We always need more willing hands.

  3. Gloria Locke says:

    I really like this sermon for it’s a different point of view that right now we need to hear in our church because of a recent happening. This will be the sermon I read tonight!

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