When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion on them.
“What did you see today?” That is the question theologian Douglas Burton-Christie likes to ask his little daughter at the end of each day. Rather than a parent’s “What did you do today?”, Burton-Christie likes a question that encourages his daughter’s young eyes to really see. He says that by asking his daughter that question he finds himself seeing a lot more in his day.
That question about seeing opened my own eyes to begin to see the emphasis that Scripture places on Jesus’ act of seeing. Read the Gospels and see that they are filled with instances of Jesus seeing, including:
- Matthew 9:36 “When Jesus saw the crowds, he had compassion for them…”
- Mark 10:21 “Jesus, looking at him, loved him…”
- Luke 21:2. “Jesus also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins…”
- Luke 6:20. Then Jesus looked up at his disciples and said: ‘Blessed are you who are poor…”
- Luke 19:41. “As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it…”
- John 5:6 “When Jesus saw him lying there…”
- John 9:1. “As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth…”
Notably, we see on the first page of the Bible the Lord God seeing: “God saw everything he had made…” In the midst of God’s busy creation, He takes time to see the wonders of what He has done, takes pleasure in it and pronounces it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). The “weeping prophet”, Jeremiah, asked the nations to see his sorrow over Jerusalem’s destruction: “Is it nothing to you, all who pass by? Look and see if there is any sorrow like my sorrow” (Lamentations 1:12). Not surprisingly, Jesus warns about those who “have eyes, and fail to see” (Mark 8:18).
What is that we are missing, that we do not see in the busyness of our days? Moses would have missed God if at the burning bush he had not made the decision to stop and see: “I must turn aside and look at this great sight” (Exodus 3:3). It is interesting that God’s special messengers were called “seers” long before they were called “prophets” (2 Samuel 24:7; 2 Kings 17:13; 1 Chronicles 21:9). They were people with eyes open to what others did not see.
The Bible’s emphasis upon seeing points to living a contemplative life. The meaning of the word “contemplative” is found in the very middle of the word: “temple” as a sacred place of watching for God. The word “contemplative” comes from the Latin contemplatus, “to gaze intently”. It is a word made up of the prefix com– “together” plus templum– “temple”. The original meaning of contemplatus pointed to the sacred space, a temple set apart for observing omens of divine guidance.
So today, to be a contemplative is to look for and to see the presence of God that surrounds us; it is to be present to the God always present to us. It is to choose not to be distracted or too busy to see God at work in our world and in our lives. Even the bright seraphs around God’s throne look upon our world and praise God saying “the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isaiah 6:3). But are we stopping to see His ‘glory’?
I think of the old Beatles’ song, “The Fool on the Hill”, about a person not understood by others, but wise in seeing what others do not see:
“But the fool on the hill
Sees the sun going down
And the eyes in his head
Sees the world spinning round.”
God calls us to see the sun going down, the seasons changing, the homeless child, and the leper among us. Are we making that sacred space of watching for God? Are we paying attention to God speaking to us through our seeing?
So, I wonder: “What did you see today?” “What did I see today?”
A fellow traveler,