I heard my friend and colleague, Sally Dyck, preach an excellent sermon on Radical Hospitality which she began with the line, “It’s in the eyes. The eyes say it all.” She went on to tell about the way we look at people, and the messages we send by how we look at them. Bishop Dyck’s message stuck with me, and I’ve found myself thinking about it many times since.
Luke 15 opens with the tax-collectors and sinners drawing near to Jesus, but the scribes and Pharisees grumbled, saying, “this man receives sinners and eats with them.” In your mind, can you picture the people who would say this? If so, you know that they didn’t have to grumble out loud to make their opinions known. Imagine how they glared at the outsiders, despising them, judging and condemning with every glance. Hard eyes. Angry eyes. Rejecting eyes.
What was in the eyes of the people reaching for rocks to stone the woman caught in adultery? Can you see the hatred, the cold-hearted vengeance, the intense anger toward her that refocused on Jesus when he interceded on her behalf? What did she see in Jesus’ eyes compared to what she saw in all the others? Compassion? Understanding? Steel resolve?
What was in the eyes of the proud who walked the streets with their rich robes swaying behind them to impress all the commoners? What kind of condescension and distaste were in the eyes of the rich man when he looked through his mansion gates to the pitiful Lazarus, sick and begging on the streets outside? The eyes say it all.
On the other hand, what did Jesus’ eyes say to Zacchaeus that brought him down from the tree he had shinnied up to avoid the rejection of the community? What love was there in those eyes that pierced Zacchaeus’ heart so profoundly that he completely reversed the course of his life, finally accepting that he was accepted by God?
With our eyes we can judge, convict, reject, and accuse. People can see when we feel suspicious, or superior, or fearful. Worst of all, by the casting of our eyes we can totally ignore, fail to notice, and treat people like they don’t even exist.
Recently I stopped to pick up clothes at the drycleaners. As I stepped from my car, my cell phone rang. I paced back and forth for several minutes in the parking lot talking on the phone. After I finished, I walked into the cleaners and the young man behind the counter immediately thanked me. I didn’t understand why he was thanking me, and he saw my puzzled look. He said, “Thanks for finishing the call before coming inside. Sometimes people come in talking on their phones and they never say a word to us or even look up. They give us their ticket, pay their bill, take their clothes and leave. I feel invisible. It’s a bit humiliating.”
Our eyes can build someone up, or tear someone down. They confer blessing or curse. Eyes smile. They welcome. They affirm. They accept. They care. They give life. Or they growl. Condemn. Diminish. Punish. Reject. Looks can kill.
What do our eyes say when our Goth niece shows up at the family reunion, complete with stark black hair and studded leather bracelet? Do our eyes say, “Please leave, or we’re glad you’re here?” Do they say, “We love you only when you act like us,” or “we love you always?”
What do our eyes communicate when a baby fusses in church, or when a child drops a coin that rolls beneath the pews all the way to the front, or when a family who dresses differently visits the congregation? What message do our children receive through our eyes when they take the tattoo detour and the piercing route through their young adult years? The cousin reconstructing his life for the third time after rehab – does he see in our eyes total distain and eternal rejection, or does he see a glimpse of genuine encouragement, a prayerful hopefulness? The young men and women carrying camouflage backpacks and wearing service fatigues whom we see at the airports heading for the front lines or returning for leave, what do they see in our eyes looking at them?
Many of our prayers ask God to change our hearts. Sometimes we courageously follow God’s calling to step into circumstances that change our minds. We have prayers about changing our spirits: “Lord, put a new and right spirit within me.”
Maybe we also need a prayer that says, “Lord, change the way I look at people. Remove from me the unwarranted looks of impatience, dissatisfaction, and disapproval, and replace them with your countenance. Help me see the world through your eyes, Lord, and remake me so that people see you in my eyes.”
Yours in Christ,