Retraining the Eyes
“I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and of earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children. Yes Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.”
Here’s a prayer you won’t find Christians praying anytime soon! With all of our emphasis on “going out”; “sharing the message”; “evangelisation”; you could be forgiven in thinking Jesus was throwing spanners into his work and ours with these words. How does hiding “these things” help anyone?
Within this part of the gospel, St. Matthew deals a fair bit with Jesus’ rejection and in this case, his rejection by the scribes and Pharisees. God resists the proud and the proud resist God. For all of their wisdom and understanding, they are unwise and have not understood.
Far from a celebration of ignorance, Jesus’ prayer serves to highlight another dimension of mission: the role of a Christian as someone who re-trains the eyes of a person to see God.
Have you ever observed a still-life painting? It is my opinion, that they can seem so realistic precisely because the artist retrains the viewer’s eye to notice new things. The objects are usually simple: a fruit, a wine glass, a plate, a loaf. Yet they are captivating because the artist paints in every single detail – not just the ones we notice before moving on: where the light glints, the scratches, the cracks, the fibres and so on.
The Christian is like that artist – sitting with the “wise” they open their eyes to God who stands between the details of their life – the moments and the graces one might otherwise gloss over. It invites an almost childlike fascination – the fascination of “little ones” who notice the things we long decided were not worth our appreciation, our contemplation.
Much has been written about how children and how adults learn. One model, which has been suggested, is that as children we took everything in, but over time, in our bid to make sense of the world, we develop whole webs of meaning and knowledge: a smiling face? Happy! Maroon? Queensland! Kangaroo? Australia!
These webs of meaning can become more insidious once we enter the world of religion and politics. Suddenly canons emerge of who you and I must surely be and what we must surely think, merely because we choose to support (or not support) an idea. For all of our “wisdom”, we can remain unwise.
Without the ongoing openness to learning and to being surprised, our webs – our world-view – becomes increasingly airtight. It helps us make sense of the world even if the facts and meanings are wrong. To borrow the gospel’s image – to cease to have the wonder and curiosity of “the little ones” can close a person off to noticing the presence and work of God in their lives.
The scribes and Pharisees with all their learning thought they had faith and life down pat. Their web of “wisdom” was airtight. It was so airtight that the breath of the Spirit failed to penetrate into them and the presence of the Emmanuel, God-among-us. Their web of “wisdom” about who a messiah should be, what God should be, what religion should be, all caused their own stubbornness.
Evangelisation takes many forms. “Retraining the eyes” in a dialogue has as much value as anything big and public. Could God be inviting you to help someone see the movement of God in their life? Could God be inviting you to share how God has moved in your life? What is your emerging vision of responding to Jesus’ call to share the Good News? I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the week!