Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Seeing What God Sees

It takes a gift to see what the rest of the world cannot see. The artist who looks at the block of marble or the blank canvas and sees something beautiful. The collector who comes across a cheap lamp at a thrift store but recognizes a masterpiece. The scout who sees within an undisciplined amateur the superstar athlete. The parent who looks at a gangly, awkward teenager and sees a bright, promising adult waiting to come forth. Sometimes we are given the gift of seeing beyond what the world sees, but sometimes we need an expert to help us see it.

When Jesus comes down the mountain to address his followers, he invites them to see what the world cannot see. He invites us to see what God sees:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you...for surely your reward is great in heaven.
Who would look at a beggar on the street or a family with an eviction notice on their apartment door or a person in the line at Community Meals and say, "Blessed are they because they have God's kingdom?" Who would look at a malnourished child or a grief-stricken parent and say, "You are blessed because God will fill your stomach with food and your heart with laughter?" Who would say to someone who is hated and despised, "Count your blessings because God has a reward for you?" Who would? God would.

But, when God says it, God means it in a way that we cannot. When we pat someone on the back and offer a word of encouragement, inviting them to keep their chin up and look ahead for better things, what do we mean by it? We are preconditioned to see what the world sees. Those are the eyes with which we were born. Those are the expectations with which we have been raised. We offer a word of hope because we trust that things can't get much worse, that surely someday God will have mercy on those who suffer now, that those who are dealt a bad hand in this life will find a better life in heaven. And that's true, but it's not the same truth that Jesus gives us--the truth that God sees.

"Blessed are you who are poor," Jesus says, "for yours is the kingdom of God." He doesn't say, "You who are poor will be blessed one day when God's kingdom is yours." He lets them know that they are blessed now. "Blessed are you who are hungry now," Jesus says, "not when you will be filled but now, even before you are filled." We naturally insert a temporal separation between the identity of blessedness and the condition of suffering, but that's not what God sees. God looks at those who are poor, hungry, weeping, and reviled, and God sees blessedness.

But that's not all that God sees.
Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry.
Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep.
Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets.
"Watch out!" Jesus says. "Look with caution!" "Behold with warning!" "You are used to seeing what the world sees, but don't fail to see what God sees." If you're rich, you've already received your consolation. If you're full, laughing and held in high esteem, your blessedness is given in earthly terms, but what does God see?

The invitation Jesus gives us is not to be afraid of our earthly wealth, our moments of plenty, our joy, and our relationships because one day God will punish us for them. Instead, Jesus invites us to see what God sees. He comes down the mountain to look us in the eye and be sure that we view the world with the same eyes that God has. And what, then, do we see? We see blessedness where the world cannot see it. We see value where the world places none. We see God's enduring preference for the poor and the suffering not as a consolation prize but as a first love. We see not only that worldly treasure is not a sign of true blessedness but that worldly treasure masks our ability to see what God sees.

Once we see the world through God's eyes, everything changes. Our priorities flip upside down. Our hopes are realigned. Where we spend our time shifts. Our grip on money loosens. The measure of our success is redefined. The source of our confidence is replaced. You know what that is? That's faith. That's hope. That's the redeemed, transformed life of a follower of Jesus, a child of God.

You know who can't see that truth yet? Those who think a tax break for the wealthiest earners in Arkansas is good news for our state. (You can read about it here.) You know why I moved to Arkansas? It's not because I want to save money on my taxes. It's because I want to be a part of what God is doing among us, and Jesus is helping me see more clearly that God's work is to celebrate the poor, the lost, the broken. When we reduce the money the state has to spend on healthcare, education, environmental protection, and important social programs for the least among us by $97 million so that our top earners can keep it, we're not seeing what Jesus is asking us to see. We're not looking at the world the way God looks at it. Who will help us see what God sees? What will we do to help our legislators, governor, and the electorate get a glimpse of true blessedness?

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