New Eyes

Sharon lived in New York City. She visited the corner grocery store and bought her morning coffee there most every day. As she was talking to another man in her building one day, he commented on the clerk at the store, ‘she always seems so sad.’ Sharon agreed that the clerk never smiled, “Her spirit is heavy.” The man said, ‘but I went in there yesterday, and she was singing with the radio. She has a beautiful voice. When I told her so, her face lit up. She was beaming.” Sharon made a note that she would find a way to compliment the clerk next time she went in, so that she too could see the woman smile. The next day Sharon went to the store particularly to carry out her mission of bringing joy to the sad store clerk. Admittedly, it was a bit awkward she thought, should she just walk in and say, “Hey you have a nice voice?” That seems a bit strange. She would figure out a way to weave in the complement. Sharon entered the store and looked for the clerk ready to turn her frown into a smile. To Sharon’s surprise, the store clerk already had a lovely smile on her face. In fact, she seemed quite happy; she had lovely dark eyes that sparkled and crinkled at the corner in a pleasant, natural way indicating they did so often. Sharon realized that she had never really looked at the clerk in the face. “She might as well have been a cash register with arms,” Sharon confessed.

The grocery store checker scans your items, bags them, and directs you to the card reader. You are looking at the items watching the screen prices for accuracy. You are searching for coupons, checking your grocery list, or viewing your text messages. You slide your card, pick up your bags and walk out. How well can you describe the last person who helped you at a store? Cash registers with arms.

Waiters in restaurants. Workers in elevators. Students in lunch line. Walkers in the park. Strangers cross our paths all day long.

“Two of them” were walking along the road of broken dreams, shattered hopes, dead ends. No doubt their eyes were as downcast as their spirits. One of them kicked a rock off the path in frustration and anger. It came near to hitting the man ahead of them, the stranger they hadn’t seen in their path. He spoke, “What’s up?”

They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who doesn’t know what’s up?”

19He asked them, “What ?”

They replied, “about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet- our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be crucified. 21But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel.”

These two told a stranger their grief story of following Jesus and watching him die. Their pain only to be deepened in learning that Jesus body was now missing. They said the women went to his grave that morning and saw a vision causing them to believe Jesus was still alive. Clearly these two didn’t believe the women- or their visionary outlandish tale. If they thought Jesus was still alive would they have turned their back on Jerusalem and be walking back to their home village two hours away?

This stranger was Jewish also; the three of them fell into step and a long conversation while they walked. “We had hoped Jesus was the One,” the travelers said. ‘Had hoped’ are the saddest words spoken. Their hope is gone. The man began talking about Moses- the one who led their people to freedom. Moses faced impossible odds, still he had hope. Then he brought up their prophets, the ones who called their people to justice. The prophets challenged kings, still they had hope. Then they started talking about Israel’s hope for a Messiah, a new leader who would return their nation to power and glory like in King David years.

As they neared their destination and paused in the doorway of the house, the stranger they encountered waved goodbye and turned to continue down the road. These two weren’t finished with their conversation. This guy had a different view of things, they wanted to hear more. They somehow felt more at peace talking to him, so they urged him strongly “Stay with us” they said.

One of them felt a shiver of guilt run down his spine when he said those words. Weren’t those words what Jesus had said to them in the garden the night before his death, “Stay with me. Keep watch and pray.” Only they hadn’t stayed. Will the regrets ever pass, he wondered? How long will the sorrow of missed opportunities haunt them?

The three of them went inside and continued to discuss fallen hopes and scripture teachings. When it was time to eat, they moved to the table. Their guest reached out “he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them.” His dark eyes sparkled and crinkled at the corners in a pleasant natural way like it was something he did often. He smiled at them. Their eyes opened wide, then he vanished from their sight.”

This is Luke’s Easter day story. He doesn’t tell of a stranger in a garden that Mary didn’t recognize. He doesn’t tell of disciples behind locked doors huddled together in fear. The disciples aren’t out hiding Easter eggs on Sunday afternoon. In Luke’s gospel, they disciples go their separate ways. These two, Cleopas and his friend, are going back home, to Emmaus. Luke says, as they were walking along, “Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” I wonder what kept their eyes from recognizing Jesus? Was it because this man before them doesn’t look at all like Jesus? He doesn’t look like a walking corpse Zombie or anything like a man who had been crucified three days ago? Were their eyes kept from recognizing him because they were so caught up in their grief, they really never looked into his eyes? Were their eyes kept from seeing him because he had a foreign accent, or different skin tone? Because their own fears or prejudice blocked their vision? Were they just too busy with their own thoughts? Those are things that keep our eyes from seeing the Christ in people we pass every day, right?

How often will we let rules or theology or skin tone or language or socio-economic levels or the busyness of our day or our own anything else preclude us from looking directly into people’s eyes whom we pass every day?

The United Methodist Church Judicial Council made a decision this week. They chose to value the letter of the law over the image of Christ embodied in Bishop Karen Oliveto. In a 6-to-3 verdict, their eyes were kept from seeing that the gifts and graces that Bishop Oliveto brings to God’s people are more valuable than our unjust law of discrimination. All they saw was a woman with a wife. When will we learn to practice what Jesus taught- love people over the law- value grace, mercy and justice over and above all else, love?

I was at a conference last week. It was not a church conference. The speakers kept talking about practicing mindfulness, practicing loving-kindness, practicing compassion. There were 700 people in attendance at this conference. I would suspect most of them would not have self-identified as Christian. This was not a religious conference. But what I heard, were teachings that I thought sounded a whole lot like what Jesus taught- love one another- see the marginalized- respond to injustice. They weren’t using Jesus-language, but if you ask me, they were being the church. I loved the way they used that word “practicing.” They are practicing mindfulness, practicing loving-kindness, practicing compassion.

What if? Instead of Christians fighting about laws and rules and who gets to be in and who we’re going to throw out – what if we started by looking into each other’s eyes – and seeing the gifts of the holy seeded in one another? What if we started by looking into each other’s eyes, and seeing the suffering each one of us bears? What if we quit worrying about who believes what and start concentrating on practicing the Way of Jesus? We might find that our practice opens our eyes wide to see with new eyes that we are more than these physical bodies. Our spirits continue to connect beyond mystery of death. We might see with new eyes a greater meaning in the Eucharist. We are one with all who ever have and ever will share this table. If we practice every day, long enough and hard enough, we might just see people as more than cash registers with arms, waters with our orders, anonymous shadows crossing our path. We might just see the Christ in all others.

May it be so.