“Our learning to see with Jesus’ eyes will eventually result in us desiring with Jesus’ heart — which is to say, our receiving the mind of Christ, which is how we discover the mind of God.” [James Alison in On Being Liked]
There is a chain of reasoning associated with this statement that each of us needs to ponder.
- Do we want to learn to see with Jesus’ eyes? Grace puts the desire in every human being’s heart but it doesn’t automatically ‘program’ us. That is our choice, using God’s other great gift of human freedom.
- Once we say yes, however incoherently, to this first question we are faced with finding a new way to learn how to see with different eyes. Our minds are programmed to see in a certain way and our teachers see with the same eyes, and teach us to see like they see. Jesus’ is the only one who can teach us to see with his eyes and mind. How do we learn to listen to his teaching? This generally happens once we choose to become Christians, but that is only the first step in a journey of learning.
- Human beings learn from others within a cultural context. The best way to learn from Jesus is within a Christian culture. The only place that such cultures exist are in local Christian communities and even these may largely see with secular eyes, not Jesus’ eyes. So, do we search for the ‘right’ church or do we become part of a local church and help make it the ‘right’ church that sees with Jesus’ eyes? The Spirit leads us on this journey but my general sense is that we must follow Jesus’ example and ‘heal the sick’ right where we are. That means transforming the local church where the Spirit has led us.
What is seeing with Jesus’ eyes like? Alison says that Jesus’ eyes are ‘clear, limpid, non-accusing, non-persecuted.’ These are all metaphors but if we unpack them , it may give us a picture of what this Christian Ideal is like in our experience. Once we begin to understand, then the desire to see like Jesus does will awaken and grow within us.
The Bible tells stories about how Jesus saw. In modern terms, he not only taught but modeled seeing as God sees. I will use the story of the woman caught in adultery [John 8:3- 11] to illustrate how we can use the Bible to unpack the metaphors for seeing that Alison uses.
Jesus’ eyes are clear
Jesus sees the woman standing in front of him, and the whole scene in the temple clearly. We might think that this is some kind of divine capability and he saw into her heart and the hearts of the teachers of the law. If we believe that, we probably give up and tell ourselves “I could never see like that.” But imagine that Jesus simply sees the terror and guilt in the woman’s eyes, and the anger in the teachers’ eyes. And he sees all this taking place in the temple dedicated to God. We can do that kind of seeing if we simply notice what is going on. Having clear eyes like Jesus means our eyes are not clouded with non-essentials, and are focused on what is there in front of us, in the moment.
Jesus’ eyes are limpid
Limpid is an unusual word. It means transparent, translucent, serene, peaceful. As Jesus clearly saw the drama of the scene in front of him, he didn’t get caught up in the emotion that infected everyone. He didn’t automatically side with the woman nor did he engage in a debate with the teachers (though he could have easily done that). He simply ‘bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.’ We usually think he is writing divine messages to the teachers or something like that. But imagine he was just disconnecting himself from all the emotion and conflict surrounding him, allowing his serenity to become obvious to everyone. We could hope to practice limpid seeing in that manner, first imitating Jesus’ serenity then actually realizing it in all situations.
Jesus’ eyes are non-accusing
The story explicitly says that Jesus refused to blame the woman or hold her responsible for her actions. We normally interpret that as Jesus overlooking the worman’s sin in order to teach the officials a lesson. But what if he genuinely liked this woman and did not accuse her of anything? What if God sees the woman and likes her, no matter what? What if Jesus (and God) say, “She is a creature and creatures do these things. What’s not to like? If I’m looking for perfect people to like, I won’t find anyone.” Seeing in a non-accusing way like this is very hard for us. We (and our churches) have standards for ‘good’ people and ‘bad’ people. We don’t generally like people who are very different than our standards for ‘good’ people. We may ‘forgive’ them and overlook their ‘sins’ but our seeing is still not Jesus’ seeing. We can only pray for God’s grace to give us this type of seeing.
Jesus’ eyes are non-persecuted
Persecute is another seldom used word (although we do persecute others all the time). When we berate someone, pester them or worse, abuse them, we are persecuting them. Jesus didn’t lecture the woman and simply advised her to “Go now and leave your life of sin.” More importantly, he didn’t berate or abuse the teachers who were misrepresenting God. He simply said, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” His way of seeing the situation touched them and they all walked away. You’d like to think that they began to understand God’s way of seeing. At least we can begin to learn how to see like God ourselves.
Seeing with Jesus’ eyes means seeing in all these ways at once. Jesus’ way of seeing is based on liking ourself and others. As Alison puts it, “Because God likes us he wants us to get out of our addiction to the ersatz (phony, commonplace, conventional, culturally conditioned) so as to become free and happy.” The place to start liking, it seems to me, is liking all other Christians! If we are evangelical, liking the catholics. If we are catholic, liking the evangelicals. Not getting hung up about our differences but liking our diversity. Once we have mastered that situation, we can attempt liking others who are different than we are, who have different sins than we do, who may even wish us ill. We learn that liking in our local church, as it engages with the surrounding local communiity and the world. That’s why we must belong to a Christian community, and to transform it — to learn to see with Jesus’ eyes.