“Do you see this woman?”
Of course he saw her. He couldn’t have been more than six, eight feet away from her. In fact, a snide thought had just run through his mind about both the woman and the guy who asked, “Do you see her?” He figured the guy asking the question was the one who needed to really take a look at the woman making a such a disgusting public display of affection. Everyone knew what a mess of a human being she was, what kind of a woman she was. The whole town knew. Or, so they thought.
Jesus was having dinner with one of the bigwigs in town, one of the “good,” church-going folks, when a _________ walked in. Fill in the blank with any derogatory label you want. The scripture just says “a woman with a sinful past.” Whatever marred her life, we don’t know; but the dinner host knew. He’d heard all the stories. Even if he hadn’t, he would have been able to tell what kind of a woman she was by the way she looked, the clothes she wore, her hair, her make-up, her teeth. Everyone knew. You could tell with one glance everything you needed to know. And there she was, crashing the dinner party, sniveling at Jesus’ feet. “Do you see this woman?” Of course, how could you miss her?
When I came across this story again in Luke a little while ago, I troubled over the question Jesus asked. The woman had broken open a clay pot of extremely expensive perfume and poured it on Jesus’ feet. Somewhere along the line she started weeping – tears big enough that they splashed on Jesus’ feet and mixed with the perfume to make a sopping mess. She had no towel to soak up the puddle, so she tried to wipe it all up with her hair. Hardly inconspicuous behavior. Jesus knows that the host sees this uncouth spectacle and even knows the snide thought that ran through the host’s mind. Further, the scripture tells us that Jesus was actually looking at the woman when he was questioning the host, directing the host’s gaze to the same person he beheld. So why did Jesus ask, “Do you see this woman?”
The answer that comes to mind sounded too froofy when I first thought it; and, it was quickly followed by a flashback to an episode of “Parenthood” when old-school Zeke goes to couples therapy with Camille and learns to respond to his wife, “I SEE ya, and I HEAR ya.” The idea of trying to truly see someone sounds too much like a contemporary counseling fad to attribute a similar concept to a story from 2,000 years ago; but I really do believe that something along these lines is what Jesus was after. The host did not see the woman. He saw a type, a kind. Jesus saw the human being created in the image of God. He saw the sinful past; and, he saw the present broken heart. He saw the child she had been and the child of God within. And I think she wept because she knew she had not only been truly seen by God, but that she had been embraced by God’s love and forgiveness. Jesus even makes sure that everyone at the party knows that this is what had taken place. As he looks in her eyes, he proclaims out loud for all to hear, “Your sins are forgiven … Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
I will be honest and admit that all too often these days I don’t see the person behind the type. I see a kind, not the actual human being. It consumes far less time, and energy, to take a quick glance at a person and fit them into categories I have crafted in my mind. As an introvert, especially, it draws energy out of me to deliberately see the person I am looking at, to consciously disconnect the pathways in my mind that connect physical data to mental constructs and try to start fresh. And, frankly, most of the time I have to turn to God for help to do so. Years ago, when I just started out learning how to be a pastor, someone told me that when I’m in a conversation with someone, in my role as pastor, I should picture Jesus between me and the person with whom I’m talking. It may sound a bit gimmicky, but it has often been remarkably transforming. I realize now, however, that seeing anyone, at any time, through the eyes of Christ would go a long way toward seeing the child of God they truly are.
Every human being, without exception, has been created in the image of God. How much violence, against both bodies and spirits, might be quelled if instead of seeing types, or kinds, we saw the children of God they truly are? I think it’s much more difficult to break the bones or break the hearts of those we recognize as human beings, than those we see as a type or a kind. Every individual human being has their own story, their own history, their own reasons, their own dreams. We know this for ourselves. Would that we might see this in every human being we ever encounter.