On Tuesday night, a small group of us gathered. We prayed, we read from an ancient book, we questioned. Our topic was the miracles of Jesus, his “deeds of power” to cite the text, especially those mighty deeds reported in the Gospel According to Mark. What are we to believe about those miracles in light of our modern scientific worldview? If we seek rational explanations, have we explained away Jesus himself? What is Jesus without the resurrection, the greatest miracle of all? These are not easy questions, but the refusal of so many Christians to bring our faith into conversation with our existence, our knowledge, has resulted in the emptying of the church, as our faith is seen as primitive, anti-science.
We, in the progressive church, are all about doing that hard work, asking the hard questions, for we believe the Way of Jesus is still relevant, that the world is still charged with the goodness and glory of that Divine Mystery we name as God, even if we choose a faith that is alive, that can adapt. We are willing to explore, to adventure, to bring scripture and the real world into conversation.
We started Tuesday night with a text from first Isaiah, Hebrew scripture that Jesus knew and could quote, that his Hebrew followers would have known, would recognize. The text places the miraculous acts of healing, of making whole, performed by Jesus in the context of the prophetic, in the context of the Kingdom of God. For it says this in the 35th chapter of the Book of the Prophet Isaiah:
Then the eyes of the blind will be opened,
and the ears of the deaf will be cleared.
Then the lame will leap like the deer,
and the tongue of the speechless will sing.
Though some face the loss of hearing, of vision, the senses remain a primary frame for how we, as humans, most commonly interact with the world. When we ask if someone received a piece of information, if they understood some fact, we ask if they saw, if they heard.
So it is that Jesus heals, that Jesus helps people hear, helps them see, and we understand that the act of seeing is about more than whether impulses travel between an organ that measures light and the brain that organizes and interprets those readings. It is also about noticing and understanding. Jesus is not only restoring the physical process of seeing, he is helping the Hebrew people to see, that is to perceive and to understand, the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus asks them to notice things, just as he does in today’s reading, where what Jesus sees, what he notices, is important.
Jesus sees the poor widow.
We are inclined to read this through the didactic lens, through conflict, to see this as one more situation where Jesus uses a person or an object as a foil for a lesson about the kingdom, about God. And it is true that Jesus turns every encounter into a teaching moment, or at least that his followers remembered him that way. Maybe the shocking thing hereis not that the Widow gave so generously, or that Jesus found a way to use her to teach about righteousness. The miracle is that Jesus saw her at all.
It matters what we notice, what we see. The rich scribes and Pharisees that Jesus condemns for their showy religion would have never noticed her. She mattered only in that thousands of small contributions added up to wealth and power for the elite, but she was faceless, nameless. She was not worth noticing in the ways that humans judge, measuring wealth and power and what the other can do for me. She could do little, but did everything she could.
What do you notice? Jesus noticed the touch of the woman with a hemorrhage as he was passing through the crowd. He noticed a man that had climbed up a tree to see him. He noticed the poor and the unclean. He noticed a widow who, without fanfare, gave more than she could afford.
In this Lenten season of self-examination, of repentance, it would be easy to turn the lens back on ourselves and to recognize all of the ways that power and privilege still work in the church, to condemn the showy and the loud, the ways we undermine our faith by allowing money to do the talking.
But that would be, I believe, too narrow in scope. It would still be about us, the vicious circle of internal focus, an acting out of our spiritual blindness, the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees.
Certainly it is good to be honest with ourselves, to repent and to grow. But maybe, for a moment, we can think about the act of noticing. Do we really notice the world around us? Small things like a widow with her two very little coins? Do we notice the wonder and miracle of the day-to-day? Do we hear the voices of the homeless? How can we hear the quiet voice of God in the wind above the constant din of mass media and our own self-talk, that never ending dialogue of I, I, I…
Notice. Notice what seems small and unimportant to others. Make seeing a spiritual practice. See people you might have overlooked. Notice the ways that life steals in, even where it is cold and hard and appears barren. Notice the beauty in people that are so very different and seem so very strange, people that are labeled and blamed and hated. Notice the threads of culture that tie us to generations that have gone before. The flapping butterfly wing of quantum entanglement that does connect around the globe to a storm that is brewing, to refreshing rain, to the waters of life.
Notice in the way that author Annie Dillard notices in her slim volume “Holy the Firm,” written almost three decades ago. She notices, as she is camping and reading, a golden moth fly into the candle, transformed into a wick through which the wax and fire pass, in so many ways a reflection of how we see Jesus, as a brief embodiment of all that is holy, burning white hot through the world. She writes from her perch in the Pacific Northwest this passage of seeing, of noticing:
“Inland valley, pool, desert, plain – it’s all a falling sheaf of edges, like a quick-flapped deck of cards, like a dory or a day launched all unchristened, lost at sea. Land is a poured thing and time a surface film lapping and fringeing at fastness, at a hundred hollow and receding blues. Breathe fast: we’re backing off the rim.”
You need not have the words of the writer, of the poet, to see how she sees, to see how Christ sees, to see the burning fire of the Holy, of that wild and powerful imagination that takes in quarks and cosmos, symphonies, and the song of ourselves. Notice the unfolding of life and love. Notice the infinite activity of the divine in every place, even those that seem unlikely. Rub off the dullness of our age, and be born again so that everything is fresh and raw and glorious and even a little terrifying.
Notice what others choose not to notice, see as Jesus sees, understand yourself and your world as part of a holy story. You are part of a divine play, an important part, even against the backdrop of mountains and centuries.
Notice. Notice the quiet. Notice your heartbeat. Notice your God, who is with us this day and always, is present in a loaf of bread and a cup of wine, in our prayers and our rituals, in us.
Notice, and you too will be the doer of mighty deeds.