Who Do You See?

This past Sunday our Gospel story was the Widow’s Mite. A well known tale, of a poor widow who should be an example to us all. Except, I’m not sure that’s what it is at all. Certainly, the widow’s generosity is a moving example of faith. But, when read in it’s context (Jesus condemning scribes who “devour widows’ houses”), this story has more to say. So I took a slightly different angle for my sermon: would we have even noticed this widow, if Jesus didn’t point her out?

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Gospel reading today puts an important question before us. And, even though it’s stewardship season, it’s not really a question about money. Money is a part of the question, but not its focus. The question is this: who do we see, who do we take notice of, and who don’t we? Who do we consider worth our time and attention, and who do we pass by, shifting our gaze or maybe never noticing them in the first place?

Jesus and his disciples are in the Temple, during what will be the last week of his life, and he calls our attention to two very different kinds of people. The first, the scribes, of whom he says we ought to beware. They walk around in long robes, like to be greeted with respect in the marketplace, expect to have the best seats at dinners and church, and say long prayers for the sake of appearances. They want to be seen. Everything they do is meant to draw attention to themselves, to their money, to their influence, to their power.

Jesus says to beware of the scribes, but that shouldn’t be seen as an indictment against the Jewish people. In Jesus’ particular situation it was the religious leaders, the scribes, who were embodying these self-serving characteristics. But this is not a problem that is unique to first-century Judaism, or to any one profession. We could fill in the word scribe with any number of words: priest, politician, CEO, lawyer, doctor. They are important, influential people, and they want everyone to know it.

And then we have the poor widow. She does not create a fuss. Without Jesus to point her out, it’s unlikely the disciples would have even noticed her amidst all the rich and powerful people. She doesn’t command respect or attention. But according to Jesus, she is the one we ought to be noticing.

If we were there that day, who would we have noticed? Who would have caught our attention? Who catches our attention today? And who do we like to avoid seeing?

Across the street from the seminary is a Wawa. I used to run in there all the time, especially during the breaktime of a three-hour afternoon class. And right outside the Wawa, there were always some people who were homeless. And at first, I did everything I could to not notice these people. I wouldn’t make eye contact, would just keep moving.

I didn’t want to see them. Because seeing them meant dealing with all kinds of feelings. Pity, fear, selfishness, anger. Seeing them made me feel guilty about running into a convenience store to buy food that honestly, I didn’t even need, when here were people who had nothing. They were a human reminder of the ways our world is broken, the ways we fail to take care of each other, and I didn’t want to be reminded.

Did the scribes and the other rich folks not want to look at the widow for the same reasons? Did she make them uncomfortable? She was, if they would look at her, a human reminder of how they were falling short. Of how they were neglecting their God-given call to care for the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant.

Who do we notice? And who gets overlooked? Often it is those who have very few people to care for them, those living on the margins of society. In the Bible, these vulnerable ones are summed up in these three words: widow, orphan, immigrant. Today we might add to that list: those without homes, those who cannot leave their homes anymore, those living with mental illnesses, the disabled, children in foster care.

The list goes on and on. Those whose very existence confronts us with our failure to create a society that reflects God’s will. We don’t like seeing them, because seeing them means we must admit that things aren’t as good as we want to believe. Seeing them means we must admit the ways we fall short of being God’s people.

And we need to say, also, that it’s not always “them.” Sometimes it’s us. We shouldn’t even think of it us “them” and “us.” Sometimes we are the ones who feel or are overlooked. When we’re grieving, or dealing with depression, or going through a divorce, or losing our jobs. Sometimes we feel like people don’t want to see us, or to acknowledge our pain. That can be a very lonely place to be.

But here’s the thing: Jesus sees this woman. He sees her. That’s such a small thing, but such an important one. Amidst all the powerful, important people that demand attention, Jesus notices the woman on the margins. The woman with no money and no power. And he says, this woman is important. This woman matters. Her life matters.

When you are feeling invisible and overlooked, Jesus sees you and knows that you matter. God notices the people that we don’t. But what’s more is, God invites us to notice, too. Jesus doesn’t just see this woman and keep it to himself. No, he points her out. He asks the disciples to notice her, too.

And he asks us to notice. To take notice of the people that we sometimes consider invisible. Whether they are in our own family, our school or workplace, our community, or thousands of miles away in another country. To not look away just because we’re uncomfortable.

Seeing is the first step. Righteousness, though, is not just seeing, but caring for the widow, the orphan, and the immigrant. Caring for those on the margins. Jesus doesn’t want us to merely notice those who are overlooked, but to value them. To care for them. To love them.

I said at the beginning the Gospel asks us, “Who do we see, who do we notice?” But, maybe that’s not the important question at all. Maybe, we ought to ask, “Who does God see? Who does God take notice of?” God sees us, of that I have no doubt. God sees us and loves us and values us, even when we feel overlooked by the rest of the world. And God invites us to see others through God’s eyes. To take notice of those on the margins.

To take notice, not so that we might feel pity or shame, but to take notice so that we might live in love towards them, even as God loves us. So that we might see in the humanity of others a call to serve and to act for justice for them.

Who do you see? Who might you see, if you looked with the eyes of Jesus? Amen.