On seeing the risen Christ

You may be familiar with the drawing depicting both a young woman and an old woman at once. Several versions are circulating. If you look at it and see a young woman, it can be very difficult to see the old woman, and if you see an old woman, it can be next to impossible to see the young one. Same drawing, different images. What you see, psychologists tell us, depends on what you expect to see.

In his 1892 book The Beauties of Nature and the Wonders of the World We Live In, British naturalist John Lubbock wrote that what we see of this world “depends mainly on what we look for. When we turn our eyes to the sky, it is in most cases merely to see whether it is likely to rain. In the same field the farmer will notice the crop, the geologists the fossils, botanists the flowers, artists the colouring, sportsmen the cover for the game. Though we may all look at the same things, it does not at all follow that we should see them.”

It’s a truth attributed to several sources that, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Jesus said to his friends in his last evening with them, “In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me” (John 14:19). If the world doesn’t expect to see the risen Christ, it’s not going to see the risen Christ, and if we expect to see the risen Christ, we will see the risen Christ. It won’t happen often, perhaps. Maybe one fleeting moment of revelation is all we’re ever given, but that one glimpse can be enough for a lifetime.

What might happen if we saw life not through the eyes of the world but through the eyes of faith, expecting to see the risen Christ? What could happen if we looked at our neighbor expecting to see not merely our neighbor but the embodied presence of the living God? What might happen if we looked at the hungry and thirsty, the poorly clothed, the homeless, the stranger and alien among us, the sick or the prisoner, as we might look at the risen Christ (Matt. 25:31-46)? How might the world and our experience of it be transformed?

Here’s an exercise to try. Go to a coffee shop, a public park, a shopping district or mall, or some other public place in your community. Find a comfortable place to sit for an hour, pay attention to what you see, and keep repeating this simple prayer in your heart: “Lord, help me see what you see.” Try it with a person. Hold an image of that person in your mind and heart for an hour if you can, at least twenty minutes if you must, and pray, “Lord, help me see this person through your eyes.” That’s it; just ask to see not as the world sees but as God sees. You may be surprised at what’s revealed to you.

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