In the eye of the beholder

Christ Church Cathedral, Grafton
Third Sunday after Pentecost
13 June 2021

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https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Emberiza_calandra_southeast_Turkey.jpg

We are told that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

Actually many different forms of value very much depend on the observer: what seems useful, pleasing and attractive will vary between different people, across time and in different cultures.

All three of our readings today have at least one common thread which concerns how we see things.

Last week the religion experts from Jerusalem were warned about the risk that they would not be able to see God at work in their midst because they mistook the Spirit of God doing something new as the work of the Devil.

This week we build on that theme, and reflect on how we assign (or withhold) value when we are observing what is happening around.

Samuel goes to Bethlehem

The prophet Samuel (who was himself overlooked by an elderly priest when he was just a child) sets out for Bethlehem on an undercover mission that puts his own life at risk.

He is going to look for someone else to replace Saul as king over the tribes of Israel, and if King Saul discovers what sneaky tricks Samuel is up to then his own life will certainly be in peril.

This is no Christmas story, even though it is in Bethlehem.

It seems that Samuel has done some research before his trip, because he goes looking for one particular man (Jesse) from among whose children Samuel expects to find the next king.

As this kind of story often requires, Jesse has lots of children, including eight sons.

The proud father presents his seven older sons, and Samuel is very impressed. But a little voice in his head keeps saying saying NO to each of these seven impressive young men. When Samuel eventually asks whether Jesse has any other sons, the old farmer admits that there is one not present despite all of the sons having been invited to attend the event.

He’s just a kid and he is busy looking after the sheep.

Young Shepherd

We know how this story is going to end. The youngest boy is called into the party, and to everyone’s amazement he is identified as the person chosen by God to replace Saul as king.

This is a great example of a story which is true on so many levels even if it did not actually happen.

Seeing Jesus differently

Towards the end of our second reading, Saint Paul mentions—almost in passing—that while he might once have looked at Jesus from a human point of view, he does not do that any longer.

It is certainly possible to look at Jesus from a human point of view.

Lots of people do that, and people who will never be Christians can still find great meaning for them in paying attention to Jesus.

But Paul had learned to look at Jesus from another perspective; to appreciate Jesus as the risen Lord, the One who is always present with us through his Spirit, and the One through whom God was choosing to make everything new. He goes on to say:

So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

2 Cor 5:17–20

How we look at Jesus is our choice, but if we look at him in that way then everything changes.

As parents and godparents, how do we want Sawyer to see Jesus?

The mustard seed

Our gospel passage offered another example where how we look determines what we see.

The parable of the mustard seed is one of the things we can be pretty certain Jesus actually said, although in the several versions of this little parable we can already see people developing the story in different ways.

For most people this is a story about something that starts out really small (a mustard seed) and grows into a huge tree. “From little things big things grow,” comes to mind!

If you look at the parable that way you will find yourself among a large crowd of people, but Jesus may not be there as that was almost certainly not what he was seeking to express.

More likely Jesus had one of the following in mind and perhaps all three of them:

smallness – the mustard seed is indeed small, but so is the shrub that grows from the seeds and it is never such a large plant that it competes with the ancient trees

inclusive – the mustard bushes become a haven for birds and other small creatures, who the farmer would much prefer to be somewhere else

pervasive – these plants are pervasive and will take over the whole field if left unchecked because once they got a established in a small corner of there field they keep on spreading …

How do you see God’s active presence among us? asks Jesus.

Do we imagine God as big and powerful, or as small but pervasive, gathering up the marginal people to form communities of hope in a world that runs on fear?

And how do we see Jesus, and how might we imagine a church that starts again from just a few small seeds? Are we hoping to become once more a large and powerful institution, or shall we be content to be small, inclusive and pervasive?

And how shall we teach Sawyer to look at things?

About gregoryjenks

Anglican priest and religion scholar. Senior Lecturer in the School of Theology at Charles Sturt University. Dean, Cathedral Church of Christ the King, Grafton and Rector of the Anglican Parish of Grafton. Formerly Dean at St George's College, Jerusalem. The opinions expressed in my publications, including my blog posts, are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the Diocese of Grafton nor Christ Church​ Cathedral in Grafton.
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