September 30, 2008
What We Notice
For those of you who think donkeys are so Old Testament, think again: they were just as hip in the New. Today's Donkey Tale is based on Luke 13:10-17.
Have you ever noticed that we notice what we want to notice--the things we're interested in, inclined toward, involved in? Artists notice color and texture in a room. Mechanics notice the rattling of car parts. Counselors notice body language. These aren't bad things at all. These are natural "noticings" that show our individual interests and gifts.
Like any good thing in this fallen world, though, noticing can go awry, causing us to judge others or lose perspective and, as they say, miss the forest for the trees. Being a proofreader, I notice spelling and grammar mistakes wherever I go: restaurant menus, church bulletins, PowerPoint slides, advertisements. At a concert a few weeks ago my sister (who's also in publishing) and I had to smile at the emcee's hopes that we would "leave different than how we came." I turned to her in mock dismay and said, "But I don't want to walk home! I want to drive home, the same way we came!" Noticing these errors is all in good fun, of course--until it distracts me from truly worshiping in a church service or causes me to look down on a person or business for their lack of spelling-savvy. At that point I've lost perspective on what really matters. Eyes and minds can very easily become too narrowly focused--and lead us to sin.
Take the synagogue ruler in Luke 13. On the Sabbath, Jesus is teaching in the synagogue when he notices a woman who has been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years and can't stand up straight. (These, of course, are the kinds of people Jesus always notices.) He tells her to come forward and, laying his hands on her, he heals her.
Imagine her shock and joy and amazement. What starts out as a typical, difficult day for her becomes truly miraculous: she is healed and free.
And imagine being an observer of this miracle. Who wouldn't be in awe of Jesus and overjoyed for this woman?
The synagogue ruler, for one. A woman is freed, yet he's indignant because he only notices that Jesus has broken the law by healing on the Sabbath. He's also too afraid to rebuke Jesus directly, so he chooses instead to sternly address everyone gathered there: "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath."
Notice what he didn't notice in his huffy state: the fact that Jesus did the initiating, not the woman; Jesus picked her out and called her up, yet the synagogue ruler seems to place some of the blame for this Sabbath healing on the woman. Furthermore, the ruler clearly hasn't noticed that fact that he himself most likely breaks the Sabbath every week in the same way Jesus just did:
The Lord [said to] him, "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?"
The synagogue ruler would free his donkey but not a person on the Sabbath because he only noticed the law, not the reason behind the law. Most days I'm not much different from him. I might notice and dwell on the fact that someone in another car gave me an angry look on my way to work and completely miss the fact that a coworker looks upset. I'll notice a friend's encouragement and kindness but miss the even broader picture of the goodness of God the friend reflects.
We're going to notice what we notice based on our background, training, interest. So keep untying your donkey on the Sabbath. But don't miss the hurting people, the Creator who made the sunrise, the kingdom of God that's coming and that's here and that we're meant to participate in. How do we do that? We take what we notice to God, and ask him about it. And we ask him to open our eyes and minds so that we might see, touch, listen, notice the way Jesus does.