Matthew Ruffner: What Do the Eyes See?


I wonder how many of you sat down to a meal this week--had dinner with a close friend or a family member. Like a real dinner--not in front of the television.

I wonder how many of you had three meals or more this week with a close friend or a family member where a smart phone was not present at the table.

I ask, because having dinner as a family used to be a common occurrence, and that has changed in our fast paced, grab and go culture. There are some of you today who will remember growing up and having dinner as a family every night of the week. You may remember that dinner could not be served until everyone was at the table--and the phone hung on a wall, and if it rang during dinner--you ignored it--you did not answer it.

Things have changed now; it's so uncommon to sit down to a meal as a family that researchers have done studies on the benefits of the practice--trying to beckon us back to a common table to share our lives every day! It's hard to find the time to sit down as a family with our busy schedules, meetings, soccer practices, guitar lessons, tutoring sessions, to name just a few. So what do these words from Jesus say to us in a culture when finding time around table seems fleeting--almost foreign?

Author and pastor Tony Campolo tells a story of an experience at dinner in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, some years ago. "He was checking on mission programs that his organization carries out day in and day out in Haiti. He wanted to see how the workers were surviving emotionally and spiritually. At the end of a long day, he was tired and "peopled out," so it was with great relief that he sat down to eat a good dinner at a French restaurant in the heart of Port-au-Prince. He was seated next to the window so he could enjoy watching the activity on the street outside.

The waiter brought a delicious looking meal and set it in front of him. Tony picked up his knife and fork and was about to dive in when he happened to look to his right. There, with their noses pressed flat against the window, staring at his food, were four children from the streets. They pressed their faces right up against the glass; they were staring at his plate of food. The waiter, seeing his discomfort, quickly moved in and pulled down the window shade, shutting out the disturbing sight of the hungry children. The waiter then said to Tony, "Don't let them bother you. Enjoy your meal."[1]

In our passage today Jesus is challenging us to examine who we pull down the shades on. Jesus knows it's easy to want to pull down the shades on people because Jesus knows that is what most of us do. We pull down the shades and shut out the people we would rather not think about. We certainly pull down the shades on some of the world's problems, its heartbreak and pain, and we keep that heartbreak and pain at a distance if only because it feels so overwhelming to open our hearts to all of it.

In our passage today, Jesus is teaching us about the kingdom of God through a parable of a wedding banquet--one of life's biggest celebrations. Weddings are events that reveal who we are because they gather all of the people who are most important to us in one place. All of those who are present and guests at our wedding are those who we have been known by, those who have influenced us, and those people that we claim.

The people who gather at our weddings are the same people we sit at table with--family members, cherished friends and colleagues. They are the people with whom we have shared countless meals and conversations. I think Jesus is pushing us today to consider who is missing from our tables, to examine who we've pulled the shades down on, who we have written off, who we value less, because Jesus knows that who you sit at table with matters both literally and figuratively--because it shapes who you are and the assumptions that you make.

Friends, this is a parable that points us towards what it means to be in the kingdom of God. It would be easy for us to want to take this parable and make it a blueprint and try to enact it to a T--but Jesus is pushing us to examine who we value and include, and those we exclude and write off, those that we pull the shades down on. Jesus is pushing us to reflect on our lives, and to be clear that just because we have pulled the shades down on certain folks, that doesn _'__ t mean that God has._

Sometimes we make assumptions about people. We don't mean to, but we see people and we really don't see them--we don't even see their face or their eyes--we see what we think we know about them--they fall into a category in our mind--a category that indicates how we are to respond to them. We see a person and they fit into a box of assumptions that we have made long before we saw them. We don't mean to, but it happens. I don't know about you, but as much as I want to avoid making assumptions, it happens all too frequently.

This very thing happened to me at a lunch not long ago that I will never forget. It was a lunch I had with my grandmother, my Nana; it was also the first lunch that my Nana had with her great granddaughter, my daughter. You see, my wife and daughter and I traveled to see my grandparents, and we stopped for lunch with my Nana at one of our favorite little cafes in the next town over from where I grew up. My wife and daughter left lunch early to walk around and to get some air. When my Nana and I came out of the restaurant, we saw my wife and daughter dancing to the music of a saxophone player. A man had set up shop in the alley and was playing "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" and other nursery rhymes. My daughter was captivated. After we said our pleasantries and listened for a bit, I reached into my pocket for a few dollars to put into the saxophone case to say thank you. As we began to make our way back to our car, there was a van of workers--they appeared to be day laborers--they had stopped for lunch and another man who looked like he had been working with them was sitting on the curb. He was hunched over, and he looked up at us as we approached. I thought to myself, I have the leftovers from our lunch I could give him, but I think I just gave all the single dollar bills I had to the saxophone player. I don't have any money to give him. No sooner than the thought had entered my mind, the man looked up and smiled at us, and said, "Hey, how are you? Are you hungry, do you want this extra sausage sandwich I have?" We said no thank you, we had just eaten. I had to chuckle as I walked away, and I remember thanking God in that very moment for opening my eyes. Assumptions .

Friends, we can sometimes think we are sitting way up higher the banquet table than others. The man I encountered reminded me that in God's kingdom, in God's vision, he already was up at the top of the table, and maybe I needed to rethink my own seat! The truth is we pull down the shades on folks all the time, or we regulate them to a certain place at the table, and we forget that the shades we pull down, or the spaces that we relegate--are spaces in which fellow children of God occupy. I think it's so easy for us to forget what it means to be claimed by God. It's easy for us to forget that we are beloved--and we can easily forget our belovedness--but just as easily, we can forget that God's belovedness extends beyond just ourselves, that God's love and claim includes and maybe even prioritizes the folks we think are further down the banquet table than we are.

You see, Jesus was a good Jewish man, and he knew the scriptures well. He could recite them, and that is why the religious elite got so angry at him, because he quoted nuances in the text back to them, shifting the meaning they thought they knew. Jesus in this parable is pushing those in our text and us today to remember, to relearn, that those about whom we make assumptions, those we think are at the seating section marked "least" or "less," are people claimed and loved by God. Jesus challenges us to quit drawing lines and to quit making categories and to understand that people are much more than the boxes we put them in. Jesus is calling us to remember the sacred text that through the eyes we see the soul in one another.

Friends, Jesus is inviting you--inviting us--to push up the shades today. Even if that is just one person or one relationship in your life. I wonder, who is it hard to look into the eyes of? Who would it be hard to sit down and have dinner with? It could be the relationship that has been estranged for years. It could be the person with whom you disagree politically. It could be the person who may be right in front of you that our society barely notices. I bet we all have a person or people in our minds eye. Take a moment right now and picture this person, and then imagine looking into that person's eyes. What do you see there? What surprises you there? How might their place at the table be different from what you assume or expect?

Friends, Jesus wants us to remember that we belong to one another. And this parable is inviting us to imagine what it would be like if we lived as though that were actually true. Imagine what that would look like for you, imagine how that may look for us, imagine how that may look in our communities. May we go from this hour to see the world through eyes like that. Amen.


[1] Campolo, Stories that Feed your Soul. pg. 104-106