“How You See, Not What You See”
Getting to the Heart of Luke
Rev. Phillip Blackburn
May 26, 2019
It was 1917, just after World War I had ended, in a small town in Switzerland, where a man named Hermann did something remarkable. He took several small cards and he splattered them with paint. He didn’t set out to create any discernible image or pattern, nor was he trying to capture something esoteric. Rather, Hermann wanted each image to be completely random, subjective. What he created became the most viewed works of art of the 20th Century. Ten cards, ten unique splatters of paint, each one viewed by countless people. They are known to you and me as the Rorschach Test.
Hermann Rorschach believed that how a person saw the images could be used to diagnose various mental ailments, and while his method fell out of favor for quite a while in the mid 20th century, a landmark 2013 study found the test is actually very affective for diagnosing certain mental issues. The idea is that whatever image your mind conjures with each painting says something about how you see the world. One scientist put it thus, the test is about how you see, not what you see.
How you see, not what you see. When you think about it this way, it seems to me that we are surrounded by such tests. Did any of you see the show, “Live in Front of a Studio Audience,” the other night? It was really good, and famous actors performed two classic sitcom episodes live. The first was an episode of all in the family and the second an episode of the Jeffersons. By and large those shows predated me, so I was familiar with them only as concepts, not as actual shows. But anyway, the All in the Family episode was fascinating as Archie, played by Woody Harrelson, went back and forth with his son in law about politics and race. As I watched I imagined this show must have been what it was that night, a Rorschach test of sorts. It’s not what you see with Archie Bunker, it’s how you see him.
Things like this permeate our lives. They give us our distinctiveness, and they are everywhere. Some such tests are banal. When the Kansas Jayhwaks, for example, take the floor to play basketball what I see as an alum of that schools is different than what most of you see. But that doesn’t mean anything. On the other hand, how, we see Archie Bunker very much says something about us. It has a greater meaning.
And we can see just such a test in this 5th chapter of Luke. The conversion story is interesting enough. Levi, a tax collector for the Roman Empire who also happened to be Jewish, is called by Jesus to follow him. Tax collectors were despised by the people who Rome occupied because not only did they represent Rome’s power, they were often people drawn from the local population who preyed on their fellow countrymen and enriched themselves at the expense of their neighbor. Everybody hated those guys. So, Jesus called one to be his disciple.
Then Levi, in a bout of joy, threw a tremendous party. The Gospel calls it a “great banquet,” and he invited all his tax collector friends. So, Jesus and his crew rolled up at Levi’s and sat down at dinner with some of the most despised people in town. This is not exactly how one would go about winning friends and influencing people. And it caught the attention of the local religious leaders. And they were, shall we say, less than impressed.
So here you have Levi the tax collector who takes his calling by Jesus to be a momentous event in his life, and then you have the religious leaders who see it as a moral failure on Jesus’ part to even sit down with these people. It’s how you see, not what you see.
For us, this particular Rorschach Test, at first blush, seems like a no-brainer. We are Christians, meaning we follow Christ, and he is clearly on one side of this particular debate. He sees sitting at the dinner table with the biggest group of scoundrels in town as a good thing, therefore we see it as a good thing. And his quip to the religious leaders is one that many of us know already, “those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick…” Jesus came not for the righteous but the sinner. And herein, my friends, lies the rub for us.
As some of you may remember, a year ago April I tore my Achilles tendon. For several months I hobbled around like an old man and I spent about half my sabbatical in a walking boot. Anyway, this entailed multiple trips to the doctor. The interesting thing about orthopedic injuries is that they are pretty easy to see. It’s hard to hide a ruptured Achilles or a torn ACL if you aren’t sitting down. And so, as I sat in the waiting room in the new osteopathic hospital for multiple appointments, I engaged in a sort of assessment process. Is that person better off or worse off than me. I would assess if they could walk, did they need a crutch, cane or walked. Did they have a brace? Did they seem comfortable or in pain? With each visit my assessment changed, but in short, each one afforded me an opportunity to find my place in the healing hierarchy. The problem was my little game separated me from those around me. Regardless of the severity of our injuries each of us had one thing in common. We all needed to see the physician.
It’s how you see, not what you see.
The trouble we get in to at church is not how we see this passage; we see it the right way because Jesus makes it clear. No, the problem is in how we live it out. Each week we gather around the table together. Sometimes we eat together and sometimes we do not, but we always sit around the table and Jesus is always present. But I would wager, and feel free to correct me if I am wrong, but we are not of one mind of who we are. Are we the well or are we sick? Are we the righteous or the sinner? And here it is vital that we see ourselves in a certain way. It is vital we all see ourselves in that lobby waiting to see the physician, it is vital we see ourselves as the tax collectors in the story, the deplorables, not as the haughty righteous standing outside. It’s how we see ourselves, not what we see.
I have always been surprised by one thing in the church. It feels like church is the last place people feel comfortable admitting our imperfections when it should be the first. All too often the church is a place where we feel we need to be perfect, where we will be judged if we fail, where we will be cast out if we sin. No! The church is the place where we meet Jesus. It is the place where we, the sick, sit together at the table of the Great Physician. The Church is the place where we come together as one body and confess publicly that we are not among the righteous but rather the sinners. It’s how you see, not what we see.
We are not on the outside of this story; we are inside of it. Jesus’ words invite us to place ourselves in the seats of the tax collectors, the most hated people in town. His words invite us to see ourselves in a certain way and they also carry a subtle warning. If we cannot locate ourselves with the sinners, then we are saying that we have no need of Jesus in our lives. Can we possibly say that? Of course, we cannot. Of course, we need Jesus. And so, this passage ultimately comes down to the mirror. When you look into it, how do you see yourself? It’s how you see, not what you see, that will bring you to the table with Jesus. Amen.