There is a this moment in the Gospel of Luke that I love. Jesus is eating dinner with a Pharisee. During dinner, a woman labelled a sinner begins anointing Jesus’s feet with oil.
“Then one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him, and He entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a sinful woman from that town learned that Jesus was dining there, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind Him at His feet weeping, she began to wet His feet with her tears and wipe them with her hair. Then she kissed His feet and anointed them with the perfume.
When the Pharisee who had invited Jesus saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, He would know who this is and what kind of woman is touching Him—for she is a sinner!” (Luke 7: 36-39)
Jesus then tells the story of a moneylender forgiving debts. He explains that the debtor with the greatest sum forgiven will be the most grateful.
A few verses later Jesus looks at the woman and says this:
“And turning to the woman, He said to Simon, “Do you see this woman?” (Luke 7:44)
It’s an interesting question. Obviously Simon can see her. She is standing right in front of him. But then, there are different kinds of seeing aren’t there? How often do we look at people and not really see them? When Simon looked at the woman, did he see her or just her sin?
The world is full of people longing to be seen.
In the brilliant book “Tattoos on the Heart” Father Gregory Boyle talks about his work with gang members in Los Angeles. In one chapter he says this:
“All throughout scripture and history, the principal suffering of the poor is not that they can’t pay their rent on time or that they are three dollars short of a package of Pampers. As Jesus scholar Marcus Borg points out, the principal suffering of the poor is shame and disgrace. It is a toxic shame- a global sense of failure of the whole self. This shame can seep so deep down.” (Tattoos on the Heart, Gregory Boyle)
Boyle talks about the impact that calling these gang members by name had on their lives. Somewhere deep inside they had a fundamental longing to be recognized as someone of inherent worth.
It reminds me of a story one of my friend tolds me. For the purposes of the story I’ll call him Steve.
Steve worked in South Ft. Worth, one of the poorer areas in town. Nearby houses had boarded up windows, gas stations had bullet holes in the windows, and stray dogs roamed the streets. A nearby hospital with a psychiatric facility regularly discharged patients who then simply began wandering the streets. The area also had a staggering homeless population.
Despite this, Steve liked to take walks on his lunch break. He had two encounters that he shared with me.
The first came when an African American man approached him. He had a large scar across his forehead and came asking for money. He explained to Steve that the scar was from a bullet.
Steve invited the man to join him for lunch and the two walked to a nearby burger joint. The man asked if he could order two hamburgers and save one for later. Steve said yes, and then the man asked for a couple dollars to buy orange juice and pay his bus fare. Steve again happily acquiesced. Then something happened.
The man began to cry. Not just a few tears, but great heaving sobs.
“I ain’t never met anyone like you,” The man said. “I ain’t never met anyone like you. Are you Jesus? If you’re Jesus you have to tell me don’t you? Are you?”
Steve said he was taken aback. He assured the man that he was just a friend and that he was happy to help. The two parted ways shortly after and as Steve walked away the man stood on the sidewalk shouting “I love you!”
“I just couldn’t imagine how lonely you would have to be,” Steve said. “How forgotten do you have to feel that when someone buys you a burger you think they are Jesus?”
A few weeks later he had a similar experience. While walking down the street he saw a man walking toward the hospital. He said hello to the man who began to share his story.
“I’m an alcoholic and my wife took off with the kids,” the man said. “I don’t have anything anymore.”
In a moment of inspiration, Steve took out a sheet of paper and wrote the words “God Still Loves You” and handed it over to the man. After reading it, the man shrugged.
“Yeah I know,” he said.
“Don’t forget,” Steve said. “No matter what, God still loves you.”
The man began to cry and suddenly wrapped Steve up in an embrace. The two stood by the side of the road for several minutes while the man cried on his shoulder. Then, the man asked a question.
“Are you an angel?” he said.
Again, Steve said that he was just a friend and the man went on his way. Steve told me that the encounters left him with the impression that people were desperate to be noticed and told that they matter.
As Christians, we worship a God who notices. In Jesus, God noticed humanity and took on flesh to be one of us. He noticed us in our brokenness and loved us anyway. He didn’t love us from a distance. He took up residence with us.
To be a Christian, we are called to be little Christs. We are called to notice those that the world forgets.
Let us be believers who notice.