Last Sunday, at the church door, someone mentioned to me that they couldn’t join in various bits of the service because they had left their glasses at home. Now, I must admit I too would struggle without my glasses. In fact last year I knew it was time for an eye test when I was struggling to read the gospel; I had to keep moving it further away and then nearer to make any sense of it. You see I need varifocals! Does anyone else wear varifocals?
The thing about varifocals is that they help us to see both into the longer distance and the shorter distance. As Christians we need to develop the ability to see as though we are wearing varifocals. We need to be able to look into the far distance whilst also seeing that which is right under our eyes. We need to hold within our mind's eye a kingdom view, an eternal perspective, whilst also seeing that which needs our immediate attention. Over the last few weeks the readings from Luke’s gospel have, in many ways, been about the art of seeing; spiritual seeing.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan is all about seeing clearly that which requires our immediate attention. In many ways the Priest and the Levite in the story can be regarded as wearing the wrong sort of specs. They were so hung up on misplaced conceptions of duty and protocol that they failed to see, unlike the Samaritan, that which required their immediate attention. In the story of Martha and Mary, Martha is so fixated with getting the housework done that she forgets that any growth in Christian faith requires that we spend some time focusing on the person of Jesus. Mary, by contrast, understands that we often learn through the simple art of observation. Last week we heard the account of Jesus teaching his disciples how to pray. Very early in the Lord’s Prayer we hear the words: ‘thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.’ The implication is clear: if we want to be of any earthly use we need to have developed a vision of what the Kingdom of Heaven looks like.
In today’s readings we are given an insight into what it means to live a life devoid of all spiritual vision:
Put simply it means to live a life characterised by false distinctions and hierarchies where this is possible because we fail to see, in the words of the Taize Chant, that ‘the Kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.’ To see into the far distance, into eternity, into heaven, by contrast implies agreeing with Paul that ‘there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free,’ because ‘Christ is all and in all.’ But because to be Christian means to work for the breaking in of the Kingdom of God, ‘here on earth as in heaven’ or in Paul’s words to work for ‘that renewal,’ we need to develop the ability to see where people are made to feel less than fully human, less than fully loved, in the here and now and then we need to act: ‘thy kingdom come on earth as in heaven.’
The Gospel reading provides us with a picture of someone who is spiritually completely and utterly blind; someone who can see no further than themselves and cares about nothing other than the satisfaction of their desires. The rich man has no vision of the Kingdom of God; that’s his basic problem. Because he can’t see beyond his own barns he's of no earthly use, less still of heavenly value.
So how do we avoid becoming the sort of people who seek to prop up our self esteem through perpetuating false hierarchies and thinking solely of ourselves? The answer is clear: we take to heart the teaching of Luke’s gospel, allowing it to act as our varifocals. We spend time each and every day, like Mary, observing Jesus and becoming fascinated by Jesus, through reading the gospels, and we pray.
It is through fixating on the person of Jesus and praying the words of the Lord’s Prayer that we develop our spiritual vision, becoming the sort of people who are of both earthly use and heavenly value. So please do take home your pew sheets, read through the readings, or perhaps use the app we are endorsing, and pray the words of the Lord’s Prayer each and every day, for if you do you will become agents, God’s agents, of ‘that renewal,’ that St. Paul talks about, and the world so badly needs, Amen.