Updated: Dec 20, 2022
When I was in high school, I went on a study trip to Washington DC.
It was a year round program that brought together kids from around the country for a week
to learn about civics, politics and American history.
As soon as we arrived, we kids began the social size up who were the jocks and cheerleaders who were the nerds who were the wall flowers who would never get asked out on a date.
Even with a fresh start and a new group of kids stereotypes were at work, governing who would be friends with whom. One night, however, our young adult counselors took us by bus to a statue. They blind folded us prior to our arrival and gave us our task:
together our busload of kids had to figure out what the statue was.
It wasn’t an easy task.
Without the benefit of sight, we had a hard time getting off the bus.
And when we got to the statue, The only sense we had to go on was touch.
We bumbled our way around, feeling with our hands the cold stone.
Was it a horse and rider? one person suggested. No, it’s a war memorial, said another.
Meanwhile we laughed as we bumped into each other on our way around the statue.
When it came time to take off our blindfolds, we saw the most surprising thing:
and it wasn’t the statue. To be honest, I don’t remember what the statue was.
it was the people. When I took off my blindfold I saw the people I had been working with
Jocks and cheerleaders, nerds and wall flowers—
all the people I normally avoided, and who I thought avoided me.
When we couldn’t see each other, we left our preconceptions behind
we trusted one another and worked together. It was as if by covering our eyes we somehow activated an inner vision, the capacity to see what lies within a person, instead of what we have presumed about them. You could say a similar thing happened in our second lesson today. This short letter of Paul to his friend Philemon shows what happens
when people possess this inner vision.
Here’s what happened:
On one of his stints in jail, Paul meets up with a slave of his old friend, Philemon.
The slave’s name is Onesimus. Now slavery was a common social practice in Greco Romans times, and it was a common way to pay off debts.
In fact some 40% of the population was enslaved at some time or another.
Slaves were property of their masters and could be bought and sold at will.
The fact that Onesimus is in prison probably means that he is a fugitive slave.
His master Philemon had the right by law to punish him upon his return, or even kill him.
But Paul has become friends with Onesimus—in fact, Onesimus has become a Christian in prison. Paul states that Onesimus has been very useful to him in prison and has become like a child to him. Paul pleads witih Philemon not to exercise his legal right to punish Onesimus but rather to do his Christian duty of welcoming Onesimus, who is now a brother in the faith.
Paul himself promises to make right or pay off any debt that Onesimus might owe his master, so that they can begin again fellow Christians. It is quite an astounding story when you think about it. Slaves were the people who washed your feet, the people who made things happen but were never noticed-kind of like furniture.
Maybe there is a category of person like that for you—
the homeless person on your commute to work
the woman who cleans the public restroom
the neighbors who are never outside their home.
In the modified social environment of prison, Paul became friends with someone
he might have ordinarily ignored.
Seems that jail was a great equalizer, like putting on the blindfold.
It gave Paul the inner vision to see not just Onesimus the slave,
but Onesimus the man, a man who listened to the Jesus story and fell in love with the Savior, just like Paul did. But if you look back farther into Paul’s life, you can see it wasn’t prison that changed his vision. It was an encounter with Jesus himself.
Acts chapter 9 records how Paul, a persecutor of the Christians, was blinded by a dazzling light on his way to Damascus. He heard the voice of the Lord calling to him:
Why are you persecuting me?
And though Paul was an enemy of the church, an old Christian named Ananias accepted him into his home prayed over him and healed his vision.
After that, Paul was never the same. He, the worst of the worst, a murderer—had been accepted by the people he was trying to kill. They looked inside him and saw not what he was, but what he could be.
The inner vision of those first Christians and the acceptance of Jesus himself
gave Paul the experience of being truly seen-- and Paul never forgot it.
He trained up his own inner vision to see beyond the assumptions of his day about people
and look to what God saw in each person. He wrote his famous manifesto in Galatians:
“There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female,
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Paul saw that believing in Christ included a transformation of social relationships. Early Christian community was a place where marginalized people like slaves and women were fully accepted
For us, being a Christian means developing this same kind of vision—
not swallowing the presumptions of our day but looking with the eyes of Christ to what is inside each person and connecting with them as a brother or sister in the same human family.
Perhaps this vision is especially important now, when so many are divided,
unable to talk or even look properly at one another.
Solutions that stick only come all are represented and heard, all are valued
And in order for that to happen, we need to move beyond sound bites and blame
And actually listen to another We need to see the humanity of others.
Shel Silverstein has a poem that sums it up for me:
Small as a peanut,
Big as a giant,
We're all the same size
When we turn off the light.
Rich as a sultan,
Poor as a mite,
We're all worth the same
When we turn off the light.
Red, black or orange
Yellow or white,
We all look the same
When we turn off the light.
So maybe the way
To make everything right
Is for God to just reach out
And turn off the light!
-- Shel Silverstein
Maybe we need to put on blindfolds, maybe we need to turn out the light—
or maybe we need to enlarge our vision
We need to see with the eye of Christ that we are not separate, not one better than another,
but all part of one another in God’s grand design.
That we are all one in Christ Jesus. Children’s sermon:
building blocks- how many blocks do you think we’ll need to build a pyramid?
Let’s try 3 by 3 on the bottom level. How many do you think we’ll need?
Build it—how did we do? Now let’s try 4.
What happens if we don’t get the number of blocks right? (go get more)
But what if we had to buy our bricks from Home Depot, and we only had a certain amount of money?
If we started too big, we might not be able to finish.
Jesus says being a disciple is like that. He says that sometimes we have to give up something in order to follow him. Jesus in fact tells a parable right before this passage about a king giving a feast. He invites his friends to the party and they all have reasons not to come—things they don’t want to give up. I know a song that goes with the parable:
“I cannot come to the banquet, to trouble me now, I have married a wife, I have bought me a cow, I have fields and commitments that cost a pretty sum, pray hold me excused, I cannot come.” What are the things they don’t want to give up? All good things: time with spouse, possessions, the to-do list. Jesus is saying that sometimes we aren’t willing to give up our routines in order to come to the feast. That’s like trying to build a tower without all the bricks. Jesus wants us to be prepared to celebrate with him.