On Really Seeing Someone
As a culture, one of the ways we perpetuate male privilege is through some outdated and archaic social conventions. Consider the following tweet from a dear friend of mine, a woman who knows a thing or two about being “tertullianed“:
“I feel like chopped liver when our mail comes addressed to “Mr. & Mrs. <Husband’s Full Name>.”
Now I’ve never had chopped liver, but it doesn’t sound good. In fact, it sounds bad. Like the sound of feeling unseen. Of feeling small. Of feeling ignored. It’s the sound of feeling overlooked.
I don’t know about you, but I really hate feeling unseen.
Jesus was born into a world where women went routinely unseen. It was a world where women had only marginal and narrowly-prescribed social, political or ecclesiastical access. In Jesus’ day women were little more than property. First-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus described it this way:
“The woman, says the Law, is in all things inferior to the man. Let her accordingly be submissive, not for her humiliation, but that she may be directed; for the authority has been given by God to man.”
Friends, it’s hard to be seen when you are by law inferior in all things.
As we spend time these next two weeks looking at how Jesus treated the women of his day, I want to start with a notion that on the surface sounds simple but underneath is utterly profound. It’s at once basic and revolutionary:
Jesus saw women.
That is, he paid attention to them. He stopped to talk to them. He laid down privilege and gave them the time of day. When he mailed them a letter, it had their name on it and not just their husbands’. For Jesus, a woman was not someone to be ignored, she was someone to be fundamentally seen.
But one of my favorite “Jesus sees a woman” stories is from Luke 7:11-17:
11 Soon afterward, Jesus went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a large crowd went along with him. 12 As he approached the town gate, a dead person was being carried out—the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. And a large crowd from the town was with her. 13 When the Lord saw her, his heart went out to her and he said, “Don’t cry.”
14 Then he went up and touched the bier they were carrying him on, and the bearers stood still. He said, “Young man, I say to you, get up!” 15 The dead man sat up and began to talk, and Jesus gave him back to his mother.
16 They were all filled with awe and praised God. “A great prophet has appeared among us,” they said. “God has come to help his people.” 17 This news about Jesus spread throughout Judea and the surrounding country.
What a story! The dead are raised and the Gospel spreads. Indeed, “God has come to help his people.”
But all of that happened because first God came to see his people.
How many people walked past this woman that day without more than a quick glance? For how many was this widowed women just a part of the landscape? Great things happen at the end of this passage, but it started with Jesus seeing this woman. Seeing beget compassion. Compassion beget action. Action resulted in miracle.
Think about all that Jesus gave this woman. He gave her her only son back. He gave her a reason to rejoice. In a real way, he gave her her life back. But perhaps most significantly, in really seeing her, Jesus gave her:
And what could be more important than that?
What about you? How can you really see another person today?