By: Jill Duffield
Recognizing God right in front of us can be a challenge.
Jesus, seemingly irritated with the disciples, asks, “Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and faith to hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:18) The risen Christ’s refrain to the seven churches in Revelation repeats that message: “Let anyone who has an ear listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches.”
Seeing the work of God and hearing God’s Word is not always easy, even for those closest to Jesus. Misunderstanding, obliviousness, and plain wrongheadedness abound. Think of the disciples shooing away the little children, asking Jesus to bring fire down on that Samaritan village, falling asleep in the garden, and failing to recognize the one walking beside them on the road to Emmaus. No wonder admonishments like, “Be alert!” “Keep awake!” and “Keep watch!” reverberate throughout the gospels.
Even those of us who willingly take on the name Christian, are gifted by the power of the Spirit, and seek to follow Christ often cannot see or hear the One walking in front, beside, and behind us. We find ourselves needing to heed the words of Jesus over and over and over again. Our eyes and ears are called blessed only when they see and hear and understand (Matt. 13:16).
So how do we begin to live as Jesus admonishes us to live? How do we hone our hearing? How do we improve our vision? How do we position ourselves to remember what Jesus has taught us and apply those lessons in our daily living?
The short answer is by imitating Christ, modeling our lives on the pattern that he set. The passé acronym WWJD? (What would Jesus do?) would have been more theologically sound if it were WDJD? (What did Jesus do?). If we are to imitate Christ well, we need to pattern our lives after the way Jesus lived.
Flipping through Mark, the oldest and the shortest gospel, lifts up the ways we can lead the lives to which we have been called–until our imitation of Christ becomes our authentic identity. In Mark’s gospel Jesus repeatedly and in different settings and circumstances prays, proclaims, worships, and practices hospitality. What if we thought of these gospel practices as the very ones that prepare our minds for action, discipline us, and set all our hope on the grace that Jesus Christ will bring when he is revealed, equipping us to be holy in all our conduct? (1 Peter 1:13, 15) What if we imitated these biblical practices until they became our own, allowing our God-given holiness to be made evident in all we did? These things Jesus did could hone our hearing and improve our vision so that we can see and hear Jesus in our midst doing them still.
The first practice of Jesus that prepares us for action is prayer. At the very beginning of his earthly ministry, before his preaching tour of Galilee, Jesus “got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed” (Mark 1:35). Jesus also has a word about prayer for his disciples, telling Peter, “whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours” (Mark 11:24). Finally, as Jesus awaits arrest, he tells his friends, “Sit here while I pray.” What did Jesus do? He prayed. He prayed in preparation for proclamation. He prayed to ready himself to do the will of God. He admonished his followers to pray in order to fulfill their calling. If we are to have the eyes to see and the ears to hear, if we are to be ready for action anytime and anywhere, we too should pray.
Jesus also proclaims. He proclaims the salvation of God in word and deed through preaching, teaching, and healing. Proclamation is a spiritual practice that can be exercised in a variety of ways. Jesus teaches in the synagogue and beside the sea. He preaches in parables to the crowds and does small group study with the twelve. He heals indiscriminately, touching lepers and raising a little girl from the dead, all to make known the saving love of God. What did Jesus do? He proclaimed the saving love of God in word and deed, in different ways with different people. If this was his pattern and practice, it should be ours as well. We become what we do, and we believe that which we repeatedly say. Therefore, through the power of the Holy Spirit, the more we practice proclaiming the saving love of God, the more we will see and hear it, the more we will even embody it–and others will see and hear it through us.
Jesus worshiped. He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. He was there in Mark 1:21, 39; Mark 3:1 and Mark 6:2. He was baptized, and he instituted the Lord’s Supper while celebrating Passover. Worshiping in a community of faith mattered to Jesus. The synagogue was the place where he prepared for his ministry and where he implemented it. Worship is prime territory for being equipped to see, hear, and understand the Word made flesh.
Finally, Jesus practiced hospitality. He fed people–5,000 and then 4,000. He went out of his way to include people on the margins, even an untouchable in the graveyard. He never minded being interrupted, welcoming people just as they were: lepers, little children, unclean women, desperate dads, a beloved rich man who couldn’t quite follow. He served others and allowed others to serve him, giving and receiving in ways that afforded dignity and built community. Often we encounter Jesus–see his face, hear and share his message–in acts of hospitality, a spiritual practice that permeated the ministry of the One we are to imitate.
Jesus prayed, he proclaimed the saving love of God in word and deed, he worshiped, and he practiced radical hospitality. And when he did these things, those with eyes to see and ears to hear saw God incarnate. Perhaps if we do what Jesus did, imitating Christ, then we too may have the hearing and the vision to continue the pattern that reveals the living God in our midst until we meet face to face.
Jill Duffield was ordained a teaching elder in 1998 and served large and small Presbyterian congregations until 2015 when she became the editor/publisher of The Presbyterian Outlook, an independent bi-weekly publication on the Presbyterian Church (USA).