This Lenten Season, Episcopal Relief & Development invites you to join us as we meditate on the commandment to love our neighbor and consider the meaning of this fundamental instruction in our daily lives.
The Rev. Robin Denney, a parish priest and former missionary focused on agricultural development in Liberia and South Sudan, wrote this year’s meditations. Robin’s reflections are poignant and personal and challenge the reader to consider the question, “Who is my neighbor?”
Today’s theme: In our Sunday lectionary readings this week, and in the daily reflections, we will consider the theme To See as God Sees.
Today’s Lectionary Readings
Za’atari refugee camp opened eleven years ago in Jordan for people fleeing the war in Syria. Originally established to be a temporary place to stay, it is still home to over 80,000 inhabitants, making it one of the largest “cities” in Jordan. The Holy Land Institute for the Deaf, a ministry of the Diocese of Jerusalem, located in Salt, Jordan, opened a center for children with disabilities in the camp 10 years ago. They serve over 75 children daily at the center with their professional staff and volunteers. The video invites us to consider what it is like for disabled child refugees and the transformative power of the assistance they receive at the center.
The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
— John 9:30-33
Jesus’ encounter with the man born blind is one of the longest healing stories in the gospel. We get to see not just the healing but the impact on the man, how he finds his voice, how he risks everything, and how Jesus comes to him again after he is rejected and kicked out of the synagogue. The sight that the man receives is clearly so much more than the function of his eyes.
Can you imagine how much it would impact a person’s identity for their whole life to be told they were nothing but a sinner, unworthy, not allowed to do anything but beg for what they needed to survive?
The man receives his sight, but immediately no one believes it is him. He keeps saying, “I am the man.” Again and again, they don’t believe his testimony; they call his parents, who don’t stick up for him. Yet the more he is rejected, the more passionately and eloquently he speaks, finally making this compelling and confident argument under interrogation by the religious elite.
This man, who has experienced nothing but rejection in life, is able to see in a way that the most celebrated religious leaders cannot. He sees that God is at work in Jesus. He understands that his healing is so much deeper than sight. He finds courage not in his ability or ego, but in the beauty of God’s power, love and restoration at work in him. He not only sees, but he also proclaims the truth. God is doing something new!
Think of a person who you made assumptions about, only to have that person break all your expectations. What did you learn from them? Have you ever been underestimated, or overlooked or have you experienced discrimination? What helped you to hold onto your sense of worth and dignity?
The Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
— 1 Samuel 16:7
Samuel himself was only a child when God called him to be a prophet. But perhaps by this point in his life, he has forgotten that God sees and calls people so much more than they thought was possible. Here among Jesse’s sons, God has sent him to anoint a new king. But not the handsome, tall and strong sons; it is the child again whom God calls. David the ruddy youth, who will act with love, mercy and courage, who will love God with wild abandon, and who will also commit adultery and murder. Yet God never gives up on David, seeing his heart, his potential, calling him back when he strays.
It seems like God has a soft spot for underdogs and hopeless cases. Lost sheep, sinners, tax collectors, outcasts, the broken and rejected; these are whom God draws close, and sends out to share the Good News. It is in the broken places of our own hearts that we are reminded how much we need God after all. God is not waiting for some future theoretical time when we get ourselves sorted out, make all the right decisions, have conquered all our negative tendencies, are strong and healthy in body, mind and soul. If we are tempted to think that, we need to look no further than David, or really any number of bible characters. God takes us as we are, today. Not when we are ready or perfect, but just as we are.
Are you ready to say yes to God when the opportunity presents itself? Are you willing to pray that God puts opportunities in front of you today, to love and to serve, to make a difference in the lives of others? Are you ready to pray for eyes to see the opportunities that are already there?
We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade the presence of God. The world is crowded with Him. He walks everywhere incognito.
— C.S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer
My first experience of spiritual drought came when I was a mission volunteer for The Episcopal Church, serving in Liberia just three years after their civil war. I was twenty-five, and I had pretty high expectations for how God would show up in my life, now that I had said “yes.” I was sure that I would feel a warm glow of God’s presence every day—that I would know what it was God wanted me to do. I knew exactly how God ought to behave.
Instead, a hard silence grew between God and me as I shook my fist to the heavens. I heard horrific stories from former child soldiers. I saw just a glimpse of the incredible burden of hunger, illness, poverty and violence borne by a people recovering from the ravages of war. An Episcopal Relief & Development staff member visited me about this time. She had done this work for years and had a steady and peaceful wisdom. I don’t remember what advice she gave me, but I remember the hope I felt that there was a different way of being than the path I had chosen, blaming God for everything. Slowly, something new began to dawn in my heart, until a few months later I was ready to change my refrain from “Why God!?” to “Where is God?”
God was in my student studying agriculture to help his village out of poverty to make amends for what he had done in the war. God was in the laughter, birthday parties, church choir… all in the face of difficulty. God was in the hope, courage and compassion that people all around me still had even after all they had been through. My eyes were opened to God in a way that I had not known God before.
Where do you see God in your life and the world? If the answers are slow to come, pray that God would open your eyes to see God at work. Make a list today of all the times you notice the presence of God.
Hay muchas cosas que sólo pueden ser vistas a través de ojos que han llorado.
There are many things that can only be seen through eyes that have cried.
— Archbishop Oscar Romero
How often are we tempted to jump past lament and tears to problem-solving? When someone is grieving, how often do they hear, “Don’t cry, it will be alright.” We buy into the lie that there is a shortcut to grief, that we will feel better if we ignore the pain.
Oscar Romero reminds us that grief, perhaps especially when it comes from compassion for our neighbor, changes how we see. He bore witness to the suffering of his people in a deeply painful way. He met with mothers of young men and women who were disappeared by the government. He prayed at the sites of atrocities. He visited displaced and impoverished people in their cardboard shacks. He blessed the mangled bodies of torture victims. He presided over the funerals of murdered priests and lay people.
The more he walked in solidarity and with love for the suffering, the more it changed him. He found courage, conviction and clarity. He became a voice for the silenced. In walking in solidarity with the suffering, Romero not only found grief, he also found great strength and hope.
Where in your life is God calling you to listen deeply to a neighbor’s story of pain? Who can you walk with without judging or trying to fix their situation? What lament is bubbling up in your own heart? What can you see because you have cried tears of love?
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
— Psalm 23:1-4
Gathered for Sunday worship in 2005 in an open-sided tent surrounded by rubble, facing the ruin of an Episcopal Church, I heard this scripture. The sun was out, and the water of the Gulf was still, calm and clear, but everything in view showed the unparalleled violence that can be done by water and wind. I had been volunteering for a week, overwhelmed by the enormity of the trauma Hurricane Katrina had inflicted on the people, the walls of rubble, the stench of death and how little I could do to help. But here was a group of people gathered to pray even though they had lost everything. Jesus’ presence with them gave them eyes to see beyond the destruction. It did not take away their loss, but I think it helped them find gratitude in the face of grief.
They lifted a weight from my shoulders that day that I could not name. My hopelessness crumbled in the face of their faith. Living in the valley of the shadow of death, they found in God the daily courage they needed to notice that they were not alone. Their Good Shepherd was already there.
We see destruction and disaster in the news, but we don’t often get to see the simple and remarkable acts of people choosing courage, hope and love in impossible situations.
For what are you the most deeply grateful? Have you ever been moved to tears by gratitude? Make a list, a doodle, a prayer, or create something that expresses your true treasures.
Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord.
— Ephesians 5:8-10
How can we live as children of the light? How can we transform the way that we see so that we can see more as God sees? This passage makes it seem pretty simple. Just try. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord and do that. It’s that simple.
There is no way to wait for some future time when we are healed and strong in body, mind and spirit. When all our grudges and petty thoughts have been conquered, when we can see God’s presence in our lives and the world around us. We can’t wait because it is by following that we are transformed. It is by the daily work of trying to find out what is pleasing to the Lord and doing it, that we are transformed.
Who inspires you to action? Perhaps stories of the saints, or well-known folks who have sacrificed for others, or caregivers and essential workers, or a good movie or a story in the news? Maybe it is encountering a person who is suffering that inspires you, or hearing stories of perseverance in the face of hopeless situations.
Take some time today to read from the Gospels and listen for what pleases God. Spend time in prayer to consider your life and what God is calling you to do. Look for opportunities throughout the day, in ordinary moments to show love, kindness and hospitality, or to nurture joy, forgiveness and peace.
Send your own reflection to firstname.lastname@example.org to share with our online community. Please limit your response to two or three sentences.
God helps us by creating us in community. I see Episcopal Relief & Development as the part of my community that provides God's help to seek and serve Christ in all persons. How else could I help a child in Zambia to reach their full potential?
Whenever I meet someone new, whether that’s a neighbor or attendant at a grocery store, I write down their name so that I can memorize it. I feel loved when people remember my name and I know others feel the same way. It’s a simple way to recognize the dignity of every human being.
When I find myself being dismissive or annoyed with someone, God nudges me to remember everyone is a beloved child of God. If I take the time to listen to another's story, I am often humbled. I can ask God to help me see the Christ in them and respect them as them as one of God's own.
As a lifetime caregiver, I was reluctant to join [our Stephen Ministry] but now that I am retired, I have started the training. The Lenten meditations speak to this very need. I cannot travel the world to help others in war-torn areas or refugee camps, but I CAN be there for my congregation.