“And looking around they no longer saw any one with them but Jesus only.”
Life is a matter of what we decided to give our attention to. So much of our lives, it seems to me, is just one constant blur. We rush from here to there. We talk about multi-tasking because we want to try to give our attention to two or three things at the same time. I am well aware that one of my most obnoxious habits is the constant flipping of the TV channels. I refuse to give my attention to one station for very long. Yet that is what most of us really want from the world. We want the world to pay us some attention. We would rather get noticed for bad behavior than to be ignored. Because there is something amazing that happens when we give our attention to something. We discover we begin to care about it. When we begin to pay attention to someone, we discover the uniqueness of each person, and they begin to become important to us. The more attention we pay the more we notice, and the attention brings with it understanding, compassion and affection.
Simone Weil was a French Jewish woman who is widely recognized as one of the most brilliant and original minds of the 20th century. She recorded a diary of her thoughts and observations, and in her chapter titled “Attention and Will,” she is convinced our attention to life is much more important than our will. The will only controls a few muscles, but attention changes our whole understanding of life.
She describes her method of understanding of life, of images, of symbols, of events in history is not to try to understand them. She advises us to look at them, to give our attention to them, to keep our attention on them until suddenly a light dawns and comprehension and understanding flows over us. “Generally speaking, a method for the exercise of the intelligence consists of looking at, of pay attention to.”1
The art critic on Public Television claims the same method for her appreciation of the great works of art. You stand before them, you do not try to analysis or interpret. You look at them. You give your attention to the painting, and at some point the light will come on and you will have an understanding of what is taking place in the painting or the work of art.
Jesus takes these three disciples up onto the mountain with Him and they turn their attention toward Him. On that mountain the light breaks on them and they began to see what is really there. They thought they knew what was happening in Jesus. They had declared their allegiance to their own notion of the work of the Messiah in Peter’s confession. Then Jesus began to tell them about the suffering, rejection, and love that would not be received, about a grace that would be refused because the grace could not claim to be deserved, about a forgiveness that was not wanted if it was going to be offered to others, as well. So, these disciples turn their confused and frustrated attention upon Jesus. The longer they looked, the more they saw what was there. The more attention they focused on Jesus the more they realized, the more they understood, the more they were blinded by the mystery that here in this life was the love and power of God at work. There on that mountain the more attention they gave Jesus the more they were overwhelmed by the power of God’s glory in the mission of Jesus. The attention on Jesus brought an understanding of how the Law of Moses and the words of the prophets were lifted up, fulfilled, completed and transformed by the grace and forgiveness presented by Jesus. There on that mountain as they kept their attention on Jesus they heard with a divine authority the statement that this Man speaks in the love and power of God’s will. Listen to Him.
As disciples of Jesus we come each Sunday to turn our eyes upon Jesus and to give our attention to Jesus, to look upon Him so we might discover the meaning and power of God’s work and will in our lives. The more attention we pay to Jesus and to those around us the more we come to share the attitude and love of God for others and all creation. It is still one of the great miracles of life that where you and I give our attention to another we discover we have some of God’s compassion and love for the other person. The more attention we give to any one, the more we develop an affection, a compassion and a shared humanity and we desire the best for them.
The movie Dead Man Walking was the story of a nun who gives her attention to a death row inmate, and as she gives him her attention she develops an affection, a compassion for the inmate. The more attention and comprehension of the man’s life, the more understanding and forgiveness she has for him. The more sympathy and grace she finds in her dealings with the man. The more attention we give to Jesus, our Lord, the more we discover that in Him we have seen the fullness of God’s love for all of us and that in Him we have seen the best of our humanity, we have seen how we are to live at our fullest. Where we give our attention to others, really give our attention and allow them to become real human beings, in this turning and looking we discover in us that passion and love God has for them, and we begin to share and carry out the work and ministry of the grace and mercy of Jesus.
We come now to this table to give our attention to the work and ministry of Jesus our Christ. Come to the joyful feast of the people of God.
Rick Brand is Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Henderson, NC.
1. Simone Weil, Gravity and Grace, New York: Routledge, 1952, p. 109.