Obviously the Pharisee saw the tax collector kneeling in prayer, but he could not see him in the fullness of his humanity or dignity as a child of God. Within the context of the parable he could not even see himself in any truthful way through the veil of his prideful religiosity.
As for the tax collector, he could more honestly see himself as an unworthy and sinful man. Perhaps, through the act of being in conversation with God, he might also become more open to seeing himself as one created and loved by God. We don’t know. Maybe he could see himself more fully if he could also see the Pharisee in the fullness of his humanity and dignity as a child of God. Maybe, but did he even know he was there?
It brings up the question of how well you and I see the other, and whether, for those of us who claim to be Christian, it’s an important ingredient of our faith? How well do we see ourselves? How well do we see the other? How well do we see us in our relationships with each other? I suspect not very well because the discipline of seeing the other, through eyes that have been fearlessly honest, is hard work.
Consider the healing stories in which Jesus restores sight to the blind. In all but one, the newly sighted person can see immediately with full understanding. Persons long blind who recover their sight have a hard time doing that. The visual image of something as simple as a chair may be all but incomprehensible to one who has only learned its use through other senses. How much more difficult to comprehend a crowd of people. Yet those healed by Jesus could see with understanding, and I think that’s important.
When Jesus heals our blindness, we are able to see both ourselves and others with understanding. I call it holy sight. However, we are reluctant to receive that kind of healing, because we don’t think we’re blind, a little short sighted maybe, but not blind. We are like the blind man in Mark’s gospel who was taken to Jesus for healing, but on the first try could see only things that looked like trees walking. Jesus had to take another shot at it.
I was struck by that in recent meditations on St. Teresa and John Calvin. To oversimplify, Teresa’s life long search for holy sight discovered an essentially good self, which contrasts with Calvin’s lifelong search for holy sight that discovered an essentially corrupt self. Each could see, but not clearly. Perhaps an unlikely marriage of Teresa and Calvin would bring them closer to the restoration of holy sight.
The Episcopal baptismal covenant takes me in that direction by asking me to affirm that I will, by word and example, proclaim the good news of God in Christ, and that I will respect the dignity of every human being. I’m not very good at doing that, but the more intentional I am at engaging in that work brings me a little closer to the restoration of holy sight.
In like manner, during the general confession each Sunday we admit that we have not loved God or our neighbor in the right way. In other words, we have not seen with holy sight either ourselves or the other. I regret that I too often mumble the confession out of rote memory without pausing to consider the depth of what I have said. Like the man with restored but fuzzy, out of focus sight, I need Jesus to take another shot at it. It’s what we all need. I’m not very good at it. How about you?