On Seeing


BY Annelies Zijderveld

The first time I caught a glimpse of the Mona Lisa in person, it was a bit of a letdown. This was well before they had encased the famous painting in thick Plexiglas with a cordoned-off square of the floor to keep spectators at a distance. The painting is smaller than one might think. Her cunning smile needs you to crane in as if she is guarding some secret truth that she might let you in on if you’re lucky or just close enough. 

I visited the Louvre during the day that first time, light strategically illuminating the halls. The second time, years later, I clutched my evening ticket, eager to see the artwork as the light waned. By this point, the Mona Lisa was held back by a velvet rope and see-through protection. Its circumstances for viewing had changed but one thing had not.

Both times, long before the invention of the selfie stick, I noticed people asking a bystander or companion to snap their photo as they smiled and stood in front of the painting. They might pause a moment or two longer to try and get a look at the painting through the tight cluster of people, but most moved on shortly thereafter. They’d seen it, hadn’t they? The photo in front of the painting was a kind of evidence of having seen the painting. What does it mean to see? 

Many years before, a group of twelve guys dropped their fishing nets and left their families to follow their teacher. But, time and again, Jesus dropped great truths on the disciples and they couldn’t quite see Him for who He was. There’s this one set of interwoven stories that recently made my soul catch fire. 

A rich, young ruler asks a question about inheriting eternal life, but you can kind of tell he’s come to the conversation with a preconceived answer. He doesn’t want to see the truth in the answer Jesus gives him. A little while later, Jesus is off talking with His disciples and foreshadows that they are heading to Jerusalem where He will be killed and rise on the third day. Two of His disciples respond by asking for special status in heaven, completely missing the gravity of His prediction. Somehow, they’re still not getting it. Jesus and the disciples set off on the road and arrive at Jericho. You can almost hear the current of whispers as it ripples through the crowd, “Isn’t that Jesus?” 

As they're about to leave the city, a blind man begging by the side of the road hears Jesus is near. He does not hesitate because when you see your one chance to be healed all you can do is yell. And so he does: “Jesus! Have mercy on me!” The people around try to shush him and castigate him for the ruckus, but he yells louder: “Jesus! Have mercy on me!” Jesus stops. He turns to him. The blind man, Bartimaeus, responds by throwing off his cloak and jumping to his feet. 

Jesus asks, “What can I do for you?” 

The blind man answers, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

And, Jesus heals him. Can you imagine what that must have been like? To go from blindness to having your sight fully restored? Afterward, the once-blind man gets up, leaves the town and follows Jesus. Even when blind, Bartimaeus could see who Jesus was even as those closest to Jesus kept having to be reminded. “Let him who has eyes see.”

In our day, how can we see what we really need? During this era of Instagram fame and follower counts, more than ever, it seems we really want to be seen. Could it be, though, that when we look toward clinching the most likes and comments as the goal for what we post, it prevents us from being our authentic selves instead needing to show only our best! lives! everyday! That it might be the photo in front of the Mona Lisa without taking the time to really see the painting. Jesus heard the rich, young ruler’s question but saw past the words from his mouth to the question of his heart: “Can I save myself?” When the rich, young ruler learned the answer, he didn’t want to see his need and walked away. He wanted to have all the answers and just be affirmed (can you just give me a like and comment on my post, Jesus?). 

I keep coming back in my mind to Bartimaeus and his singleness of vision. He knew what he needed, or really, he knew who he needed. He knew he couldn’t get there on his own. Do you hear the desperation in his voice? Can you hear him yelling in the crowd? Can you see? 

How many of us are like Bartimaeus, aware of our deficiencies and unable to do anything to change them on our own? If you knew you could be healed of them, is there anything you wouldn’t do? Or, are we more like the rich, young ruler, thinking we’ve got life figured out, not seeing our need for Jesus. Or, even the disciples, squabbling about who has the higher status. How is it that in a passage filled with people who sought after Jesus, blind Bartimaeus was the one who could see him for who He is?

Do we ever visit Jesus, smile and snap a photo in an attempt to corroborate an “I was there” mentality? Or, maybe it’s more of a box to check off a spiritual to-do list. May we seek Him because we see Him as everything we ever needed, as everything we lack, as the answer to our greatest question in life, as the song to the silence and stress of our days.

Photo By Juan Di Nella