Can You Look God in the Eyes for 4 Minutes Without Smiling?
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There’s something very striking about a person looking directly into another’s eyes. When someone gazes at you without saying any words, it can feel like they are looking into the very depths of your heart.
You may be able to picture a time like this when no words were said, and someone simply looked at you, and you at them. You may remember the connection that you felt. This connection may have felt uncomfortable – the silence combined with the stare – or maybe it felt enriching and powerful. But why? What is it about the act of simply looking?
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This video is of a social experiment by Prudential, in which people were asked to look at each other for 4 minutes! (That’s quite a while!) What we see is that they begin to see each other simply as they are; the changes that have taken their course over time, and we also see the smiles that emerge.
This video can also ask us another question. How do we respond to the gaze of Christ?
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Jesus says a lot in the Gospels. But there are two very poignant instances that spring to mind when Jesus simply gazed at another person. When we look at these two instances, we find something very interesting, and we may begin to understand how Christ’s gaze towards each one of us can speak to our own hearts today.
The rich young man and Peter – who best responded to Christ’s gaze?
Both the rich young man and Peter were “looked” at by Christ,
“…And he said to him, ‘Master, I have kept all these since my earliest days.’ Jesus looked steadily at Him and he was filled with love for him, and he said, ‘You need to do one more thing. Go and sell what you own and give the money to the poor… then come follow me’” – Mk 10: 20-21
“At that instant, while he was still speaking, the cock crowed, and the Lord turned and looked straight at Peter, and Peter remembered the Lord’s words… and he went outside and wept bitterly” – Lk 22: 60-62
But what we see between the rich young man and Peter is that both of their responses were very different. Put simply – one allowed the gaze of Christ to transform his heart, and the other didn’t. (I presume you can guess which one was which…)
So here’s 4 things we find in the gaze of Christ:
Christ’s gaze is always a gaze of love. There’s a popular saying that “Love is blind” – but I strongly disagree with it. And I disagree on the grounds that the love with which Christ gazed at the rich young man, and at Peter, was not blind.
In the gaze of Christ, what we see is that Love isn’t blind, but rather Love is perfect sight.
Christ sees us as we are and He loves us still. Jesus’ love certainly isn’t a blind love. He knows us. He isn’t blind to our brokenness or our attachments – as we see in His gaze upon Peter and the rich young man, He loves them still. And He calls them still – He tells them what they must do (which leads on to our next three points!).
Christ’s gaze calls us to give a response. It asks something of us, namely, will we love Him back?
This is where Peter and the rich young man differ. Peter went away and “wept bitterly” after Christ looked into his eyes; the rich young man went away “sad”. Peter’s response was one of fervent passion, and his heart was converted once again back to Christ. Whereas the rich young man’s response was one of… well, anything BUT passion!
In Peter’s response his heart was clearly wounded. However, in the rich young man it seems only his ego was.
“We must display that pure response in which our centre of gravity is thus transferred from ourselves to God” – this is the difference between the two. (Quote from Dietrich von Hildebrand).
Christ’s gaze asks us to recognise our sin – not in condemnation, but in love. It calls us to be humble. Von Hildebrand says of humility that it is allowing “our hearts to be wounded by the glory of God”.
When Christ looks into our eyes, when he looks at us with such love, we see His glory and we recognise our sinfulness. Peter recognised his sinfulness – his denial of knowing Christ. He was wounded by God’s glory and he became humble. The rich young man didn’t.
In the gaze of Christ we are able to recognise our sinfulness, but it doesn’t have to be a hopeless recognition, because in the same gaze we are also able to recognise His mercy and compassion offered to us.
“Lord I am not worthy… but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”
Christ’s gaze calls us onwards. The rich young man was called to follow Christ but he didn’t. Because his response and his recognition were lacking, he could not fulfil this fourth point – his mission. Peter on the other hand did.
In the Gospels we’re told that Peter “remembered the Lord’s words” that “‘you will have disowned me three times’”, but Peter surely must have also remembered the other words that Christ had spoken to him just prior to these, that, “’once you have recovered, you in turn must strengthen your brothers.’” – Here is Peter’s mission given in Christ’s gaze!
Christ calls each one of us, through His gaze of love, to mission. If we’ve responded to Christ’s gaze by recognising His love, by loving Him back, and by repenting of our sins, then Christ gives to us the mission of becoming saints, and of setting the world ablaze with His love.
All that in a look!
Here’s four questions that we might ask ourselves:
1. Do we see the unconditional love of God in Christ’s gaze or do we see something else?
2. Will we love Him back or will we go away “sad”?
3. Will we recognise our brokenness and run into His mercy?
4. And will we take up the mission that He has given to each one of us – the mission to become saints?
“He always looks at us with love. He asks us something, he forgives us, and he gives us a mission” – Pope Francis.