Saved by contemplation

November 28th, 2018

Before you pass out after reading the title of today’s post and are unable to read the rest of it, let me hasten to say that I believe Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior. With that, I hope you will read on.

Why in the world would I entitle this post, “Saved By Contemplation” if we are saved by Christ? Simply because Jesus himself said that at the end of the age, the pivotal question will be, “Lord, when did we see you?” In fact, it is the question everyone asks in the parable. (Matthew 25:31-46).

Objectively, we are saved by Christ (Colossians 1:20). But subjectively, we are saved with respect to “seeing” him. Jesus walked the earth. Some saw him, others did not. Christ lives today. Some see him, others do not. “Seeing Christ” is the pivot — the decisive factor.

In classical theological language, this “seeing” is contemplation. Jesus pointed to it before he gave the parable of final judgment in Matthew 25. He said his desire was that we would have eyes “to see” and ears “to hear” — that is, to recognize and respond to the presence and activity of God going on all around us (Matthew 13:14-16 and Mark 8:18). Notice that in Matthew people are seeing; in Mark they are not. This difference sets the trajectory that culminates in Matthew 25. Jesus’ concern and desire reflects the earlier similar sentiments of the psalmist (115), Isaiah (6:19), Jeremiah (5:21), and Ezekiel (12:2).

So, from this vantage point, we are saved by “seeing” — by contemplation. We are saved by Christ, of course. But Christ gives us eyes to see and ears to hear to recognize and respond to life differently. We end up living by what we “see” and how we enact that sight.

But as soon as we acknowledge that, Jesus himself reshuffles the deck, with the winning hand not found in whether we “believe” in him (i.e. a profession of faith), but whether we “see” him in others (i.e. an expression of faith) — and notably in the people who are often invisible, marginalized and judged to be “less than.”

Jesus names where he is and where we will see him if we have eyes to see: those who are hungry and thirsty (e.g. those on welfare and living in poverty), strangers (e.g. refugees and immigrants), naked (e.g. lacking basic life necessities), the sick (e.g. not given access to medical care), prisoners (e.g those who are incarcerated and/or otherwise bound by something).

How much plainer could he have made it? And it is a message that hits with special force on those of us who claim we take Jesus’ words seriously and put them into practice. It is, in fact, the same thing Jesus said about imperfect/incomplete love (i.e. loving only those who love us and are like us) and perfect/complete love (i.e. loving everyone) in Matthew 5:46-48. Contemplation is where the two great commandments move from being doctrines to demeanors — beliefs to behaviors — what John Wesley called “living faith” and we refer to today as “lived theology.”

The early church got it. John put it simply, “Those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen” (1 John 4:20). Sadly, some have misinterpreted “brothers and sisters” to mean fellow Christians, but the gospel itself puts no such limit on who we are to love. The gospel enlarges our love, not narrows it. Gospel love is love for all people — love not only spoken, but shown (confirmed) by how we treat them.

The limit of love is in us, not God — whether we “see” Christ in all others, or whether we do not. So, we are subjectively saved by contemplation — by having eyes to see and ears to hear Christ in our midst, present in the very ones we tend to overlook and/or ostracize. Contemplation takes us beyond the layers and labels we too often use to justify our stopping short of perfect/complete love — love for all. And when all is said and done, we too will be saved in relation to the question, “Lord, when did we see you?”


Steve Harper is the author of For the Sake of the Bride and Five Marks of a Methodist. He blogs at Oboedire.

About the Author

Steve Harper

Steve Harper taught spiritual formation and Wesley studies to Christian divinity students for more than thirty years read more…
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