How do you see life? “Vantage Point” is a film, currently playing in theaters, about the assassination of the President of the United States and how five different people saw it in five different ways. The thesis is that we might all see the same event, but we don’t interpret it the same way. You’ve heard the old axiom, “One person’s trash is another person’s treasure”? Everything is just a matter of perspective.
Perspective greatly influences how we act and react to the events, people, and circumstances of our lives. It even influences how we interpret and represent the movements and interaction experienced with God. Take, for example, the writing of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke). Matthew writes from his vantage point as a Jewish Christian who is deeply concerned that his people understand and accept Jesus as the Messiah. He uses many references to the Old Testament as proof that Jesus is the Messiah.
Mark is reported to have written about Jesus as Mark traveled with and listened to the sermons of Peter. His gospel reflects the nature of a Peter who was impulsive. Luke is reported to have been a Gentile. His gospel reflects a person truly concerned that those outside the Jewish family would know and appreciate Jesus.
We are blessed, because we do not have to depend on one writer’s vantage point, but we have three perspectives of stories, teachings, miracles, and episodes in the life of Jesus. The same is true today. Our experiences, traditions, families of origin, socioeconomic levels, and teachings are often reflected in how we see and interpret the way God is working in our lives.
Deietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during Adolf Hilter’s rise to power and throughout World War II. It was a period when the Christian faith in Germany was being twisted to match the Nazi politics of the day. Here is an excerpt from one Bonhoeffer letter, written from prison where he spent several years because of his opposition to the Nazi government, until his execution at age 39:
There remains an experience of incomparable value. We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.
In a society like ours – where the pursuit of wealth seems to dominate our thoughts and actions – I would challenge us to hear from the voices that do not command the media’s attention. I would challenge us to hear the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the oppressed and voiceless of our society and world – voices that cry out for affirmation in worth, value, and dignity.
I would challenge our churches to start listening to the voices of people who don’t go to their church: the kids hanging out on the block, the homeless, the unemployed, the underemployed, the latchkey children, the uneducated in Liberia, Zimbabwe, and Sudan.
I challenge us to hear the voices of native children in Alaska, the poor people of Appalachia, the abused woman next door. I challenge us to hear the gothic kids, the hip hoppers, the sad and spent elderly of our communities who ask, “Did Jesus also die for me?”
In the last few years the United Methodist Church has used the theme, “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.” I often wonder when will we have open eyes and open ears as well as open hands. There are many just outside our doors, just beneath our steeples, and just down the street. We need to listen to them, share the good news, and join with them in finding solutions only Christ can give.
Someone in our presence is asking, "Did Jesus also die for me?” Do we dare see life through their eyes?