The Eye of the Beholder

So…what color is the dress?

White and gold? Or blue and black?

For me, it was both. When I first saw it, it was white and gold. But then I looked at it again, blue and black.

Okay, for those of you who are in the dark here. There’s a photograph of a dress that’s taken the Internet by storm. Something like 21 million views in the first 24 hours. Everyone from Taylor Swift to the President of the Philippines have weighed in.

And the question is, what color is the dress? It’s apparently some optical illusion—a trick that your brain quite compute fast enough. Some people see white and gold, other’s see blue and black. It’s a very strange phenomenon, but it’s a real thing, that one person could literally see something so different as a basic color…and I guess that’s what’s captured our imagination.

There are a lot of things that we see that others don’t. You may perceive something to be one way, and I another. It’s all the the eyes of the beholder, I guess.

And sometimes that mismatch can cause a great deal of controversy and angst. Dresses aside, it can come as a shock when what we thought was one way, turns out to be something very different. You thought things were one way, but it was all a house of cards…

We see this play out in today’s gospel lesson. The disciples see Jesus in one way. Jesus is the Messiah, this great king, the one who is going to change everything and save the day. But Jesus starts talking about death, execution, the cross. 

And that’s not really something his followers want to hear.

It’s easy for us to forget just how shocking this talk about crucifixion could be. Even just the mention that “the Beloved Son” of God could die at the hands of his enemies—that was just scandalous. The Roman cross the worst death imaginable. The cross was intended to be an instrument of torture. 

It was a very painful, very public, very humiliating death. Think about the videos that terrorist organizations like ISIS put out—like those, crucifixion was a spectacle. It was intended to draw our attention and then make us recoil in fear and disgust. There was no redeeming value to the cross. We can’t imagine someone we know on one, much less our mentor, or beloved teacher. It’s too awful to even consider.

So, horrified at this offensive suggestion, Peter pulls Jesus aside to try to talk some sense into him: “Come on, Jesus, you are being ridiculous, stop talking like this. Do you want to scare all these people away? No one is going to take you seriously. I mean, we’ve been working for so much, if you keep this up, we’re just going to be jokes.”

But Jesus, rebukes him: “Get behind me Satan!” he screams. Peter is being the tempter, trying to set Jesus back on a path of worldly domination. Jesus can control his own destiny, if he can just avoid that whole cross thing.

The disciples see it one way. But Jesus sees it another.

It was a difficult thing for his disciples to hear. And when we really think about it, it’s a difficult thing for us to hear, too.

Because, for us, we are so used to focusing on this Easter Jesus, the one who has already been through the pain and the suffering and come out the other side. For us, we look at the cross as a sign of victory, as something we cover in gold, wear around our necks like pendants, decorate with flowers. 

But often we fail to perceive the cross’ full power. It’s even offensive to us. The very idea that God would submit, open himself to such torment and humilation—it just can’t compute. Our eyes and our brains can’t handle it.

As one writer puts it:

By our human nature we want to be prosperous, strong, successful and influential. Jesus has other priorities. He, on the other hand, came to serve, not to be served. His ways are not our ways, yet he invites us to follow him and his ways.

But what if we have nothing to give? What if we too are beaten down. Disfigured from some sort of physical or spiritual torment? What if we are rejected by the world? Or have simply lost our way?

God is there, in the midst of all our suffering and pain. Because God, too, knows suffering and pain. Jesus took up the cross, and takes up our crosses alongside us—he bears our burdens and gathers us under his wing. And it is there, bound to him, that we receive the full life of abundance that others search for elsewhere.

The way of the cross is not the way of the world. The way of the cross is not the pursuit of money, or the perfect body, or the best clothes, or a flawless report card. The way of the cross does not mean that we have the most members or the most popular message. The way of the cross is the opposite, really. 

The world sees the cross as ugly, foolish, revolting—but God sees something very different. God saw a means to save the entire world.

Jesus invites us to take up our own crosses and follow him. To walk in the footsteps of saints before us who denied themselves worldly power and instead embrace God’s power. To empty ourselves, giving everything away for the sake of others.

If the disciples were paying attention, they would have heard a ray of hope in Jesus’ grim message. “The Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected, and be killed,” BUT that’s not the end of the story… “After three days rise again.”

Jesus rose again, we rise again. The cross reminds us that from this instrument of fear, from this symbol of failure, God changes everything. Where there is only death, God brings life. Where there is only suffering, God brings healing. Where there is only hate, God brings love.

It may appear one way—but when we look at it through the eyes of Jesus, through the cross of Jesus, we see something very different. When we are bathed in those waters and fed at this table, we begin to perceive the world a little differently. A little more generously. A little more gracefully. A little more beautifully.

Let us pray:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.

O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.