"...Until you see the whites in their eyes."
“…Until you see the whites in their eyes.”
The thing about a big city is that there are a lot of people. And those people can quickly become a sea of people, each of which it’s easy to lose in said sea.
During our recent trip to Barcelona I spent quite a bit of time just walking and praying through the city, the neighborhood of El Raval in particular. And though I’ve spent a good deal of time there in the past, I did something that I’d not yet done. I stopped. I stood on empty corners, against light posts, next to elevator shafts, and I simply took some time to stop. Not only that, I really started to look people in the eyes as I prayed for them. Normally, whenever I walk through the city, or anywhere really, I try to pay attention to people. But suddenly, when one second of face time becomes five or more, things really begin to open up. You notice things on the faces of passersby. You begin to notice the great diversity that passes by one spot in a day. And you begin to feel like, in an infinitesimal, sprouting-of-seeds sort of way, you’re really getting to know a people.
As I took the time pray for El Raval and to stop and look into the eyes of those around me, I had, for the first time, a growing sense of compassion for those people as people. Not as a mission, or as statistics, but as lost sheep of the great King. At one stop a prostitute came and talked to me. Meeting her eyes while she offered her services, I took a second to look at her and past her situation and was able to see the beautiful, broken daughter of God that she is and mourn whatever has happened to her to bring her to this point. It’s at these times that compassion supplants all other feelings. And everything changes. We are surely blessed when we mourn, and we are blessed to be a blessing. This is the amazing way of our Lord.
It’s only when we have compassion for others that we can fully love them. And it’s only when we take the time to see them and hear them for who and where they are and at least try to understand them as people that will we truly get to a point of being and sharing Jesus with them. Jesus listened. He looked. Jesus took time to talk with prostitutes as people, beggars as equals, tax collectors as friends. And he usually would not do so from a distance. As we prepare to work as missionaries in Barcelona I feel a new compassion welling up in me for those people in new and exciting ways through taking the time to be still and be close. I pray for the same kind of vision for all of us as we seek to share God’s love, whether renewed or for the first time in whatever community we are in or called to.
At the Battle of Bunker Hill during the American Revolution, leaders of the American army are reported as having commanded their men not to shoot “until you see the whites in their eyes.” This was a recognition that they had limited ammunition, and that they were more effective at close range. The closer the target, the more effective the shot. I can’t help but think too of how this must have humanized their targets, but it also humanized them. It’s scary, risky, vulnerable to let people in this close. Clearly, as Jesus’ ambassadors of reconciliation, we work not to defeat enemies, but to win lost sheep. And so I think this advice holds true. Let us not in fear or desire for security serve from a safe distance, nor merely minister from afar. But be encouraged to draw nearer and remember that sometimes the long, sacrificial, and life-giving process of loving our neighbors as Jesus commands truly begin when “you see the whites in their eyes.”