My new phone has this delightful camera setting called “portrait mode.” When you take a close up of a person, all these little processes get to work, subtly blurring the background so your eye is drawn right to the subject, softly framed in light. The more complex process a digital SLR or plain old-fashioned film camera uses has to do with the aperture being set just so at a certain focal distance. If you’ve seen a “portrait mode” image (new- or old-fashioned), it’s easy to see why people prefer them over basic photos. There’s something wonderful about focusing on the subject.
Reading the Gospels over, it is clear that Jesus could see in portrait mode. Of course, he could also take in a panorama! But over and over again, as Paul Miller points out, we see him “see” people, move toward them in compassion, and act on their behalf.
We see him “see” people, move toward them in compassion, and act on their behalf.
For example, as Jesus heads to the town of Nain, Luke tells us “his disciples and a great crowd went with him” (Luke 7:11). But when they got close to the town, they met another large crowd: “a man who had died was being carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her.” Yet the story turns on this point, “when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her…”. This was a panorama moment – a great crowd meeting a considerable crowd. But Jesus hones in on this hurting woman who lost her only son and lets the background blur.
Jesus’ portrait lens didn’t go unnoticed by his disciples. In John 9, we read about the healing of the man born blind. Jesus and his disciples were just “passing by” when Jesus “saw” the man born blind. His gaze was obvious enough that it functioned like a change of topic, and the disciples asked him, “who sinned, this man or his parents?” A passing glance doesn’t tend to shift conversation; that requires notable focus.
But I long to be led by Jesus to meet the moments this summer where my kids most need to be seen by letting the background fade and focusing on that one fearfully and wonderfully made creature in front of me.
I am one of many parents who, in the summer, welcome my children home to my work-from-home life. I’ll juggle lunch prep with meetings, and mediation of arguments with final edits to a podcast. My nine-year-old still remembers a particular playground visit where I was busy on my phone while she badly wanted me to watch what she was doing. (She is, after all, the daughter known in our family for saying, “watch me forever!!”). I know I can’t always see in portrait mode – like you, I have a panorama life with lots of callings! But I long to be led by Jesus to meet the moments this summer where my kids most need to be seen by letting the background fade and focusing on that one fearfully and wonderfully made creature in front of me. Seeing with Jesus. In portrait mode.