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Speaking to the Soul: Don’t Be Captain Obvious

Speaking to the Soul: Don’t Be Captain Obvious

by Linda McMillan



Surely, it is God who saves me;
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
— Isaiah 12:2


In our gospel reading for this morning, Jesus was meeting with some followers in the temple. The temple was not yet finished, but it was close enough to completion that it was in use.


If you read back a few verses, you can see that just prior to this episode, Jesus saw a poor widow go into the temple and place her last few coins into the temple treasury box. Jesus made a commet about it, but the others seem not to have noticed, or at least they were not too interested, becasue they responded by remarking about the construction of the temple and admiring its adornments.


Out of sight, out of mind. We will not read anything more about the poor widow. Maybe the disciples had not seen her. Maybe they didn’t hear Jesus above the sound of the crowd. For whatever reason, the poor widow became invisible, but the building was clear and easy to see; its adornments, so pretty.


“These things you see,” Jesus said, referring to the temple, “will be destroyed.  Not one stone will be left standing on top of another.” But, what about the things that they didn’t see? This omission practically screams for examination. What if Jesus is asking them to remember the poor widow? She, after all, is the true adornment of the temple, not the beautiful stones. For while his followers had been looking at one kind of treasure, Jesus had seen something else.


It is all too easy to look at what is right in front of us and believe that there’s nothing else. But, we might learn more about what’s really valuable by examining what we don’t see, never noticed, or what has come and gone.


Our buildings may be sound, and some of them are beautiful. The numbers can look good, and that’s good. It’s easy becasue it’s right in front of us, it’s one of the things we can see. But, the church is destroyed in human hearts every day of the week by it’s refusal to see who is not there, the ones it has abused, used up, and forgotten. Stones tumble over one another whenever the church turns away from those who have looked to it as a path to Chirst and been rejected — and don’t say it doesn’t happen. The heavens quake when we are blind, willfully or not, to our own complicity in the evil of this world.


I don’t know if it’s possible to see what is not there, but I know that Jesus sees, and he is trying to tell those of us who follow him.


Sometimes my students call me “Captian Obvious,” because I will say something which is, well… obvious.


“It seems like you don’t want to work today.”
“Captian Obvious strikes again.”


“You all didn’t read the chapter, did you?”
“Captian Obvious strikes again.”


To be honest, it irritates me, but I let them do it.


I know, though, that I have not been baptized into the kingdom of God so that I can live in the world of the obvious. I want to tune my eyes to see what is truly beautiful and worthy of my attention. I want to see the image of God in others. I want to see it in all others, even my enemies. But it’s hard. It’s easier to watch the news and make judgments. But I embrace and hold fast the hope that I might change.


Surely, it is God who will save me from my blindness;
I will trust in him and not be afraid.
— Isaiah 12:2 (adapted)


In the meantime, I am Captian Obvious.


Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, tries not to be a bore to her students, and hopes to be better than she is.

Image: Disciples admire the Temple James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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Ann Fontaine

Brother Lawrence comes to mind as I read this reflection:
Persecution was a daily reality for third-century Christians in Rome. And in 258, the Emperor Valerian began another massive round. He issued an edict commanding that all bishops, priests, and deacons should be put to death, and he gave the Imperial treasury power to confiscate all money and possessions from Christians.

In light of the news, Pope Sixtus II quickly ordained a young Spanish theologian, Lawrence, to become archdeacon of Rome. The important position put Lawrence in charge of the Church’s riches, and it gave him responsibility for the Church’s outreach to the poor. The pope sensed his own days were numbered and therefore commissioned Lawrence to protect the Church’s treasure.

On August 6, 258, Valerian captured Pope Sixtus while he celebrated the liturgy, and had him beheaded. Afterwards, he set his sights on the pope’s young protégé, Lawrence. But before killing him, the Emperor demanded the archdeacon turn over all the riches of the Church. He gave Lawrence three days to round it up.

Lawrence worked swiftly. He sold the Church’s vessels and gave the money to widows and the sick. He distributed all the Church’s property to the poor. On the third day, the Emperor summoned Lawrence to his palace and asked for the treasure. With great aplomb, Lawrence entered the palace, stopped, and then gestured back to the door where, streaming in behind him, poured crowds of poor, crippled, blind, and suffering people. “These are the true treasures of the Church,” he boldly proclaimed. One early account even has him adding, “The Church is truly rich, far richer than the Emperor.”

Unsurprisingly, Lawrence’s act of defiance infuriated the Emperor. Valerian ordered his death that same day via grilling on a rack. Hundreds of year later, Lawrence is still remembered for his final jest: while being barbecued alive, he quipped to his executioners, “I’m well done. Turn me over!” From

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