When in high school I was required to take an elective in my senior year, I opted for psychology because the teacher had a great reputation among the students and the class seemed pretty interesting. In the course of the semester, I was fascinated by the various experiments that had been conducted through the years. As I was praying with the Scriptures for this Mass one of them came to mind – Milgrim’s shock experiment. The setup was such that the subjects would be brought into a room and sat down at an electric shock machine that was supposedly hooked up to a person on the opposite side of a curtain. It wasn’t actually hooked up, but they were told it was. The machine had a gauge indicating voltage of increasing number from ‘slight shock’ to ‘severe shock’ and were told that they were to press the button when the person on the other side of the curtain was incorrect in their answers. Over the course of the experiment the first shock would elicit an ‘ouch!’ from the person at the first shock. Then as it progressed, the voltage was increased and the person at the button would be told to press it despite cries from the other side, pleas to stop pressing the button, and even a shout that they had a heart condition and a thud with silence following a severe shock. Through the course of the experiment the person at the button continued to submit to the authority as they demanded over and over again ‘press the button’.
It came to mind because the ability to press the button largely arises on account of the fact that they were unable to see the person on the opposite side of screen and thus had some ability to de-humanize them and block out the reality of what was taking place. It ultimately gets to the point that seeing someone can change things. The media knows this all too well. When those commercials come on for the ‘adopt a dog’ program they don’t show the dog just walking around. They show a close up of the face and add slow motion to highlight the eyes – those guilt-fostering little eyes that make you want to give them money. I don’t give them money. I change the channel – and that’s the thing. When we’re encountered with a gaze into the eyes of another, be they animal or human, there is a choice to either return the gaze or to turn away.
The Lord knows the power of that gaze Himself quite well, He who made the eyes and gives us the power to see, and employs it at certain times in the works He performs. In the Gospel we just heard an account of a young rich man who comes and throws himself at the feet of Jesus and essentially asks ‘How can I get to Heaven?’. The Lord responds with the Commandments and the youth acknowledges how he has followed them. Then, St. Mark tells us, Jesus ‘looking at him, loved him’ and called him to sell all and follow in his way. Looking at him, He loved him. The two descriptions are the same action. It was the look of love.
Jesus loves the young man first and then calls him to follow the way that would lead to the Cross. At this the man turns away and leaves sad. He turns away – he can’t stand the gaze of Christ and so he turns away, he changes the channel, puts Christ behind the curtain. He doesn’t want to feel the pain of guilt or regret and so he turns his eyes away so as to make it hurt less. The riches he had were too much.
Here we can get into the discussion of the ‘eye of the needle’. Some suggest it was a literal gate to the city of Jerusalem that was small enough to let in travellers for the night but too small to permit them even a bag on their back, much less a large camel. Others claim it simply emphasizes the absurdity of trying to fit a camel through an actual eye of a needle. Either way the basic point is the same: when we come to serve Christ, we have to be willing to leave things behind. We have to be willing to let go of everything in order to gain Heaven. ‘When our heart is, there also our treasure will be’ Scripture tells us. Where is our heart? On things of heaven or things of earth? Are there things that keep us from returning the loving gaze of Jesus? When I hold up the Sacred Host at Mass and we see God face to face, are we able to love Him with all of our heart, or is something there in our heart that compels me to turn away, to de-sensitize myself to a guilt or regret?
The gaze of Jesus happens to us every Mass. He looks at us and loves us. And He waits for us to look and love Him too. My sweet Jesus, I love You. Increase my love for You.