Scripture Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1–13 | Psalm 23 | Ephesians 5:8–14 | John 9:1–41
“for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).
What a gift it is to see clearly.
I don’t just mean with our eyes… though that’s certainly a gift too easily taken for granted. No, I mean seeing clearly with the heart and mind: perceiving the truth… and not being led astray by deceptions, and lies, and appearances… the ability to live in line with what is real, even if no one else around us sees it the same way.
What a gift it is to see clearly. A challenging gift, but a gift nonetheless.
In our Scripture readings today we are invited to contemplate what it means to see things God’s way… to have our eyes and hearts and minds opened to the reality He longs to reveal.
Our reading today from first Samuel tells the story of David’s anointing: the shepherd boy, completely overlooked by others, but chosen by God to serve Him as King.
This story starts off a bit further back: The twelve tribes of Israel had been in the Promised Land for a while now… having been rescued by the LORD from slavery in Egypt, and set apart as God’s chosen people, to live His way in the world so that everyone could come to know the Living God through their faithful lives.
But now Israel wanted to be just like every other nation… and rather than looking to the Living God to guide them and protect them, they wanted to have a king… a human ruler who would take the lead… who they could look up to, and place their confidence in. They saw kingship as just the thing they would need to move forward in an uncertain world.
The prophet Samuel warned them, just like Moses had warned them centuries earlier, that the kind of king they were wanting would only end up leading them astray… away from God’s ways, and would oppress rather than protect them, but they refused to listen. They wanted to serve someone they could see with their own eyes, instead of placing their trust in the Living God… the One who had rescued them, and led them, again and again, into life.
Eventually, God tells Samuel to give the people what they wanted, and so he anointed their first king Saul, who seemed perfect for the job. Saul was tall, strong, impressive… but he ended up repeatedly failing to follow God’s instructions… doing what was right in his own eyes, instead of obeying the word of the LORD.
And so, in our first reading, we heard how God sent the prophet Samuel to choose another king for God’s people… this time anointing someone completely overlooked, and deemed unsuitable for such an honour: Jesse’s youngest son, David… someone the LORD alone could see would be the one to guide His people… not perfectly, by any means, but as far as human kings go, pretty faithfully… filled with the power of God’s own Spirit to lead His people into life.
Now this ancient anointing ceremony may seem a long way from our daily lives here in Gondola Point, but a key phrase from this reading stands out for us all to hear:
“the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature… … for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).
How often are we too just living by what seems right in our own eyes, instead of looking to God?
How are we searching for things that seem impressive, strong, stable… hoping that they will give us some security in our increasingly uncertain world?
Or how are we wanting to be just like our neighbours… to set aside God’s ways, so we can be just like them… or at least, so that we aren’t seen as strangers and outsiders… afraid of feeling cut off and alone?
Are we seeing clearly today? If not, our Gospel reading, as usual, has Good News for us all.
John chapter 9 starts off simply enough with a scene that would not have seemed all that unusual: Jesus and His disciples pass by a beggar who had been blind from birth.
From the start, the disciples saw the man and failed to see beyond their own concerns. Like many in their days, and in our own, they saw someone suffering… blind from birth… and assumed it was somebody’s fault. “Rabbi,” they said, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).
The assumption behind this question is that suffering of any kind must be a punishment… proof that someone did something to deserve their misery.
It can be easy for us to feel responsible or guilty when we or those we love are suffering… when they face challenges and struggles beyond our ability to solve. It can seem right to us to search for an explanation… a cause… for someone to blame… but Jesus rejects this way of seeing suffering, and what He does next aims to open the eyes of His followers, and shine light on the truth.
“Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.” (John 9:3-7).
Note that Jesus did not say that God caused the man’s blindness, but that his blindness will be the cause of God’s work being revealed in him. This isn’t an explanation for who’s responsible for his suffering. It’s an explanation of who will be responsible for his healing… and salvation.
Jesus then spits on the ground, makes mud, wipes it on the man’s eyes, and sends him away to wash. And suddenly, he could see! His eyes were opened for the first time in his life!
Imagine how excited he must have been! In an instant, so many possibilities that had been completely closed off, had been freely given to him: The beauty of the world around him. Colours, shapes, things only imagined before, all now clearly able to be perceived.
Imagine seeing the faces of his friends and family for the first time!
Imagine looking into the eyes of someone who loves you! What a gift!
But even so, it was a challenging gift… and one which would change everything. Freely given, but not without cost, as the Gospel of John goes on to explain.
The controversy starts with the man’s neighbours, who were deeply confused when they saw the man who they had only known as a blind beggar, suddenly now able to see. They don’t know what to do with him, or what to believe. So they send him to the experts: the Pharisees, those who, due to their knowledge of the Law, and the traditions of God’s people, were supposed to see these kinds of things clearly.
And the first thing that catches their eye is not the miracle, God’s healing hand at work, but the fact that Jesus appears to have broken the Law of God… healing on the Sabbath day of rest, and on top of that, daring to make mud.
Back in Exodus, before they had tasted God’s freedom and salvation which the Sabbath Day was intended to be a perpetual reminder of, the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt, and were forced to make bricks out of mud. Now any form of work was deemed to be forbidden on the Sabbath, but to the Pharisees, making mud, which brings to mind those mud bricks of oppression, would be like spitting upon the memory of God’s saving work in their people’s past.
In their eyes, if Jesus was so careless with what was so clearly sacred, He could be nothing but a sinner, seeking to lead God’s people astray into unfaithfulness. But even so, they could not deny that something unusual had happened here.
John 9:16, “Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.”
But instead of simply choosing to believe the man’s story, or to look for Jesus Himself to discover the truth, they search for the parents of the man who was blind, expecting to find some deception or misunderstanding at work that will fully explain everything.
Then the man’s parents, afraid of the pushback they will receive if they support Jesus publicly, refuse to back up their son. They confirm his identity, but then leave him all alone to face these interrogators by himself.
The Pharisees press him even harder: “they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’” (John 9:24-25).
All through this story, the Gospel writer is highlighting for us the tension and contrast at work between those who see the truth, and those who do not:
The disciples of Jesus look at the appearance of someone’s suffering, and they search for someone to blame, instead of seeing a person in need of their compassion.
The neighbours look at the man they knew from before, but can’t see how he could have been changed so much.
The Pharisees look at a miraculous work of God in someone’s life, and only see a threat to all they hold most dear.
And here we have someone completely overlooked and unexpected… a man who’s never seen anything before… slowly coming to recognize the truth: that Jesus was even more than a wandering healer, or a prophet… Jesus is the One through whom the Living God is at work doing what no one else can do.
As the Pharisees continue their questioning, he offers this testimony: “The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’” (John 9:30-33).
Following his example, this Gospel passage invites you and I to see that Jesus is the One who is the truth… who alone can open our eyes to the true reality of the world… to finally see things clearly so that we can begin to live in line with what is right. To experience the beauty, and abundance, and freedom of life with the Living God, even when we are suffering… misunderstood by our neighbours, abandoned by our families and friends, and treated unjustly by those with power.
Jesus has come to open us up to a new kind of life… one not based on our old ways of seeing the world, and our place in it… but one which is open to God’s saving love, which no one else can take away from us. A way of life which is not afraid to speak openly of the hope that has been shared with us. One which is open to being led by God’s Holy Spirit, instead of our own understanding, trusting that Jesus has come to bring us into God’s life and light… which will challenge and can change us all.
The man began that day like any other: blind, and begging for help. Jesus freely gave him sight, but this new life cost him dearly. He was suddenly a complete stranger to his neighbours. His parents refused to stand up for him. He was harassed and excommunicated from both his social and spiritual relationships.
What would we do in his place, I wonder?
His story shows us what we are all called to do:
“Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.” (John 9:35-39).
Believe in Him… believe in the One who from the very beginning saw the man in his blindness, not as others did… as someone less worthy of attention, acceptance, and the fullness of life… but as a beloved child of the Living God in need of compassion, whose story would become a glorious gift to all of us in our times of suffering, isolation, abandonment, and outright rejection… in our seasons of darkness when it seems that no one really sees what we are going through.
But Jesus sees us… clearly… completely… and He understands all our troubles. And He looks at us as beloved children of His Heavenly Father with divine eyes full of compassion.
And His great love growing inside us can help us to truly see each other as well. To see each other, and all those around us… especially those we so easily overlook, as equally beloved by God, whom Jesus Christ, the King of Kings, came to seek, and save, and set free… by giving up His own life for us all at the cross. And who rose again from the grave to open us up to share God’s eternal life through Him, being filled with His holy Spirit to share this message of hope with everyone.
If we can start to see each other, and everyone else in this light… the light of the Good News of Jesus and what He has done for us all… just imagine what God will do through us! Imagine what kinds of good works He can accomplish in our midst. What healing and hope He longs to share.
So may we, like the man who received his sight, place our faith in Jesus our Saviour, no matter the cost. And as we do so, may God’s Spirit open our eyes and lead us into His life and light. Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School