1 Samuel 16.1–13
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.—C. S. Lewis
In the readings we heard today from 1 Samuel and the Gospel of John, we find one striking similarity: people are talked about as if they are not there. Instead of speaking to them, people act as though they are somehow invisible.
The disciples talk about the man born blind:
Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
His neighbours talk about him:
Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?
Finally, he speaks himself:
I am the man.
It reminds me of that line in the film The Elephant Man, where he has had enough of being treated like an object of fear and pity:
I AM A MAN!!!
And in our Old Testament reading, Samuel warily goes to Bethlehem to find the new king whom God has chosen from among Jesse’s sons.
Jesse has some fine-looking sons. Eliab, Abinadab, Shammah, and four other sons pass by Samuel. All impressive young men.
But not one of them was the Lord’s choice. So Samuel asks Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’
This is where Jesse talks about the youngest son, who wasn’t considered important enough to be invited. He was still out looking after the sheep.
And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.
When David walks into the room, Samuel knows this young boy is God’s chosen one.
God says to Samuel,
the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.
We know we’re not supposed to do that. You know, ‘Don’t judge a book by its cover’ and all that, but we do it all the time, don’t we? We tend to go more for ‘The clothes make the man’.
And so it is that the blind man, a beggar by trade, is ignored. He’s a man, but unlike Nicodemus he’s not important enough to be named. People either talk about him (‘who sinned, this man or his parents?’) or they ignore him. Maybe they don’t even look at him when they toss a coin his way.
In our story, Jesus is the first to speak to him. But first he spits on the dirt, makes a bit of mud and spreads it on the man’s eyes. Only then does he say,
Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.
And John tells us the meaning of ‘Siloam’: it means ‘sent’. Jesus is the One sent by God—
- sent to bring grace and truth (1.14);
- sent as ‘the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world’ (1.29);
- sent that the world might not be condemned, but saved (3.17);
- sent to do the will of God (4.34);
- sent as the Bread of Life (6.35), Light of the World (8.12), the Gate (10.9), the Good Shepherd (10.11), the Resurrection and the Life (11.25); the True Vine (15.1);
- sent to this poor beggar who was born blind.
To this poor beggar who was the object of people’s theological speculation.
The disciples are playing at theological speculation when they ask, ‘Who sinned, that he was born blind?’ And the Pharisees when they tell him, ‘You were born entirely in sins…’
He was born blind! It must have been somebody’s fault.
We’re more sophisticated today. Aren’t we? We know about genetics, viruses, cancer and much besides. We are more sophisticated, right?
Until something happens to us. Then we say, Why me? I’ve been a good person.
Or we blame the victim, it gets us off the hook. It’s all her fault, if she hadn’t done that she wouldn’t be in this situation.
And if we’re honest, we find that just under the surface we’re not all that different.
If we’re honest, we realise that we’re not that sophisticated when our guard is down.
We often speculate about why someone else endures misfortune. There must be a reason.
Jesus also saw the man. Not as an object of pity,
or of theological interest,
or relief (‘There but for the grace of God go I’).
No, Jesus saw the man’s heart, as God did in the story of David being chosen to be king.
Perhaps we could say he had empathy for the man. What would it be like to be blind from birth? Can you imagine it?
Give it a go. Try to imagine it. Close your eyes. With your eyes closed,
You know what things and people sound like;
you know what they smell like;
you can touch them.
But you can remember what they look like. If you’d been blind from birth you’d have no idea what this thing called sight even is.
You’d never have experienced it.
You couldn’t even imagine it.
The man heard and smelt Jesus, yet he could not see him. But Jesus saw this man. Really saw him. That’s where it begins for all of us. When Jesus sees us.
Then, Jesus did that quite sacramental thing, making holy use of ordinary stuff. He took dirt, spat on it, spread it over the man’s eyes and told him to wash in the Pool of Siloam.
And the man born blind then discovered what sight it. He’d never known it before. He’d never known what it was like to have the sun’s light hit his retina and for it to produce images that he could see.
It’s really an amazing story.
But you know, John passes over that bit. Because the rest of Chapter 9 is really not about ordinary sight; it’s about seeing with the eyes of the spirit.
That’s what this newly-seeing man starts to do.
He is challenged by the religious authorities. They were divided. Surely to heal on the Sabbath was wrong! But it is right to heal, whatever day it is.
So they turn to the blind man,
What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.
The man’s answer is simple.
He is a prophet.
That’s as much as he can see at the moment; he’s right too, as far as that goes. Jesus is a prophet.
The authorities have made up their minds: they have determined that Jesus is a sinner. So they ask the man again, and he replies
I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.
This man may be wondering if it’s worth it to have sight! He was ignored before, but now he is the focus of some very unwelcome attention.
But he stands up for himself even more. When they ask him to say again how Jesus opened his eyes, he says:
I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?
Well, doesn’t that get them worked up‽
They have Moses. They don’t want anyone else. (But do you remember how Matthew is at pains in his Gospel to show that Jesus is greater than Moses?)
The strangest thing happens. Like the Samaritan woman, this man shows himself to be a theologian. He was so unimportant, we don’t know his name; but he has the makings of a very able theologian! He says to the authorities,
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.
There’s nothing worse for theological professionals than being bested in a theological discussion. It is the last straw for these people. They tell him,
‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.
To be driven out of the synagogue was a little harsher than leaving a church today. If you were to unhappy in this congregation and decided to leave, you could find another place to go. Or you could stop going to church altogether.
You’d still be a citizen, with all the rights of a citizen.
But to be driven out of the synagogue was to be driven out of society. It was to be cut off.
The man formerly blind was paying a huge price.
He was now alone.
So Jesus comes to him and asks,
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 worshipped him.
Isn’t that lovely? ‘You have seen him!’ The man who had never known what sight was could look upon the face of the Lord himself.
The man then knew that Jesus was a prophet, but far more than a prophet. ‘And he worshipped him.’
And he found a new community, the community of those who gather around Jesus.
He could see clearly now. He had awoken. The eyes of his spirit were opened, just as the prophet Samuel’s eyes had needed to be opened years before when he went to anoint a new king.
How open are our eyes? Do we worship the Lord as this man did? Do we find our way, our truth, our life in him? Is our light in Jesus, so that by that light we see the way to go?
We don’t want to be like the religious leaders, minds all made up with nowhere to go. Able to see the light of the sun, but blind to the Light of God.
Helen Keller was blind from the age of two. She said,
The only thing worse than being blind is having sight but no vision.
I’d like to close by reminding you of that short reading from Ephesians in the Lectionary today:
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord…
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.’
Soon, in Holy Week, we’ll be reminded that the disciples couldn’t stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane. They failed the Lord.
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.
Be disciples who are awake, and who see what life is through eyes that have been opened by Jesus.
Lent 4A, 26 March 2017