March 30, 2014
First Samuel 16: 1-13
John 9: 1-41
In both the Gospel & the Prophets this morning, we see references to Vision. The Prophet Samuel was led to see a future king in a young man; Jesus gave a man sight, but also the vision to see God’s Love and power transforming his world. We may be able to relate to our own need for seeing God’s Love, for understanding opportunities to share God’s Love, and for seeing how we can help bring God’s grace to life in our community.
When our spiritual eyesight is restored, we see, as God created us to see:
Recognizing problems and speaking about them, and
Recognizing blessings that abound, even in Michigan in March!
David was chosen to be king, because God saw into his heart, & saw potential. In a culture that was based on the Older Brother inheritance laws, David was not the son that everyone would assume to be in line for the blessing. Although, we also know that being anointed as the next king before the current king has died, might not be the most obvious Good News! The Prophet, Samuel, had previously anointed Saul to be the king in order to defeat the Philistines (back in Chapter 9), and now Saul’s days were numbered. Saul had tried to buy his way back into God’s favor with big, ostentatious sacrifices, instead of following God’s commands. The prophet is directed by God to go to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem. Not a city famous for its glamorous or powerful people. God tells Samuel not to judge the sons of Jesse by their appearance. So, apparently mistaking charisma for character is nothing new! We assume that success must include abundant material & financial wealth, but don’t recognize that what matters is how one uses the talents we’ve been given. No one else saw Jesse’s youngest as a great leader, but maybe they were blinded by their cultural traditions & assumptions.
The Gospel of John may be the most poetic, with symbolic imagery that is meant to serve as a parable. Each scene in this gospel is meant to teach us lessons for our lives. Parables are those stories that seem to begin, “once upon a time there was this guy, see…” and we realize that whether or not all the details are strictly historically-accurate, the point is about how this lesson can help us now. Everyone thought they knew that if someone was born blind, it must be proof of sin, a sign of a spiritual failing somewhere. Even today, we know that parents struggle with understanding what happened when a baby is not born according to factory specs (as they say.) Jesus refuted their theological error, healing the man’s blindness, and using this as an example of how God is Still Speaking, still creating a way when we assume there is no way. I propose that one way to understand this passage’s relevance for us is to look at the key figures in the story, and see if there are parallels in our society. A man is born different than the majority of his peers, such as being born blind. The disciples and the Pharisees have questions about this difference, proving that he represents sinfulness. The man who had been born blind challenges the judgmental attitudes of the Pharisees by saying that in his experience, he must have been healed by God, yet the Pharisees reject this interpretation of God’s grace bringing new life. They know the man is guilty, even if they aren’t quite sure why. However, Jesus sees things differently, because Jesus has a different vision for us than the world might have. Jesus views the Blind Man as an opportunity for God’s Grace to show forth in him. Jesus may view all of our personal flaws as an opportunity, not an insurmountable problem! For Christ, our Blindness is not the end of the story, but the beginning; we do have the opportunity to grow in wisdom and love. Even when the judgmental Pharisees say nasty rumors about us, even when the authorities make pompous pronouncements, their sin remains. The Pharisees in this story were all about humiliating someone of lower social status, whom they deemed to be a sinner. However, the poor man who was no longer blind was also no longer willing to be oppressed by the religious elite; he explained in a simple way that any child could understand, that God had blessed his life. Even if the authorities tried to make him illegal because of their definition of sin, God’s love had opened his eyes to recognize what is fair & true. He refused to be scape-goated or treated like some kind of second-class citizen, just because of the way he was born.
The Pharisees were focused on one aspect of this person, seeing him only as a BLIND man, a sinner, instead of really seeing, and recognizing him as a man with many talents & blessings to share. Pope Francis recently commented on the problem of focusing only on a person’s sexual identity, and thus missing their value and humanity, but also ignoring actual problems in society. This week we have seen politicians in Michigan taking stands against the issue of marriage equality. These secular authorities are focusing solely on the sexuality of a person, and not seeing the real talents and value of that person, and yet claim they are defending morality. These self-righteous guardians of our communal spirituality are totally blind to the more significant issues, from human trafficking to environmental degradation, or the effects of extreme financial disparity.
Chapter 9 ends with Jesus saying the Pharisees are the ones who have sin, not someone who was born blind. Blaming and shaming people for how they were born, for who they are, and not for how they treat others or whether they are loving & responsible, is the theme of this gospel story; Jesus is liberating us from the pettiness and prejudice of the past, if we are able to see our brothers and sisters as being Children of God.