The Reverend Kathleen Killian
Lent 4 A/23
1 Samuel 16:1-13
March 19th 2023
To See Or Not To See
As you might have guessed, our gospel this morning isn’t a passage or two but an entire chapter; specifically the whole of chapter nine in the gospel of John—in which no less than 16 questions are asked about the healing of a man born blind. Everyone in the story is wondering what happened? How? Who did it? And why?
Jesus answers the first question at the very onset, that the man’s blindness was not caused by his or his parents sin; his heart is not full of darkness, and God’s work is soon to be revealed. With that, Jesus spits on the ground, makes clay with the spittle, and spreads the mud on the man’s eyes, saying go, wash at Siloam, a pool of water that was some distance away. What I find curious, even a bit troubling is that the man was still blind, and in a sense, now doubly blind with mud in his eyes. Likely uncomfortable, groping and stumbling his way through the labyrinth of the busy crowded Jerusalem, he somehow made it. My goodness, was he tempted to give up? Was he doubtful? Did he grumble on the way or was he praying as he went? Though Jesus had made a new beginning for the blind beggar, it was a beginning to be finished by the man himself.
That a person born blind could suddenly see was an undeniable miracle yet one that was nearly impossible to fathom. Many of his neighbors had trouble even recognizing him once he was sighted. The Pharisees were divided among themselves as to if the man had actually been blind to begin with, and if so, how Jesus could have performed such a sign, no less on the Sabbath, which would have made him a sinner and figuratively blind himself.
Perhaps surprisingly, no single individual in the Old Testament is called blind; and of all of the miracles performed by the Old Testament prophets, restoration of sight was never one of them. Except for one notable exception in the Apocrypha (Tobit), opening the eyes of the blind is unique to the Gospels and to Jesus who did so multiple times and by various means. St. Paul himself was blinded by the light of Christ and for three days sat in darkness until he was unblinded to see anew, utterly transformed. So obdurate was Paul, that he had to lose his sight in order to gain it, as he attests in Ephesians: Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine upon you.
As the blind man rises from the darkness and awakens to the light, so he progresses through stages of seeing and perception. Initially, he neither sees Jesus nor seeks to be healed—Jesus was walking along from the Temple and saw him. When asked by the townsfolk how his eyes were opened, he simply said, by a man named Jesus. When asked by the Pharisees who opened his eyes, he tells them that it was Jesus a prophet. By the end of the story, the blind man not only has physical sight but spiritual insight; he now beholds Jesus as the Lord and worships him.
Of equal importance, and in a kind of parallel process, as the blind man learned to see, so others around him also began to see more clearly. He was initially known as a helpless blind child, and later identified as a pitiful blind beggar; but then was recognized as a “man of age” who could speak for himself, and finally is acknowledged by others as a disciple who evangelizes his faith in a brazen exasperated response to the Pharisees: I have repeatedly told you who opened my eyes; do you too want to become Jesus’ disciples? The very act of seeing is relational and transforming.
As we read in our Old Testament passage from Samuel, God does not see as mortals see but into our very hearts. If we allow ourselves to be seen and thus changed by the mercy and love of God’s gaze, then it should follow that we look upon others with more compassion and less judgement. To see as God does—beyond appearances and into the heart—which we can only ever partially do—is both a grace and given task. As the blind beggar was sent by Jesus to wash the mud out of his eyes, so too we must endeavor to get to where we are sent by God to become clean and whole.
Might we consider our Lenten journey to be one of learning to see and opening the eyes of the heart to the light of Christ; or as sin tempts us to do, perhaps we’ve turned a blind eye to the redeeming light. Pride, stubbornness, self-righteousness, and refusal to repent and change is to remain spiritually blind and hard of heart. Jesus tells us, I am the light of the world, and speaks pointedly to the promise of the light, and as well, to its judgment. To the Pharisees and all of us who presume—surely, I’m not the one who is blind, am I?—Jesus says: if you are really blind, you are blameless. But those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind and held accountable.
Today marks the halfway point of the Lenten season, midway as we are between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. The long dark night of winter has given way to the lengthening of our days; the earth is awakening in bud and bloom, and springtime is just around the corner. So too, let us awaken to the beckoning light and prepare with joy for the coming of the Paschal Feast; for as the psalmist sings:
The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, and leadeth me beside the still waters.
It touches me so to think that Jesus would have known well the words of Psalm 23 and perhaps even prayed them on the way to his crucifixion: Yay, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.
Lead us, O Holy One, and guide us; comfort, and restore us; feed us, and deliver us to the cross and tomb of new life in Christ: for surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.