1 Samuel 16:1-13; John 9:1-41
There were a lot of eye-openers for me on our St. James’s trip to Honduras in January. Mission trips, of course, are about seeing things in a new way.
When I read the Bible passages for today I remembered an experience I had on the plane returning from Honduras . Across the aisle was a man who was part of a medical mission team that had been in Honduras the same time we were. He was an optometrist.
Over the past three years, the medical mission team had taken hundreds of donated eyeglasses to Honduras . This man’s job on the team was to fit lenses on people who needed glasses. People who wanted to see more than just a blur in front of their eyes lined up when he showed up.
He told us stories. About the woman who could now see her grandchild clearly for the first time – the baby’s smile, her tiny fingers. About others who could now walk without stumbling. It helps when you can see the path beneath your feet. New lenses in these people’s lives made a big difference.
He also told about an elderly woman. She put on her new glasses, looked down at her hands and arms and cried out when she saw age spots and sagging, wrinkled skin. New lenses can bring all sorts of realities into focus, whether we want to see them or not.
God certainly showed Samuel a new way of seeing things in our Old Testament lesson today. Samuel got some new lenses through which to look at life.
God sends Samuel to anoint a new king for Israel from among the sons of Jesse. The sons line up in front of Samuel, one by one. Samuel looks them over, starting with the eldest. “Well, the first one looks pretty good,” Samuel thinks as he reaches for his anointing oil.
God interrupts. There’s a problem. God says to Samuel, “You’re looking but not seeing. Open your eyes. You’re looking at outward appearances, but I look on the heart.”
To the Hebrews the heart wasn’t an organ of emotion; it was at the core of a person – his or her character, will and motivation. “Makes a difference how you look at things,” says God. And Samuel finally gets the point
Samuel takes a look at the second son, and then the next, and the next and the next. Having learned his lesson, he now looks with God’s eyes at each. He tries to see what God sees. He discerns that the king-to-be was not among the seven. “Are there any more?” he asks Jesse. And it’s then that the last son, the youngest, the most lowly, a mere shepherd, the least among them to human eyes is brought to Samuel. Samuel sees – this is the one. David the lowly shepherd boy is raised up, anointed and filled with the spirit of God.
God gave Samuel a new set of lenses. God needed Samuel to look at things through a Divine lens. Samuel was God’s prophet, God’s instrument, called to do God’s work. Samuel, if he was going to be useful to God, had to look beyond the obvious and into the heart of things.
Like Samuel, we’re human. We tend to look on outward appearances. We may not be called to be prophets like Samuel, but we are called to see each other through God’s eyes.
Stephen Covey, the author of several best selling non-fiction books, writes about what he sees as a huge change that happened after World War I. Before then, success was defined by intangibles that could be grouped around the term “character.” Covey lists things like integrity, humility, fidelity, temperance, courage, justice, patience, industry, simplicity, modesty, and the Golden Rule. What a list! These are the soul-deep traits that C. S. Lewis talked and wrote about on the radio and in Mere Christianity in the 1940’s and 50’s during and after World War II.
But something happened during the second half of the 20th century. Our “Character Ethic,” as Covey terms it, was replaced by “Personality Ethic.” Success became a function of personality, of public image, of attitudes, of acquired skills and techniques. We buy into such maxims as “Your attitude determines your altitude.”
Success is in the eye of the beholder and we beholders aren’t looking too deep.
We’re an image-oriented culture. We, like Samuel, look too often at outward appearances and judge accordingly. Sadly, we also live with the expectation that we will be judged by our appearance.
A bad hair day means that the hair on my head controls what goes on inside my head. What we wear or where we live or how much money we have governs our place in the social order. When we feel fat, we’re uncomfortable not only in our clothes, but also in our body and soul. We package our identity in a one-page resume. We’ve heard that prospective employers won’t take the time to read more. In the business world we “dress for success.” Image is everything.
In our image-oriented society we, like Samuel, look but do not see.
Have you ever felt like someone was looking at you, but not really seeing you? Job interviews can be that way. Popularity contests at school can be that way. Cocktail parties can be that way. Marriages can get that way.
I remember when my first marriage was falling apart. George and I were arguing one night about everything that was wrong in the marriage and in each other. I remember the exact moment when, with a flash of insight, I realized that he wasn’t listening to me. I don’t mean that kind of glazed over look spouses get with each other from time to time. This felt different. He wasn’t listening to me nor was he seeing me – not the real me. My heart told me that despite his looking directly at me he was seeing someone else – a me he wished I was. He couldn’t see beyond that wishful image. And that image blinded him from really seeing me. I wanted to be seen and loved and accepted for the real me – not for some image. And the tragedy was that he needed the same thing – from me – and I couldn’t see it either.
I wonder what would have happened if I had called out to God that night, “Give that man some new glasses! Help him see the real me. Help him see the me that you, God, despite all my flaws and inadequacies, love and accept. Help him see me as you see me and love me anyway.”
Of course both of us needed new glasses that night – and in the days and nights to come. And neither of us called out to God that night. Like the title of the movie several years ago, we were both living with our Eyes Wide Shut. Anger, hurt and distrust blinded us, with tragic consequences. We were blind to each other’s needs. And we were blind to the reality that each of us was a loved person. Loved by God. We were blind to that agape love that might have been used to heal each of us and, God willing, our marriage.
Neither of us considered the fact that it wasn’t just the two of us in that marriage. God was there too, waiting for us to turn to Him for help. I’m reminded of the message on one of the big advertising billboards that were scattered around the country a year or two ago. “Loved the wedding. Invite me to the marriage.” Signed, “God.”
In the Gospel lesson today a blind man receives sight while others around him who have sight cling to their blindness. Like the story of Samuel, it’s about how we see things. It’s about the Divine giving us a new lens on life.
At the beginning of the story, the blind man is asked, “How were your eyes opened?” Healed of his physical blindness, he talks about a man called Jesus and how “he opened my eyes.” At the end of the story he is asked by Jesus, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” As he ultimately answers, “Lord, I believe!” he is given a new lens on life. And he is healed of his spiritual blindness.
The Divine Optometrist wants to fit us with new lenses. A human optometrist fits people with lenses to help them see better physically. The Divine Optometrist fits us with lenses that help us see, not with human eyes, but with and through the eyes of Christ. God wants us fitted out with lenses of love. So we can see into ourselves and into others illumined by the Christ light – the light of love that brings healing, wholeness and new life.
It’s how agape love works when we tap into it. The immense love of Christ for each of us is a deep light within us. We can choose to be blind to that light, in ourselves and in others. Or we can take up God’s offer to open us to the light and let it flow in, through, around and among us.
We have a choice. God’s waiting for our response. Will it be, “I believe!” “I believe that Christ is the light that leads to healing and wholeness.” Or will we walk on with our eyes wide shut?