Friday, April 01, 2011

Open My Eyes that I May See -- a Lectionary Reflection

1 Samuel 16:1-13

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1-41

Open My Eyes that I May See

In the words of that old gospel song we pray that God would open our eyes that we might see God’s will so that we might be set free.

Open my eyes, that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
place in my hands the wonderful key that shall unclasp and set me free.

Silently now, I wait for thee, ready, my God, thy will to see,
Open my eyes, illumine me, Spirit divine! (Clara H. Scott, 1895)

This is our prayer; that God would give us discernment so that as we make our way through life; that we’ll know what is good and right, decent and holy. It is a prayer that invites us to look inwardly to see where there is light and where there is darkness, for what goes on inside us influences the way we act and react in the world. But, we also seek God’s wisdom so that we might see the world as God sees it, seeing both the light and the darkness that is present in the world.

As we move through Lent, drawing closer to the events that transform the story of Jesus – first the cross and then the resurrection – darkness and light, death and life – our own vision of ourselves and of the world is being stretched. So the question is – are my eyes open to see what God sees.

In the three texts for the day, something of vision and perception is present. There is a word here about discerning the call of God and a word about blindness to the things of God, and in the midst of both there is a reminder that darkness and light are present in our midst.

As we ponder the story of David’s call to be leadership in Israel, his anointing by the prophet Samuel, we are reminded that God looks at things differently than do we. God sees the heart, where too often we simply focus on the surface. We see the good looks and the charisma, but fail to see the darkness that may underlie that charisma. According to 1 Samuel, God had rejected Saul as king. Thus, the spirit of leadership in the community had been removed. Saul was now on his own, without the benefit of God’s guidance. With that removal of the Spirit, God leads Samuel on a quest to find a new king, and so Samuel is sent to the house of Jesse of Bethlehem. When Samuel arrives, the leadership of the town is concerned – Samuel represents the government, or so they believe, and so they want to make sure that he comes in peace. Having assured them that his purpose is peaceful, Samuel invites Jesse to come and share in a sacrifice to God, which seems to be a ruse to confuse Saul, who like Herod centuries later, is concerned about pretenders to the throne.

When Samuel gathers the sons of Jesse, he’s rather impressed with the oldest. He’s strong and tall and good looking. Just what you’d want in a king, but God doesn’t buy it. No, as Samuel prays that God will open his eyes, God gives him a word of advice: “Do not look at his appearance or the height of his stature, because I have rejected him.” No, while mortals look at outward appearance, God looks at the heart (1 Sam. 16:7). Too often we are blinded by what we see on the surface, but God can see below the surface. And so, from Eliab on down to the youngest of the seven sons that Jesse brought before the prophet, no one meets with God’s approval. Finally, frustrated with his task, and seeming failure to see into the heart of the one God had chosen, Samuel enquires of Jesse – do you have any other sons? And Jesse says, just one more, the runt of the litter, the one we’ve sent out into the fields to tend the sheep. You wouldn’t call him, would you? That’s why I didn’t bother to bring him, but Samuel said – go get him, just in case, and when he saw David, he knew. What is interesting in the text is that the outward appearance is noted. He’s ruddy in complexion and handsome. It’s hard to get away from the surface, but while the author seems stuck, God makes the choice, and Samuel anoints David as king, and then the Spirit that had lifted from Saul, settles on David – from that time forward. Saul may still have the throne, but in the eyes of God and Samuel, whose eyes God had opened, David is now the king.

If God opens the eyes of Samuel, God can also open our eyes to the darkness and the light that inhabits our world and our own lives. In the Ephesian letter, we read that while once we were in darkness, now in the Lord we live in the light, so we should live as children of light. The fruit of living in the light, is found in all that is good and right and true. Although the Ephesian letter likely postdates Paul’s life, this sense of living lives that are reflective of the light and not the darkness, reflects in many ways the word given in the Galatian letter, where Paul speaks of the contrast between life in the flesh (not to be confused with the physical life, but an orientation toward pleasing our own urges and desires at the expense of others) and that of the Spirit. I needn’t mention the expressions of the flesh here, but it is worth noting that the life of the Spirit (Light) is expressed in such behaviors and attitudes (fruit) as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control. Against these Paul says, there is no law. (Gal. 5:16-25). In this particular text, the call is to expose the deeds of darkness by exposing them to the light of God, because everything that becomes visible becomes light. Our prayer then is that we would be discerning, so that we would be able to see that which is good and right and true and live accordingly.

Finally we come to the story of the man born blind. As is true of many of John’s stories, this is a long one, and it has many points of entry, some of which are problematic. We can see in it the debates that are occurring late in the first century between the early Christians and the Jewish synagogues. The Pharisees are the nemesis of Jesus, and the people fear them because they fear being cast out of the synagogue if they name Jesus as the Messiah. As we read this text we need to be aware of this late first century struggle for the soul of Judaism. In the end Judaism and Christianity will part ways, and the result has not always been a happy one. If we can separate out that argument and not see this as pitting Jew against Christian, we can see in it a word opening blind eyes. The word here reflects some of what we see and hear in Ephesians – it is a word about light. In this case, Jesus declares himself to be the “light of the world.” If we want to have our own blindness healed, then we must allow Jesus to provide that healing. In this passage, he takes his spittle, mixes it with dirt, and applies that mud to this man’s eyes, and then telling him to wash his eyes in the Pool of Siloam.

It is interesting that in this story, after the healing, which people question, Jesus is no where to be found. It is only after the man is excommunicated that Jesus appears again and invites him to be his disciple. Again there is much involved here about exclusion from the synagogue, but maybe we can hear another word about our need to wrestle with the call of God. God can open our eyes, but we must still be willing to see as God sees, if we’re to benefit from this healing presence.

As we hear this word from these texts that speak of opened eyes, may we commit ourselves to seeing things as God sees them. If necessary, let us pray that God will bring healing to our own spiritual blindness to the darkness present first in our own lives, and then to the darkness that clouds the world in which we live and serve, knowing that our path must be lit by the one who is “the Light of the World.”

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