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Fourth Sunday in Lent

Readings: 1 Samuel 16:1–13, Ephesians 5:8–14 & John 9:1–41

Appearances can often be deceiving can’t they? 

I remember a number of years ago, when attending worship at what was then my home parish, a certain young man started coming to church regularly on a Sunday morning. He looked completely different from everyone else in the congregation. He had multiple piercings in his ears, a big ring through his nose, his head was shaved except for a mini mohawk, he had multiple tattoos, and he wore a big army overcoat and heavy army boots. He was physically big, and quite an imposing figure. He didn’t smile, and he didn’t really talk to anyone other than a friend who came to church with him, who was almost as intimidating as he was. Everybody in church gave him a wide berth; you could see that people felt uncomfortable being close to him.

One Sunday morning, while having morning tea after the service, I turned around after grabbing something to eat, and who should be standing right in front of me but this imposing and intimidating young man. So I nervously said hello, and we then began a conversation. He turned out to be one of the most articulate, softly spoken, intelligent and genuinely nice young guys that you could ever hope to meet. Following that initial conversation, he and I became quite friendly with one and another, and we would always catch up and chat on Sunday mornings after church. He was a terrific young man.

In our reading from the First Book of Samuel, God tells Samuel to go to the town of Bethlehem and find Jesse, because God had chosen one of Jesse’s sons to replace Saul as king of Israel. When Jesse’s sons were presented before him, Samuel looked at Eliab, who must have been a physically imposing and regal looking individual, because Samuel said to God, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But God said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 

Of course the son of Jesse that God had chosen to be king was David, a handsome teenager who was a shepherd. God saw something in David that people had yet to see. But as God Himself said to Samuel, “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 

People in the ancient world associated disabilities, such as blindness, with punishment for sin. So in the story of the man born blind from the Gospel of John, when the disciples saw the blind man, they asked Jesus who was to blame for the man’s blindness. Did the man himself sin, or was it his parents? Jesus told them it was neither the man nor his parents; he had been born blind in order that God’s work might be revealed in the man. In other words, the man was born blind so that Jesus could heal him, and by restoring the man’s sight, the power and glory of God working through Jesus would be revealed.

After the man had been healed by Jesus, he was brought before the Pharisees, who questioned him about how he received his sight. When the man explained how Jesus healed him, rather than being amazed by that fact, several of the Pharisees sought to play down any possible involvement from God in this miracle when they said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” Rather than accept the possibility that God was at work in and through Jesus, the Pharisees concentrated on the fact that Jesus had actually broken the law by healing the man on the sabbath.

They didn’t even believe that the man had been blind, and they brought the man’s parents in to testify that he was in fact blind, and that he had been blind from birth. The man’s parents confirmed that he was their son, and they also confirmed that he had born blind, but as for how the man regained his sight that, they told the Pharisees, you will have to ask him yourselves. So the Pharisees asked the man once again, and once again they didn’t like the answer he gave them, and they refused to acknowledge that Jesus could possibly be from God. 

The man then said to the Pharisees, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 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.” (John 9:30–33 NRSV) But still the Pharisees refused to concede that God was at work in and through Jesus.

Then Jesus himself said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” (John 9:39 NRSV) Some of the Pharisees overheard Jesus say this and they asked him,  “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains. 

Jesus did not come into the world to judge, but judgment takes place as a result of his presence in the world. Before he received his sight from Jesus the blind man couldn’t physically see. But even though he couldn’t see, he recognised that God must be at work in Jesus, because only God could restore his sight. The Pharisees, on the other hand, were blinded by their own arrogance. They believed that as disciples of Moses, only they had true knowledge and understanding of God. This arrogance prevented them from seeing the work of God in Jesus, even though it was staring them in the face. They continued to show their arrogance when they questioned why Jesus even dared to suggest that they were blind.

As human beings, our knowledge and preconceived ideas can sometimes affect how we see certain people and situations. Our own experience and learning can colour how we perceive others, and how we understand happenings in our world. People are not always who and what we may think them to be, and situations in the world may not be the result of what we think them to be. In our own way, we can be “blind” like the Pharisees in today’s gospel reading. At times God is at work in the people and situations that we would least expect Him to be. 

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