The scriptures this morning have the theme of sight and blindness – what it really means “to see,” and “to be blind.”
Because the way we see, and the way God sees, can be two very different ways.
We tend to focus on outward appearances, on surface, superficial aspects.
We “judge by appearances.”
God sees differently.
In the scripture reading from 1 Samuel, we have this wonderful story of the choosing of the King of Israel.
God tells the prophet Samuel to go to the house of Jesse, and that God will indicate to Samuel which one of Jesse’s sons – and there are eight of them – he is to anoint as King.
And as each of the sons, one by one, is marched out in front of Samuel, Samuel’s assessments are based merely on the externals: the height of their stature, their age, do they have that dignified, royal “look”? etc.
But each time, God whispers into Samuel’s heart: “No, not this one.” None of the seven brought before Samuel was “the one.”
But there’s an eighth…the youngest, David, the little shepherd boy. Jesse even didn’t bother bringing him out for the initial meeting with Samuel.
He was the youngest, and for all outward appearances, didn’t seem to “fit” the royal look.
David was “ruddy”, young, and rough around edges.
But God whispers to Samuel: “He is the one. Anoint him King.”
The text says: “Humans look to outward appearances, the Lord looks on the heart.”
We are “blind”, but God truly “sees.”
Because we focus on outward appearances, any imperfection or disability on display for everyone to see – be it a physical or mental illness, or a disability like blindness – becomes the defining thing about a person, colouring our whole view of the person.
I like the image of a can of white paint.
But let’s say there’s a tiny drop of red paint that falls into the white paint.
Now, it’s only one, little drop, but because it’s red, it really stands out in the midst of the white paint.
There’s so much more white paint, but we choose instead to concentrate on the one tiny red drop.
Suddenly the whole can turns red.
That’s all we see.
We tend to focus and concentrate on the one visible disability or imperfection about another person, to the exclusion of everything else about that person.
That’s how everyone “saw” the man born blind in today’s Gospel text.
Everyone “saw” only one thing about him: his blindness.
The red drop of paint.
The disciples ask Jesus about this man’s blindness, and begin to obsess and theorize as to why he is blind.
And even after Jesus heals the man, this man’s neighbours don’t recognize him. They don’t know him.
They had so deeply marked and identified and labelled him as “the blind man”, that they know nothing more about him – his life, his family, his story, his humanity and personality.
They choose not to see the totality of his personhood, his whole person.
Only Jesus sees his whole person, looking beyond the surface, outward appearances, looking past all imperfections, and straight into his heart and character, to the essential beauty and goodness of his whole person.
We struggle with the same problem of sight today.
To people around us – some of whom live with mental illness, or some developmental handicap, or some disability – or anyone who is different in any way…
What is it we focus on?
What is it we “see” in the person in front of us?
In both scriptures, we have the image of anointing:
Samuel anointing David King of Israel;
Jesus “anointing” the blind man with healing power using a mixture of mud and saliva.
In ancient times, and still today in the British monarchy, consecrated oil is poured on the head of the one chosen to lead.
In the Christian religion, anointing with oil is part of the baptismal ritual, signifying the coming of the Holy Spirit into our hearts.
As the baptized, we are anointed like royalty, Kings and Queens, precious and beloved in the eyes of God.
With that anointing, just as what happened with the young shepherd boy David, and the man born blind, God touches us, embraces us and gives us the gift of God’s Spirit…
…so that we can begin to “see” as God sees…
…seeing ourselves as good and beautiful…
…seeing others (even those with whom we disagree or even slightly
dislike) as essentially good and beautiful…
…and seeing the world around us as good and full of beauty.
God changes us, and restores us to sight.
Former astronaut Chris Hadfield recently recorded a “TED talk.”
He was talking about fear, and how we allow our instinctual, irrational, and “knee-jerk” fears to control us, limit and blind us to the fullness of life.
In riveting detail, he recounted his most fearful and scary moments,
…from the anxious drive to the space shuttle on the morning of the launch, all suited up,
…to a most harrowing space-walk in which he unexpectedly became blind in both eyes (it turned out to be caused by the wrong kind of soap solution used to keep space helmet visors clean),
…to the mind-blowing incredibly bumpy and disorienting return to earth in that tiny, cramped Soyuz capsule…
There were many moments in his space journeys when Chris Hadfield felt that overwhelming, sickening sensation of primal fear welling up within him.
There were many times throughout his many long years of intense preparation for space flight when he questioned the whole point of being an astronaut with all the very real life-threatening dangers associated with it.
But there was one thing that kept him going.
Hadfield said it was that initial desire as a nine-year-old boy to become an astronaut “when he grew up.”
That initial dream kept him going, through those growing-up years, years of schooling, and long years of intense astronaut training.
That original vision, time and time again, brought him back from the brink of overwhelming, primal fear to a place of calm, rational thinking while floating in orbit around the earth.
And, that original dream to “become an astronaut” made him appreciate the stunning, out-of-mind beauty in front of him, while staring out of the window of the ISS onto the blue-green orb we call earth.
We pray for that ability to really “see.”
To see beyond our fears, beyond outward appearances, imperfections or illnesses which we all share.
We pray to see as God sees – a world imbued with grace and beauty and goodness.