True blindness is one who refuses to see

  • March 20, 2014

In the blink of an eye, human beings make sweeping judgments about people and situations. We can judge a person’s social class, education, cultural awareness, personality traits and whether we like them or not. First impressions are often useful — who could really operate without them? But the story from Samuel shows us that these outward appearances can be superficial, deceiving and just plain wrong.

The prophet Samuel was desperate to find the man God had chosen as the next king of Israel, but he didn’t seem to be having much luck. The seven sons of Jesse were paraded before Samuel one after another like a TV talent show. Samuel was taken in by the bearing and impressive appearance of each of them and had his horn of oil at the ready for the anointing. But God reminded Samuel that He wasn’t impressed by outward appearances — He read the heart and soul of each of these men and had rejected them all. Only when the youngest was brought in did God approve.

Choosing the youngest over the privileged older brothers was a reversal of cultural values. God’s favour for the youngest son is a recurring theme in the Old Testament — Jacob and Joseph are two prominent examples. God definitely confounds human expectations and is beyond our control and manipulation. When David was anointed at Samuel’s hands, the Spirit of God came “mightily” upon him. The power and wisdom that he would display were not his own but God’s. His own personality and humanity were intact — distressingly so, for his long reign also felt the impact of his weaknesses and sinful choices. At the moment of his anointing, however, he began with a clean slate. He would remain the “apple of God’s eye” despite his mistakes, for his heart was always with God. Many a political leader or celebrity has ridden to power or fame on good looks, charm and smooth talk. The story might teach us to be more discerning in our judgments, separating our opinions, likes and dislikes, and inherited prejudices from reality below the surface.

In our own time, many deeds of darkness have been exposed, not a few of them in high places or even the Church. It can seem distressing, leaving many to wonder what is happening. Ephesians would see this as the hand of God. Nothing can remain hidden, especially from God, and wherever the light of God shines everything becomes visible. When they are made visible, even the deeds of darkness can become light. We don’t have to wait for all of this to happen. Simply by being spiritually awake we can begin to push back the darkness so that the world can be illuminated by the light of Christ.

The biggest barrier to wisdom and enlightenment is the rock- solid conviction that one already has the whole truth and does not need to learn anything new. Sages and mystics in general have agreed: an awareness of our relative ignorance can be the first step to wisdom and illumination. In John’s parable-like story of the man born blind, Jesus challenged the disciples to look beneath the appearance of the man born blind and discern God’s purpose at work. When Jesus healed him, the man regained not only his physical sight but a far deeper spiritual insight. He was able to see the inner meaning of the signs that Jesus performed, enabling him to reach an awareness of who Jesus was and why He had come into the world. His journey crossed a threshold that led to faith. In His conversation with the man, Jesus declared that He had come into the world to give sight to the blind and to take sight away from those who see. Some eavesdropping religious authorities overheard and objected that Jesus was calling them blind. His reply went to the heart of the matter: true blindness or ignorance is without fault. But sin is present when one claims adamantly that he or she understands, even when that is clearly not the case.

We all have beliefs that we hold to be true and that’s fine. But we could reduce the intolerance, tension and violence of our world by recognizing the limits of our knowledge and understanding and listening to others with an open mind and heart.

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