God's Word on Sunday: God forsakes looks, sees us through our hearts

  • March 17, 2023

Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year A) March 19 (1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41)

There are two ways of viewing the world in which we live and of experiencing life. The first is typically human and consists of looking and judging by outward appearances. Things that please the eye are accepted and praised, while unpleasing things are rejected and reviled. That is the way many people pass judgment on the world and on other people. Our culture, with its obsession with beauty, youth, bodily perfection and flashiness, thrives on this tendency. 

The other mode of sight is the spiritual — looking below the surface at the reality within. The attractive person is sometimes a liar, a cheat, an unkind person or even a killer. The one who does not cut such a fine figure can be a kind and interesting person filled with good qualities. 

We cannot be enamored with outward appearances for they often deceive. Samuel had been sent to select a new king of Israel from the sons of Jesse. Seven sons were paraded before him and each time Samuel thought he had found his man. They were all handsome and strong, but in each case, God rejected the candidate. God explained that He did not judge by outward appearances but that He looked within the human heart. Hint: that is what God wants us to do. 

Then a pattern often found in the Old Testament appears: the choosing of the youngest — the one not in line for succession. Young David was brought in before Samuel and God gave the divine approval. Samuel anointed him as king of Israel and the Spirit of God came upon him with great power and force, more than making up for David’s youth and inexperience. 

In the Gospel of John Jesus repeatedly tells people not to judge by outward appearances but to see with the eyes of the heart and the Spirit. Events and people are not always — in fact, are seldom — as they appear. Viewing the world through the eyes of God would shut many mouths and give us a completely new understanding of life. It might even transform the way we treat and speak to one another.

The Letter to the Ephesians observes that far too many people live in the realm of darkness. It might not appear that way, especially for those who lead a comfortable, attractive and pleasing life. But whatever is not good, right and true is defined as darkness. The solution is to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Christ rouses us from our spiritual sleep — our metaphorical death — and illuminates our minds and hearts. Throughout the New Testament both sleep and death are used as metaphors for a lack of spiritual consciousness.

The story of the man born blind is a set-piece miracle and morality tale that illustrates the human condition — dogmatic certainty with little basis in fact or reality. Jesus restored sight to a man blind from birth but unfortunately it was on the sabbath. This touched off an uproar. At first, the authorities refused to believe it was the same man who used to beg. When it was obvious that it was the same man, they were indignant. Their reasoning was that healing or working on the sabbath was a sin, so Jesus was obviously a sinner. God does not hear the prayers of a sinner; therefore, He could not have healed the man. But the blind man’s spiritual sight had been restored too. His reasoning was perfect — he was healed, so Jesus was not a sinner, but one sent by God. After he was ejected from the assembly, Jesus sought him out and revealed Himself as the Son of Man, after which the man worshipped Him. Jesus stated that He had come into the world to give sight to the blind and to take it away from those who could see. 

Some of the Pharisees indignantly insisted that they were not blind. The response of Jesus was devastating. He said that being blind was not a sin but insisting that they know and understand the ways of God when they clearly do not is indeed sinful. It is the mark of spiritual shallowness and rigidity, and it is to such people that Jesus addresses His call to awake from sleep and rise from the dead. Encountering Jesus opens the heart and mind.