Open your eyes to the truth

  • March 23, 2011
Fourth Sunday of Lent (Year A) April 3 (1 Samuel 16:1. 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41)

What is a person worth? Most cultures teach us subtly and at times blatantly that appearance is everything. A person’s worth is measured by their beauty, the proportion and appearance of their bodies, the clothes they wear and the way their hair is styled, and that indefinable quality that seems to cling to celebrities, sports heroes and entertainers. Lookism even plays out in political campaigns with the advantage going to those with a better media image.

But all of this is overturned in the story of Samuel’s selection of God’s candidate for King of Israel. He has all Jesse’s seven sons paraded before him. They are all tall, rugged, pleasing in appearance and seem to have a kingly air about them. Each time Samuel is sure that this one must be God’s chosen, but God rejects all seven. In exasperation he asks if there are other sons and they reply that there is only the youngest one out tending the sheep. And he is the one — even though the youngest and least significant. God repeats a pattern common in the Old Testament: choosing the younger or least distinguished.

God warns Samuel that He is not like humans for He does not judge by appearances but what is in one’s heart. This of course is exactly the manner of Jesus in the New Testament. He looked within the heart of those despised by others and saw good — and by the same token looked into the hearts of the pious and respectable and was repelled and appalled by what He saw. When Jesus commands us to judge it is not only because it isn’t kind — most of the time we are dead wrong! Human cultures and the people who create them can be incredibly superficial. If only we could learn to avoid forming our personal preferences and opinions of others by appearances. When we look within another’s heart — take the time to actually know them — the results can be rewarding indeed. Love gives us new sight and enables us to see with the eyes on the heart.

The author of Ephesians also wants us to open our eyes and to wake from our sleep. This sort of sleep occurs when we forget who we are and why we are here and fall into the trap of continually lying to ourselves about our behaviour and choices. Sleep and death, New Testament images for spiritual ignorance and delusion, hold us prisoner to sin and render us dead to the presence of God. It is only Christ who can awaken us, bring us to new life and grant us sight.

There is another biblical metaphor for lack of spiritual awareness and insight: blindness. The story of the man born blind is a brief summary of the entire Gospel of John for it describes both the human condition and the mission of Jesus. The deepest blindness in the world is that experienced by those who rigidly and dogmatically assert their own version of the truth as the only one. After Jesus restores the man’s sight there is a tremendous furor because Jesus broke the rules by healing on the Sabbath. As the man’s physical sight returns so does his spiritual awareness. He clearly sees that Jesus is indeed sent from God and is exactly who He claims to be. The religious authorities are even more adamant that Jesus is a sinner and cannot possibly be working miracles by the hand of God — they simply cannot see the bigger picture. After a later encounter with Jesus the man comes to complete faith. Jesus proclaims that His mission is to give sight to the blind and take it away from those who think they have sight. To the indignant authorities He insists that blindness itself is not a sin. But wilful refusal to be open to other possibilities or a deepening of the truth is certainly sinful.

Those who claim a monopoly on the truth and categorically reject the insights and ideas of others should be viewed with suspicion and caution. The first step to true enlightenment is recognition of how little we know and understand. It is only then that the real learning can begin.