Reflections on the Readings for Sunday 3 April 2011
1 Samuel 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a; Psalm 23; John 9:1-41; Ephesians 5:8-14
The story of the anointing of David always makes me smile. The narrator works so hard to impress upon the readers that a person’s worth comes from what is inside and yet when introducing David draws our attention immediately to his good looks! It was David’s status as the youngest of eight sons that caused him to be overlooked. But God knew the kind of person he had created David to be – wily, brave, passionate and spiritual – precisely the kind of person who could be the king that God’s people needed at that time. Even his looks and charisma would serve him well. His years of tending sheep, far from being wasted, were an important part of shaping who he was. There was all that time to think and reflect, to cultivate depth, to learn patience as well as how to think fast and act bravely in emergency situations.
The psalms attributed to David give us a glimpse into the heart which impressed God. Psalm 23 draws upon two sets of images, a shepherd with his sheep and a gracious host with a guest, to paint a beautiful picture of absolute trust in a caring and hospitable God. I can imagine King David retreating into the memories of those long, slow days with his sheep and the sense of God’s presence in the wide open spaces of his boyhood, before affirming once again his willingness to trust God in new circumstances.
The Gospel reading about the healing of the blind man reflects upon blindness and sight on many different levels. The disciples at the beginning are blind in their own way. Walking past the beggar, they are unable to see the human being in front of them. Instead they see an object upon which they can pin theological speculation about the relationship between sin and suffering. I resist an interpretation of Jesus’ reply that has him simply pointing to the man as an opportunity for an object lesson in the power of God to heal. Although it is a kinder reading of the blindness, it still makes the man an object in a theological debate. What Jesus says of the blind man is true irrespective of his subsequent healing as it is true of each person in their individual circumstances: “it is so that the works of God might be made visible through him.” Jesus’ concern for the man as a person is also seen in how he seeks him out later. The restoration of the man’s physical sight begins a journey to (in)sight on a number of levels. As he gains in confidence in his dealings with the Pharisees, he begins to see through and challenge their posturing in a way in which his parents are unwilling to. He moves from seeing Jesus as ‘the man Jesus’, to a prophet, to one sent from God, to worshipping him as ‘Lord’. His parents, for fear of the Pharisees, do not have the courage to make the journey. The Pharisees’ intertwined commitments to religion and power lead them in the opposite direction, toward blindness.
St Paul reminds us that as followers of Jesus we too have journeyed from darkness to light. We have no excuse for living as if we were still blind. Living in Christ’s light includes learning to see others as Jesus did, not in terms of their status or lack of it, not as grist for our theological arguments, not in light of whether they advance our own agendas, but as human beings in the image of God, with the capacity to make God visible in the world in their own unique way. That, after all, is how God sees us.