Samuel had a long and faithful history as Israel’s prophet. God had led him to choose the first king of Israel, King Saul. But Saul turned his back on God and God rejected him as King. This, naturally, grieved Samuel and destroyed the close relationship that he had shared with Saul.
Imagine Samuel’s reluctance when God compels him to travel to anoint Israel’s next King from Jesse the Bethlehemite’s sons. When Samuel arrives he hears God’s caution, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see, they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Seven sons are paraded in front of Samuel. None are chosen. Samuel asks Jesse, “Are all your sons here?”
Jesse replies, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel asked Jesse to bring his son David and the Lord said to rise and anoint him for this is the one.
This story teaches us that what we see and notice at face value may not be what is most important. We learn that most often God gives the future to those who seem unimportant in the present.
Jesus seems to be teaching us the same lesson in the Gospel story. As Jesus and his disciples were going about his healing ministry, they saw a man that was born blind at birth. The disciples used it as a teaching moment. They asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Illness and sin were often thought to be connected in this community. That forms the basis of the disciples’ question, “did this man sin or did his parents sin?” Jesus rejects this belief.
Jesus quickly clarifies that it was neither one, the parents nor the man who sinned, but this is an opportunity for God’s work to be brought to the forefront. Without speaking to the blind man, or knowing his story, Jesus put mud on the man’s eyes and told him to go into the pool of Siloam and wash and he would be healed. The blind man did that and he was able to see.
Suddenly all kinds of questions and second-guessing are unleashed, all the people who knew the blind man began to ask, “is this the man that was born blind or was it someone else?”
They did not recognize the man born blind even though he had lived in their midst all his life. Was it because the only marker of his identity was his outward appearance, his blindness?
The townspeople take him to the Pharisees and tell them what happened. Instead of recognizing that the man was healed, the Pharisees focus on whether Jesus had the authority to heal the man on the Sabbath. We know how controversial this was as it violated Jewish law.
The Pharisees began to question the healed man. What does he say about Jesus? The man is very clear that Jesus must be a prophet. All he knows is that he once was blind but now he can see. That’s the bottom line for this man.
The Jewish leaders persist to question Jesus’ authority to heal the blind man. They summon the man’s parents and ask,” Is this your son?” The parents were afraid of the Jewish leaders and they were unwilling to say anything about Jesus and his authority. All they could say was, yes, he is our son and he is an adult so why don’t you ask him?
So, once again, the Pharisees call the man back and ask him what happened. What did Jesus do to him? How did Jesus open his eyes? They questioned his experience because it was contrary to how they believed God acted in the world.
The blind man defended Jesus, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing… One thing I do know is that though I was blind now I see.” The Pharisees drove him out of town.
The story ends with Jesus finding the man and asking him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”
Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”
He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.
So, this is a story about failure to see this man as whole and celebrate his life-changing encounter with Jesus. The community failed to see the blind man apart from his disability and wondered whose fault it was. The Pharisees did not want to hear the man’s story because it conflicted with their own story that they wanted to tell. They wanted Jesus to be the center of controversy, not the hero of the story. The Pharisees wanted to be in control of the religious authority. Even his parents failed this man because they were led by their fear rather than seeing that something miraculous had happened.
From Samuel, we heard, “for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” The heart of this situation might seem to us like all the muddy details of what happened, who did it, who has the authority to do what they do, and who is responsible, let’s confirm facts. Jesus would say the heart of this story is the fact that a man who was born blind could suddenly see. His life was changed forever.
The sad thing is that everyone missed the miracle. The heart of the story is the miracle hidden by all the muddy details, and all the questioning about what happened to the man. Was he, in fact, the man that had been born blind? Who was this man named Jesus and why was he healing on the Sabbath? That is obviously a sin. The details of this man’s story obscure what is most significant.
What is the heart of God’s work within us that God wants us to focus on? Would it not be a shame if we also fail to see and consider the life-changing moments or circumstances of our own work and worship by focusing solely on the muddy details of that work and worship? That is the challenge of this story that calls us back to, not the details of our work or who does what, or whether it is our way or someone else’s way. What is critical is that we recognize God’s heart among us.