“Can You See?”
March 26, 2017
By John Partridge*
1 Samuel 16:1-13 John 9:1-41 Ephesians 5:8-14
What is it that you are good at?
Each of us is good at something.
With the possible exception of the very young, most people have invested enough time and effort into one or more subjects to have become reasonably good at them, and knowledgeable about them. It might not be rocket science, but just about everyone knows a lot about something. It might be engineering, or law, or medicine, but it might also be homeschooling, or auto repair, antique tractors, hair, jewelry, video games, coin collecting, home repair, or negotiating the convoluted steps of government grant writing. Whatever it is that you are good at, we all recognize that there is a difference between knowing a little, knowing a lot, and being an expert. We all know a little about filing our taxes, but if we’re smart, we know when it’s time to get our questions answered by an expert. Many of us can do basic home repairs, but we still keep the phone number of a good plumber handy.
With that in mind, think about those times when, you, as a person who knows a little, or even a lot, about one particular subject, have had a conversation with someone who was truly an expert. Wow. Sometimes these experts give speeches, and we go to large arenas and concert halls just to hear them talk about the things we are interested in. I follow Buzz Aldrin on Twitter and I read the blog written by Ben Witherington III. Why? Because Buzz Aldrin has forgotten more about space, astronauts, and astrophysics than I can ever hope to know, and Ben Witherington has forgotten more about the New Testament scholarship and proper Greek translation than I am likely to ever learn. When experts look at a problem, they see things that non-experts might not ever notice. The efforts of people like me and other fans or novices are not likely to impress the experts. What will impress the experts are not the things that might impress the rest of us and as a result, we sometimes notice that experts will make surprising choices because they can see and anticipate things that we cannot.
Not surprisingly, we see the same thing in scripture and we also see that when compared to God, even the experts are put to shame.
We begin this morning in 1 Samuel 16:1-13, where we hear the story of when God sent the prophet Samuel to anoint David as the king of Israel in place of King Saul.
16:1 The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
2 But Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears about it, he will kill me.”
The Lord said, “Take a heifer with you and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3 Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what to do. You are to anoint for me the one I indicate.”
4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”
5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”
7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.”10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”
“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”
Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”
12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.
Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”
13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
Throughout this story, everyone thinks and reacts only within the limits of what they know and of course, this is only natural. We can only use the tools that we have. We can’t use knowledge that we don’t have. And so what we see is town elders who are afraid of God’s prophet because in the past they have witnessed him only as the bearer of bad news. We have Jesse, the father of many sons, and the resident expert on what his children are capable of doing, who fails to call the youngest because someone has to watch the sheep, and who would imagine that the youngest would be of any value for anything that the prophet of God would want? And finally, we have Samuel, the prophet of God, who is indisputably the expert on God, but who is utterly wrong about what God is looking for in a new king.
The town elders were wrong about why Samuel had come because they thought of him only as a messenger of doom. Jesse was wrong because he assumed that David was too small and too young to be of any value. And Samuel was wrong because he was only capable of looking at the superficial realities of how men appeared on the outside. They were wrong because none of their expertise and knowledge came close to the expertise and knowledge of God. Because God knows everything that is know-able, his expertise rises to levels that exceed even our imagination. And because God’s expertise and knowledge so far exceeds our own, God sees differently than humans do. What impresses God is not what impresses human beings, and God’s choices are often not what we would expect.
And that brings us to this week’s gospel lesson from John 9:1-41. This is, as we noted last week, another story that is longer than usual, because it is one of the great stories of scripture. It is the story of Jesus healing a man that had been born blind and it is a story that deserves to be read as a whole and not broken up and studied in pieces.
9:1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
The Pharisees, despite being experts in the Jewish scriptures and writings, were baffled by the healing of the blind man. Their understanding led them to believe, just as the disciples had, that the man’s blindness, because blindness was bad, must have been a punishment from God. And, at the same time, they had never seen, nor heard, of anyone being healed after being born blind.
But God’s understanding goes far beyond that of the religious experts, and Jesus explains that this blindness had not been caused by the sin of the man, nor of his parents, but that sometimes God allows bad things to happen “so that the works of God might be displayed.” What Jesus is saying is hard for us to grasp. But in this passage he tells us that sometimes God allows bad things to happen because, somehow, in ways that we cannot understand or comprehend, these things pave the way for something better to happen later. Somehow, accidents, and even evil, are allowed by God because they fit into, and are a part of, the larger tapestry of God’s plan for the universe. Now I’m not going to even try to tell you that this is much comfort when children die or when the innocent suffer. It is impossible for us to even imagine what good could possibly be accomplished by such things. But somehow, even in our suffering, even in our hurt, even in our disbelief, we must trust that God knows and understands more than we are capable of understanding and far more than we are even able to imagine. Because God is all knowing, but also because God is loving, kind, and just, we must find a way to trust that these things are, somehow, a critical part of the plan of God because anything less would require us to believe that God is capricious and cruel instead of thoughtful and good.
But all of that brings us to the “So what?” part of the message. What difference does knowing these things make to me? And for that we arrive at Ephesians 5:8-14 where we hear these words:
8 For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light 9 (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) 10 and find out what pleases the Lord. 11 Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 It is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret. 13 But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:
“Wake up, sleeper,
rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
Paul says that because we believe, we have stepped out of darkness and into the light of God and as such we must live and act as if we are. We must be agents of light, goodness, righteousness and truth. Since God is the expert in everything, we must study the word of God to discover what things are pleasing to him and which of those things we can do. Paul says that we must not only avoid darkness and evil but we must work to make the world better, and we must fight against immorality and evil. We must not pass through the world as if we are asleep at the wheel. We must wake up, rise from the dead, and do those things that God has commanded because he is the expert, and our job… is to change the world.
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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646. These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org. To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn. These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.