2 March 2008 at :00 am
I Samuel 16: 1-13; Ephesians 5: 8-14; John 9
I had the good fortune to meet him several times when he was Secretary of State for Education. At first it struck me as odd that he would say as you walked into his room, “It’s good to see you”, or, when he understood the point you were trying to make, “Oh! I see.” He was born blind. He couldn’t see. And yet, he could.
The question who can see and what they can see runs richly through today’s scriptural readings. Samuel knows that God is rejecting Saul as King over Israel. A new King is to be anointed. God sends him to Jesse the Bethlehemite. Samuel sees all Jesse’s sons. For him it is obvious that God will choose the eldest to be king of Israel. And yet God rejects him. They work their way through all the sons of Jesse Samuel can see and each of them God rejects. There must be another even though he can’t be seen. Ah! yes. There is, but he is the youngest, the least considered. He is out in the fields keeping the sheep. He is the one. When he comes in, Samuel sees afresh and anoints him king over Israel. Jesse does not see as God sees. Samuel has not at first seen as God sees.
In the reading from St John’s Gospel, the man born blind, through the ministry of Jesus, comes to see. His disciples don’t see it. They think he was born blind because of his own or his parents’ sin. The Pharisees don’t see it. They condemn Jesus for healing on the Sabbath day. As some see it, he can’t be from God. Others see that he couldn’t have done what he had done if he had been a sinner. They are confused. The man’s parents can’t see it; they know he was born blind but as to what happened, they can’t say, or are afraid to say. The man himself doesn’t see it at first, but then it all becomes clear: the man who helped him to see must be a prophet. Then a little later, Jesus encounters him again and now the man born blind sees it very clearly: the man who healed him, who helped him to see, is the Son of Man. “Lord, I believe.”
David Blunkett then was right to say, I see, even though his eyes are blind. Today’s readings call us to think afresh about how we see, what we see. Do we see people as we should or are we as blind to people’s gifts and talents as Jesse and Samuel? Do we see things as we should or are we like the Pharisees unable to see the wood for the trees or like the blind man’s parents afraid of the consequences of seeing things as they really are? Can we with the man born blind say, I believe? Can we in the end see as God sees?
This is a challenge, for we certainly don’t usually see people as God does. God surely sees the heart of men and women, our needs and desires, our weaknesses and strengths, our failures and successes, our virtues and vices – and yet he sees us with love and with a longing that we should love him in return for his love. We too easily see people only superficially, or through the lens of our presumptions or prejudices. We too readily condemn people or dismiss them without properly seeing them as they are. I was impressed when I heard how someone addressed this problem of seeing people as they are, beneath the outward appearance. He said that he thought of every beggar he saw in the streets, every tramp, every vagabond or violent criminal, we might say of even the worst rapists and murderers, that this was some mother’s son. Some mother loved him.
But we can go further and know that each one of these is still loved by God. The 18th century poet and hymnodist William Cowper, in his poem Hark my soul it is the Lord, wrote,
“Can a woman's tender care
cease toward the child she bare?
Yes, she may forgetful be,
yet will I remember thee.”
God sees us as we are and yet his love for us is unceasing, unchanging.
It is equally hard for us to see things as God does; that is inevitable. And yet we are challenged by today’s readings to see beyond the surface of things to their hidden reality, to see things as they really are. As Gerard Manley Hopkins said, in his poem God’s Grandeur, “The World is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed.” Despite the pain and distress and the sheer brutality of much of life, despite the weakness of human being’s care for each other and for the environment, despite human sinfulness which stops short of seeing others as they are and focuses instead on our own human needs, the hand of God and his love is powerfully discernible within our world and the lives we are able to lead in it.
Yesterday was the anniversary of the death of George Herbert, the great 17th century English priest and poet. I end with a verse from his poem Teach me my God and King.
A man that looks on glass, On it may stay his eye; Or if he pleaseth, through it pass, And then the heaven espy.
If only we could see! In the light of Christ, we can.