1 Samuel 16:1-13
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, `I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “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.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
1 The LORD is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those
who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days
of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light– for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore it says,
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
The Gospel: John (9:1-41)
As he walked along, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, `Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “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. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, `We see,’ your sin remains.”
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
It really doesn’t seem that long ago that Judy and I came here to St. Margaret’s, one Sunday while I was on vacation, bringing with us our infant twins, Mark and Micaela. Now, suddenly it seems, they are 13 years old and in the eighth grade. At that time, their “reading” consisted in cloth, children’s books, suitable for chewing. Now their school has introduced them to William Shakespeare, among others, and soon to Charlotte Bronte, Sophocles and William Golding. (These authors really give them something to chew on!)
Recently their class completed reading and discussing Melba Pattillo Beals’ book, Warriors Don’t Cry. It’s the story of the author’s experiences as one of the first black students to attend Central High School in Little Rock. It is a story that generates discussions around dinner tables as well as in classrooms.
One of the story’s real-life characters was a young white student named Link. While pretending to side with the segregationists, he worked to protect Melba and shield her from threats against her. He was able to look at her differently from the way that many of the others did: not as a member of another group of people who were supposedly different from the others, but simply as a fellow student, as a fellow human being, and someone equally deserving of dignity and respect. Both Link and the other white students around him were looking at the same person, Melba, but he was able to see in a new way. And seeing in a new way made all the difference.
One of the questions that Mark and Micaela’s teacher asked of her class was where they saw the same sort of prejudiced opposition to groups of people today and the same sort of struggle for equal treatment. Coming as this discussion did two weeks ago, on and around St. Patrick’s Day, the students almost immediately began to talk about the news coming from the St. Patrick’s Day parades in New York and Boston: the news of long-time sponsors who were no longer willing to support the events because the parade organizers would not include groups that were promoting equal treatment for gay and lesbian people. These Junior High students instinctively identified these groups as members of yet another minority, prevented from full participation in the life of the community because some in the majority did not want “those people” included.
Like Link in Melba Beals’ story, most of our young people today seem instinctively able to see those of other sexual orientations in a way that is different from the way that many people in the past saw them. And seeing them in a new way – as people like them, equally deserving of acceptance and dignity and respect — makes all the difference.
Today’s first reading and gospel reading are about people coming to see in new ways. And for the characters in these stories, that new way of seeing made all the difference as well.
The great prophet Samuel, as attuned as he was to the marvelous ways of God, seemed sure that one of Jesse’s older sons had to be the one whom God was choosing to be Israel’s next king. Some of them, at least, even looked the part. But as God told him, “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” (1 Sam. 16:7)
In our gospel story, the Pharisees who think that they see descend into inner blindness, while the man who had been blind actually comes to see: not only gaining his physical sight, but coming to see Jesus differently. And in seeing Jesus differently, he finds life. Seeing differently makes all the difference.
So, how do we see? Often not so clearly. It’s not that there is anything that we can do that will magically free us from all our biases and somehow give us a completely objective point of view. That’s simply not the human condition. We all see things from a limited perspective, one that is necessarily conditioned by our background and experiences. We are never free of them, but we can recognize them and acknowledge them, and then seek to see differently, to see our world from other perspectives, to see people from other perspectives, to see more clearly.
The tendency to categorize other people, to group them into stereotypes, comes all too easily to us as human beings. We see, for example, people who are relatively well-off financially and live in upscale neighborhoods hold to and promote stereotypes about those who are poor; and, at the same time, we see those who have low to moderate incomes stereotyping people who are more affluent than they are. Each group seems to feel comfortable in its own set of stereotypes, in its own set of prejudices. Yet each set is just as ignorant, just as blind as the other.
So what do we do about it? Looking back at our two biblical stories, we can ask “What did God do about it?” Both in the story about Samuel and David and in the story about Jesus and the man born blind, the difference came when the people actually came to know each other in a direct and personal way.
When Samuel put aside his prejudice, and the prejudice of David’s entire family, and came to know David personally, he saw in this unlikely boy the one whom God had chosen to deliver and lead Israel. And when the man born blind came to know this “man named Jesus,” he came to see him, not as a sinner as some of the Pharisees tried to portray him, but as a prophet, as a man who had come from God, and as someone whom he eventually came to worship.
Getting to know someone directly and personally can break through our preconceived notions and biases about them in a way that nothing else can. That’s a realization that so many of our churches forget or choose to ignore. It’s easier for us to have someone come in and talk to us about hunger in our community than it is for us to go out and work in a food pantry or a feeding program and to allow ourselves to come into personal contact with those who need their assistance. It’s easier for us to wring our hands and lament the problems in our schools than it is for us actually to volunteer in those schools ourselves, getting to know both the students and the faculty and staff and coming to understand the challenges that they face every day. It’s easier for us to talk about respect for the elderly in our community than it is for us actually to spend time visiting them and serving their needs in a direct and personal way.
With all of our rapidly changing technology, we find more and more ways that we can communicate with one another, that we can bridge the gap between our portable electronic devices and those of others. But if we want to bridge the far more important gaps, not those between pieces of equipment but between people, there is still no effective substitute for direct and personal contact. For it is in coming to know others in a direct and personal way that we come to see differently. And seeing differently, maybe even coming to see people as God sees them, still makes all the difference in the world.