Old Testament: 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.
The Response: Psalm 23
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.
The Epistle: Ephesians (5: 8-14)
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, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
The Gospel: John (9:1-41)
As he walked along, he 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
Less than 100 years after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Christians had already begun an annual observance of those foundational events. The special rites that they used soon evolved into what we call the Great Vigil of Easter: the central celebration of the entire church year. At that time, it was apparently the only annual celebration in the church’s life. That festival of the resurrection soon came to be the principal occasion for baptizing new members into the church; and the weeks and months that led up to it became a time of preparation for those seeking baptism. The gospel readings that we are hearing this year were used to reflect that emphasis.
On this particular Sunday, when the gospel that we just heard was used, the person reading the story of Jesus, healing the man who had been born blind, would end with the line in which the man, who could now see, proclaimed: “Lord, I believe.” Those to be baptized would immediately pick up those words and declare: “I believe. I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth…” and then they would continue, reciting the creed publicly for the first time as an affirmation of their conversion and their desire to be baptized.
The liturgy for Ash Wednesday (BCP, p. 265) reminded us both of the traditional place of baptism at Easter and “of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.” The season of Lent continues to be a time for all Christians to focus on conversion: on seeing in new ways and in allowing God to change us, to transform us, so that we might live in new ways.
Change is difficult, and yet it is what the life of faith is all about: ongoing change, ongoing conversion. John Henry Newman once observed (“On the Development of Ideas,” Chapter 1): “In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.” It is essential to our response to Jesus’ injunction (Matthew 5:48) to “Be perfect… as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
The hardest type of change might just be changing the way that we see: the way that we see the world and the way that we see other people. In today’s gospel story, John presents us with an example of a person who was willing to change, willing to come to see in more than just a physical sense, and of people, Jesus’ opponents, who refused to change, who refused to see the world and the people in it differently. That is a story that is repeated in various ways throughout the gospels; and that is a story that is repeated today, just as it is in every age.
It seems, for example, that our natural human tendency is to focus on ourselves and on whatever is designed to benefit us, and maybe those closest to us. That tendency is sometimes apparent in people’s daily lives, and it certainly takes a prominent place in political and economic discussions. The question that we all face is whether our basic emphasis in making these decisions is on ourselves as individuals, maybe including our immediate families but no one else, or whether it includes also those in our world who are most in-need, whether we are related to them or not, whether we know them or not. How does our use of money and time, our willingness to support public programs to help the less-fortunate and to pay for them, and our level of giving to others, reflect that emphasis one way or another? Are we willing to allow God to open our eyes to recognize our responsibility to care for those in need? Are we willing to accept the implications of seeing in that way?
A central part of that awareness demands that we come to see other people in new ways, in ways that we had not seen them before. That sort of transformation can be very difficult. At one time in our country, for example, it was common to look on people of color as in some way inferior to those in the majority. At one time, it was common to look on women as unsuited to manage money, to vote, to lead, and to have an equal status with men. At one time, it was common to exclude from full participation in society, and even in the church, people with ethnic origins or sexual orientations that differed from the majority.
Some today seem eager to criticize those in the past who failed to recognize the error in those narrow points-of-view, who failed to see in the same way that we do. Yet a deeper look at history shows that people of all ages have had their blind spots, that those in the past who discriminated against others on these bases probably did not see that there was anything wrong with their attitudes and their actions. And it warns us that, in all likelihood, we have our own areas of blindness today: areas that those in the future will likewise condemn as they shake their heads in disbelief at us and wonder how we simply could not have seen the narrowness in the way that we have looked on certain people within our society.
I suspect that we all have our blind spots; but there are some people who seem to cling to their blind spots, to their narrow points of view and hold on to them as tightly as they can. Those who refuse to see, who refuse to allow the way that they look on the world and the people in it in new and different ways, seem to do so in a desperate attempt to hold on to something that they fear they might lose: to ways with which they are comfortable and familiar, to the way that things used to be. In their insecurity, they try to perpetuate the past. But, as American poet Kathleen Norris has observed, “Disconnecting from change does not recapture the past. It loses the future.”
God’s call to us is not a call to return to or even hold onto the past. We respect it. We learn from it. It remains an integral part of our lives and of our history. But it is gone and will not return.
Instead, God calls us to move on into the future: into God’s future, into a future of seeing and living in ever new and life-giving ways. It is a future in which, by the power of God’s Spirit, we enter more and more fully into God’s way of seeing: of seeing differently ourselves, the world, and all the people in that world. It is a future in which God is continually opening our eyes, just as Jesus opened the eyes of the blind man so that, like him we might more boldly make our declaration, “I believe,” and might more faithfully walk in the light into which God calls us.