Spiritual Sight and Blindness

The LORD Looks at the Heart
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
April 3, 2011

1 Samuel 16:1-13 John 9:1-41 Psalm 23

Our Bible readings this morning concern different ways of seeing. In the Old Testament reading, we heard about how man sees, and we heard about how God sees. In our reading, we heard about Samuel being sent to anoint a new king after Saul. Samuel is sent to Jesse in Bethlehem, to look at his sons. For God tells Samuel that one of Jesse’s sons will be king. When Samuel first sees Eliab, he thinks to himself that Eliab is the one who will be king next. Apparently, Eliab is tall and strong–a fitting king. We know this because God tells Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him” (1 Samuel 16:7). Eliab was like Saul, Israel’s first king. Saul, too was tall and strong. We are told that, “as he stood among the people he was a head taller than any of the others” (1 Samuel 10:23). So to Samuel’s thinking, Eliab would be the next king, as was Saul before him. But although this is Samuel’s own thinking, he yields to God’s word. One by one, all of Jesse’s sons are brought before Samuel, and God rejects them all as the next king. Then Samuel asks if these are all Jesse’s sons. Jesse says that there is still one more, David, who is tending sheep. When David comes to the prophet, God tells Samuel to anoint David as Israel’s next king.
David is peaceful and mild, being a shepherd and a singer. There is a striking contrast between him and Sau. Saul was also chosen by God, but the people found him quite to their liking. He stood head and shoulders over the others. This was the kind of king a person would want to lead them in battle. But what about David? David was just a boy when he was anointed, and not trained in the arts of war. He was a mere shepherd. In the eyes of man, David would not be a likely choice for king. But God chose him to be Israel’s next leader. And God’s words to Samuel are words to us as well. God tells Samuel,
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7).
To the outward appearance, to the eyes of man, David is not a likely choice for kingship. But in the eyes of God, who looks at the heart, David is chosen to be the next king of Israel. In King David, we see the contrast between how the eyes of man see, and how the eyes of God see.
In our New Testament reading, we find the contrast between blindness and sight everywhere. Our story begins with a man born blind. Jesus gives him sight. This is the first contrast between blindness and sight. It is a physical image–a blind man who can see. But as the story progresses, blindness and sight become symbols. The story begins to contrast believing that Jesus is the Christ and disbelief that Jesus is the Christ. The first contrast concerns belief that the miracle even took place. We are told, “The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and received his sight” (John 9:18). They go to the man’s parents and ask them if he is their son, and if he had been born blind. Saying just as little as they can, the parents admit that he is their son and that he was born blind. The next contrast is whether Jesus is of God or a sinner. The Pharisees say that Jesus is not of God because he does not keep the Sabbath. They say this because Jesus healed on the Sabbath, which they consider work. The Ten Commandments forbid working on the Sabbath. Others say that no sinner can do such miraculous things. The blind man himself testifies to Jesus’ godliness. He says,
We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing (John 9:31-32).
A striking blindness overcomes the Pharisees. They deny the miracle of sight that happened right in front of them and condemn the blind man who praises Jesus for restoring his sight. They say, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they throw him out of the synagogue. The final play on sight and blindness becomes spiritual. Jesus says, “For judgment I have come into the world, so that the blind may see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39). The Pharisees ask, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus then talks of sin in relation to blindness and sight, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains” (9:41). A similar line is in Luke 8:10, Mark 4:12, and Matthew 13:13-14. Mark’s line goes as follows,
To those on the outside everything is said in parables so that,
they may be ever seeing but never perceiving
and ever hearing but never understanding;
otherwise they might turn and be forgiven (4:12).
When I hear these words, I can’t help but think of some people I know who can’t seem to see God’s hand working in their lives or in the world around them. For me, everywhere I look I see God. Just looking at a flower, and its beauty, is clear testimony to me of God’s work. Why would such a beautifully designed living thing come into this world? When I see nature falling asleep in the winter and waking up in the spring and look at the great cycles of the seasons, I see God’s hand. Snow and biting cold does not kill nature–it merely puts it to sleep. Then as the weather warms, the plants come back to life after their period of dormancy. When I think how a single cell is impregnated and grows and develops into a heart, lungs, a brain and head, limbs and becomes a living human being capable of self-direction, I see a divine miracle. When I look back on my life and see the changes and growth that I have been through almost without my knowing it, I see God acting in my life. And yet I have friends who tell me, if there were a God, they would see evidence somewhere. I am not judging such people. I am simply expressing surprise and wonder that something that seems to obvious to me is so hidden to others. Are these those whom Jesus says are, “ever seeing but never perceiving?”
But for us the most important seeing is how we see ourselves. How are our thoughts, feelings, and actions measuring up against our understanding of Godliness? Jesus taught in parables so that His deeper truths would be hidden in the simple nature stories. When we are ignorant of truth, we are not responsible. But that doesn’t leave us off the hook. It is still incumbent on us to seek God and try to learn God’s ways. It is still incumbent on us to remain prayerfully connected with God. And in our prayerful connection with God, God will reveal to us more and more about how to live in His kingdom. He will reveal to us sins we are to get rid of, and show us good things we are to love and do. He will open our eyes and give us sight.
And the more we see, the more we are responsible for. But the upside of this is that the more we become responsible for our spiritual development, the deeper God penetrates our lives with His loving and joyous Spirit. Our faith may start out very simple with something like the Ten Commandments. But from a very simple start, God will open our minds further if we seek Him and His kingdom. We learn truths from many different sources–conversation, study, reading spiritual works, inspiration, and life’s experiences. If we begin our spiritual journey with faith as small as a mustard seed, we can grow into a faith as grand as the tree that birds nest in. Swedenborg tells us that faith is perfected according to the abundance of truths we learn. These truths reinforce each other and the more we learn, the more support we have for what we have learned.
So far we have been looking at sight from a human perspective. We not consider sight from God’s perspective. Here, the words that God spoke to Samuel come in:
The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart’” (1 Samuel 16:7).
God looks at our heart. He doesn’t look at our dress, our money, our status, but how our heart is. We are all children of God. And God sees us as His children. God loves us with the kind of love a mother has for her children. And God judges us with a mother’s love. God looks at what we are trying to do. God looks at our intentions. God does not make up a list of our right and wrong deeds. He looks at what we are trying to do right now. We all fall short of the ideal. We may have done things in our past that we regret. But what really matters is what we are trying to do right now. Are we walking with God? Are we walking into the light? Is our heart turned toward goodness and godliness? Do our actions stem from goodwill? Are we but trying to turn toward God? These are the kinds of things God looks at. I once heard a man say, “When we take one step toward God, God takes three giant steps toward us.” We don’t need to be saints to find God’s love and joy. As the Big Book in AA says, “We claim spiritual progress, not spiritual perfection.
We may falter at times. We may stumble around in the darkness. But if we are still seeking God, and remaining prayerfully connected with Him, He will hold us up when we falter; He will lift us when we stumble. God is with us in all of our wanderings, stumblings, misguided actions, blindness, and trials. God is with everyone, everywhere. God seeks continually to bring light into our darkness, so that we may see. God is a “lamp for our feet and a light to our path,” the Psalmist says (119:105). With God in our hearts, may our light shine before men.

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