This entry was posted on Sunday, March 30th, 2014 at 7:08 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
Now I See
Rev. Dr. David J. Fekete
March 30, 2014
1 Samuel 16:1-13 John 9:1-41 Psalm 23
The metaphor uniting our Old Testament reading and our New Testament reading is the sense of sight, or seeing. In 1 Samuel, we have the contrast between the way humans see and the way God sees. Human sight is represented by Samuel and God’s sight is seen in God telling Samuel who will be the next king of Israel. In 1 Samuel 16:7 we have the line, “The LORD sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” Then in John, we have the almost funny story that contrasts sight with blindness. Jesus gives a blind man sight. And the Pharisees go back and forth to the man, to his parents, and back to the man trying to get someone to denounce Jesus. It appears that the man who receives his sight actually gets exasperated with all this. When the Pharisees ask him a second time how he got his sight, he says, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?” (John 9:27) The contrast between blindness and sight illustrates those who could see that Jesus is the Messiah, and those who stubbornly refuse to see it. They are spiritually blind.
God’s words to Samuel speak to us today. “The LORD sees not as man sees; man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” I think that it can be true that we look at the outward appearance when we look at others. We tend to measure others by the success they achieve. And we measure success by having of money, or driving expensive cars, or holding positions of power, or dressing well, or by some standard set by worldly success. Our reaction is often either to admire or to resent these examples of worldly success. And to make matters worse, we can measure our own success by these standards. We can feel inferior if we are not wealthy, or if we have an ordinary job and are not a professional or a CEO. We may feel we have failed if we are an ordinary person with an ordinary income and an ordinary job.
This is the way a human can see. But God sees quite differently. God gives us a wonderful picture of spiritual contentment in the 23rd Psalm. There we read, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” When we measure our success from God’s perspective, we will not want. That means we will be contented with everything we have. We will not feel inferior if we are not rich, and we will not feel superior if we are rich. Psalm 23 goes further than to say we will not want. It goes so far as to say, “My cup overflows.” How many of us can say that we feel our cup overflows? Psalm 23 says, “I shall not want,” in fact, “my cup overflows.” We certainly need a different standard than wealth or power to say that about ourselves.
1 Samuel 16:7 tells us that God looks on the heart. When we look for success, our attention should be within. God’s kingdom is within. We can get a measure of how different and varied the conditions of spiritually healthy people are by looking at those with whom Jesus spent His time. We know that He talked with women and valued their company. We have the story of the woman at the well we heard last Sunday. There is also the story of the sisters Martha and Mary, who ministered to Jesus and who learned wisdom at His feet. Women were not usually seen as capable of receiving spiritual wisdom, yet to Jesus, they were. There is an interesting story in Luke about the kind of person whom Jesus spent time with. Luke recounts a story in which Jesus is dining with a Pharisee. So often in the New Testament we see Jesus at odds with the Pharisees, it is striking to me when we find such a story where Jesus is dining with one. We can’t say that Jesus liked only the poor and outcasts of society. Here, Jesus is dining with a powerful and presumably wealthy Pharisee. And interestingly, while Jesus is dining, a sinful woman anoints Him with perfume and washes His feet with her tears. The Pharisee finds fault with Jesus for allowing a sinful woman to touch Him. Yet Jesus is open to the affection of this sinful woman. He tells the Pharisee that her many sins are forgiven because she loves much. Here, we see that not even outward behaviors matter as much as the state of a person’s heart.
But as we look for spiritual health we need to be careful. Jesus can see into the heart, and is the only One who can see into the heart. Our understanding of spiritual fitness can’t take into account a person’s inner disposition. In fact, in the story I mentioned above, the Pharisee thought that this woman was a sinner because he measured her against his standards of ritual purity. In our story from John, the Pharisees want to denounce Jesus for not following their laws about working on the Sabbath. The Pharisee’s judgement is harsh and shallow, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9:16). They said Jesus did not keep the Sabbath because he made clay and healed a man on the Sabbath. Their rules of behavior were so strict that even healing was considered work. And giving a blind man sight, as godly a miracle as that is, was considered work and prohibited on the Sabbath. They thought themselves capable of saying that Jesus was not of God, according to their understanding of holy rules.
We, too, need to be careful in the way we understand our religion. We may be inclined to think that our doctrines make us the true believers. We may be inclined to view others who think differently than we do to be ungodly or sinners. We had a taste of just how destructive that can be a few weeks ago with a difficult visitor we had. But a variety of opinions on doctrinal matters does not mean one is right and the other is wrong, one is saved and the other is damned. Swedenborg tells us that a good life is what matters. He goes on to say that even falsities can accommodate a good and innocent life,
When falsities flow into good, which is the case when a person lives according to them from ignorance in which there is innocence; and when the end is to do what is good; they are regarded by the Lord, and in Heaven, as not being falsities, but as resemblances of truth; and are accepted as truths, according to the quality of the innocence (AC 7887).
I know of people in this church who accept doctrines only if they read them in Swedenborg. But Swedenborg himself, tells us that those who have a connection with God recognize truth wherever they encounter it,
If [a person] goes to the Lord and worships Him alone, he comes into the power of recognizing all truths; therefore every true worshiper of the Lord, as soon as he or she hears any truth of faith with which he or she was not before acquainted, sees, acknowledges, and receives it instantly (TCR354).
We need always keep our eyes and our ears open for truth wherever we may encounter it. Such a disposition may lead us to refine and supplement our childhood faith, and maybe even to abandon some of our childhood notions. I remember growing up in this religion. My whole world was the General Convention, its threat from the General Church, and the whole rest of the world which was the Old Church. How parochial and small a world. In graduate school, I had the privilege of meeting persons of all faiths, of learning about Christian history and the religions of the world, of deepening my knowledge of scripture, and to learn new ways of thinking about new issues of religion that weren’t in Swedenborg. What an eye-opening experience! I have not abandoned my core Swedenborgian faith, but I do live in a much larger world than the one I grew up in.
Finally, our story from John shows us the nature of belief and unbelief. It shows us the nature of seeing and being blind. And it shows us why miracles do not convince unbelievers to believe. This story is a masterpiece of literature. The metaphor of blindness versus sight is used to contrast unbelief with belief. The Pharisees go to great lengths to try to get people to denounce Jesus. They talk to the formerly blind man. He explains that Jesus gave him sight. After the Pharisees denounce Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, the people say, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” (John 9:16). Getting nowhere with the man or with the crowd, the Pharisees go to the man’s parents. The man’s parents only say what they know and basically try to get out of the whole affair,
We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself (9:20-21).
So the Pharisees go back to the man, himself and try to get out of him something they can use to convict Jesus. The man won’t confirm their prejudice against Jesus,
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:24-25).
John tells us that the Pharisees had made up their minds that anyone confessing Jesus to be the Christ would be thrown out of the synagogue (9:22). So here we have a blind man who sees, and the Pharisees who could see all their lives blinded against this miracle. They were so set against the divinity of Jesus that they refused to see this miracle so apparent to everyone in the village.
I find this to be the case today between believers and unbelievers. I see miracles everywhere I look. Unbelievers see nature and random natural selection behind the miracles of nature. And as this story makes clear, even if there were miracles today as there were in Jesus’ time, the miracles wouldn’t convince. There would be some way of explaining away even the most pronounced miracle. The blind man says, “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind” (9:32). Yet the Pharisees couldn’t, wouldn’t see it.
Jesus sums up this story with a somber statement to the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (9:41). It reminds me of the story of Lazarus and the rich man. The rich man, who is in hell, cries out to Abraham to send Lazarus from heaven to talk his brothers into repentance. Abraham says that they have Moses and the prophets. The rich man says that if someone from the dead talks to them, they will repent. But Abraham says, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced if some one should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). That is the nature of spiritual blindness. Though someone is raised from the dead, their blindness would remain. Though a blind man sees, they remain blind. John only adds that each one is responsible for their own faith journey. “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.”
Lord, you have given us eyes to see the splendor of your kingdom. And yet there are many distractions in this world. We are presented with so many images from the world that we can become blinded to the splendors of your kingdom. We pray that you open our eyes, when we become blind. Give us a vision of your kingdom and heaven’s glory. Let us see with your eyes. Let us view this passing world with eyes on eternity. Then we may come to value the things that truly matter. Then we may see the important things of life. And when our time comes to depart into glory, we will be ready to leave this world behind, filled with heavenly sights and affections.
Lord, we pray for those who are sick. Send your healing love to those ailing, and comfort their family and friends. Lord, we ask for the grace of your healing love for all in need.