Toorak Uniting Church

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Blind as bats

1 Samuel 16:1 – 11     John 9: 1 – 41
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
10:15am, 6 March, 2005

Both the stories we have read this morning are very rich in meaning. Both have several layers of understanding we could explore. What I would like to do this morning is to lay them side by side and let them speak to each other.
The story about the prophet and his journey to find and anoint a new King and the story about the journey of a man born blind being anointed by Jesus and finding the light.

Both stories concern the undertaking of a journey. Both are journeys in a literal sense as well as a spiritual sense.

In the story about Samuel the prophet journeys to Bethlehem to find a new King. He also journeys from a situation of loss and grief over the failed Kingship of Saul to a point where he finds an unexpected new King in the shepherd boy David and a new future opens up for him and his people.
The story about the man born journeys to physical healing.
At the same time the story tells us about the journey of a man's growth into faith in Jesus Christ and the opening up of a whole new future for him.

In both the stories there are bystanders, people that gather around the main characters and who are also, in their own way. on a journey.

Those bystanders distinguish themselves mainly by their fear, their lack of understanding and their resistance to the course of action God's servants take.

The village elders that come to meet Samuel anxiously ask if he's come "in peace". They worry about the instructions with which Samuel may have been sent to their village by the Lord. They don't want to get into trouble. Their "peace" is more important to them than whatever the Lord may want from them. Even if it is to set things right.

In the story of the man born blind there is also anxiety-driven questioning. First of all by the disciples who are disturbed by a man who suffers without a reason. Whose fault is this suffering they ask, who can we blame for this? They don't want trouble, they want answers that will make them feel safe: If the suffering of the man is somebody else's fault they don't have to worry about it. If it is sin that caused it they are not responsible and there is nothing they can or could have done.
And then there are the neighbors and the Pharisees and even the parents of the man who are quite anxious, they don't know what to make of it all, they feel insecure, unsettled and not quite comfortable.
Who is this Jesus fellow? What right has he to challenge their set ideas about healing, their rules about Sabbath rest, their ideas about how the world hangs together?

As the elders in the story of Samuel the bystanders in the story about the man born blind feel themselves to be in the dark, trying to avoid anything that could upset their daily routines, longing for peace and quiet.

The man born blind travels from physical blindness to physical sight. His world is completely turned upside down, his life changed completely. He was blind but now he can see! The physical healing process however is only part of that change. His encounter with Jesus changes more than his physical well being, it changes his view of life. And it is there where the bystanders, the neighbors, the Pharisees, the parents and even the disciples, at this stage, remain completely in the dark. They see the man making his journey, but they don't make the journey themselves. In the end it is them that are more blind than the man ever was.

Samuel also makes a journey from darkness to light, a journey of growing understanding of the purposes of God and the insights of faith.

The man born blind and Samuel both manage to hear God's calling, see the truth that God reveals and accept it as their guidance. They both manage to follow where God is leading, even when it brings them to the unexpected, to unorthodox and unsettling places, that in the case of the man born blind not pleasant either.

To Samuel's surprise the future king he has to anoint is the youngest, the smallest, and the weakest after seven sturdy and very capable brothers are turned down.
David, with a set of beautiful eyes and a ruddy appearance.
A mere boy that will only get sunburned on the battlefield.
Not the attributes one would look for in a king!
But he is also a shepherd, and we might begin to recognize what God sees in this boy. God is not out to find the strong and powerful ones. God is out to find somebody who will rule in his image, the image of the shepherd looking after his flock and laying down his life for that flock if need be. A boy yes, with not much more than a pair of beautiful eyes to distinguish him. But a shepherd boy, with experience of herding and caring.

Jesse didn't think David needed to be invited when Samuel asked for his sons. And yet it is him that God sees and takes and fills with his Spirit.

Nobody would have thought the man at the gate of the temple was there for God's glory to be revealed. The disciples only saw him as an invitation to talk about guilt. The neighbors couldn't believe their eyes (it can't be the man we knew) and the Pharisees don't want anything to do with the possibility of God changing his life on a Sabbath at all.
Yet Jesus sees the man and opens his eyes and fills him with the Spirit.
When a party is organized and the future of the country explored nobody thinks of inviting the youngest, the shepherd boy looking after the sheep in the fields. Yet God sees his heart and makes him King. A king that will serve his people like a shepherd his flock.

David goes back to his sheep after the anointing. Nothing much has changed but the Spirit is now mightily upon him and will, in time start to bear fruit. The blind man again finds himself outside the temple gates and outside the community. He is still not able to earn a living and share in fellowship. But the spirit also bears fruit in him. He models the life of Christ from the moment he confesses faith in him. He is thrown out and rejected, the people around him turn away, he gets to travel a lonely road, just as Jesus will later on. He is thrown out because he was able to see something the others chose to close their eyes to because it was upsetting the way their world worked.

God is glorified in this man, in his gradual journeying to light and his courageous confession. God is glorified in the way he pre-figures, in his suffering, the suffering of Christ he has come to believe in. A man, who at the start of the story is an object of pity and derision becomes an important witness and example of the way of Christ.

God is glorified in a very similar way when a small and unimportant shepherd boy is drawn into the light and called to become a great King. He will become a template where other Kings will be measured against. He will become the great-grandfather of the Messiah, whose rule will fulfill the promise of love, justice and peace David will start out to establish. The rule that puts the small and weak, those who tend to be forgotten, the no hopers of this world in the centre and anoints them with new hope, new life and new future.

We may not think highly of ourselves, but we too are anointed, in baptism, and invested with the Spirit. We are called, like the man born blind, to open our eyes and see and accept Jesus Christ as Lord of our lives. Even when the consequences of that may seeing be unsettling, not comfortable and a threat to our peace of mind. We are called like Samuel to let go of our preconceptions and be open to the unexpected and often quite disturbing direction God's vision would want us to take.

We are called to let go of our grief, our fear, our worrying, to let go of everything that ties us down and keeps us from seeing where God leads us. We are called to break away from the captivity of anxiety and inclination to stay with the devil we know then put our trust in God and his future. We are called to follow in the footsteps of Christ like the man born blind. We are called to play our part in giving shape to God's Kingdom on earth like David. God's Spirit is upon us, it is up to us to open ourselves up to it and bear the fruits of faith for Gods Kingdom.

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2005

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