1 Samuel 16:1-13
As you undoubtedly know, assumptions can be misleading. A man was walking through the park and came upon a young boy seated on a bench. Lying at the boy’s feet was a beautiful Great Dane. “Does your dog bite?” asked the man. The boy replied, “Nope.” So the man leaned down to pat the magnificent animal on his head. The dog took one look at the protruding hand, growled, and lunged at the man, taking a healthy chomp on his arm. “Hey, I thought you said your dog didn’t bite.” “He doesn’t. This isn’t my dog!”
This silly story makes a point similar to the one made in our scripture lessons today. Assumptions can be misleading. Things are not always as they seem to be. Sometimes we’re fooled by outward appearances, like what happens to Samuel when he is trying to find God’s anointed one among the sons of Jesse. God directs Samuel to look beyond outward appearances, to look beneath the surface, to the heart, as God does. Only then does he discover David, the youngest of the sons, the one seen by others as the least significant, but the one chosen by God.
There’s an old expression – maybe you’ve heard it: “There are none so blind as those who will not see.” A great irony in some Bible stories is that those who are literally blind often see more than the sighted persons around them, while those who have their sight are the ones who are often spiritually blind. They are, we might say, “blind to their blindness.” With that in mind, let’s look again at the sometimes humorous story of Jesus and the blind man. As we do perhaps we can discover where we are at times “blind to our blindness,” and in doing so, perhaps Christ’s healing light can be eye-opening for us.
The story starts with a theological debate. Jesus and several of his disciples come upon a man blind from birth sitting by the side of the road, perhaps begging. The disciples ask, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” It was
a natural question, since in those days most people believed that sin caused sickness, and if you were sick – or physically impaired – you or your parents must have sinned. It was really quite simple. But Jesus says, “Nobody sinned. This man is here so that all might see the power of God.” Then Jesus does something with his saliva and dirt, anoints the man’s eyes, commands him: “Go, wash out your eyes in the pool of Siloam” – a command that is immediately obeyed – and the man returns, no longer blind. Now the comedy begins.
Some of his neighbors think they recognize him. “Is that Joe the beggar?” “No, that’s not him; it just looks like him, but it’s not Joe.” And he says, “Yes, I’m me.” “You’re putting us on. How’d ya get your eyes opened?” “Jesus did it.” “No kidding?! – wait’ll the Pharisees get a load of this!” So they take him to the Pharisees. “You’re the blind man?” “Right.” “But you’re not blind!” “Right.” “Well, what happened?” “Jesus put some mud on my eyes and now I can see.”
The reaction of the Pharisees is so typical of those of us who are blind to our blindness. The proof is standing right in front of them – the man blind from birth can now see – but they initially refuse to believe that God has done a miracle. There are none so blind as those who will not see. So they look for a scapegoat. “Obviously, this man Jesus is not from God, because if he was, he’d have known that it’s illegal to heal on the Sabbath.” This legalistic nit-picking was also typical of the Pharisees. For example, if you sprained your foot on the Sabbath, you couldn’t pour cold water over it to relieve the swelling, because that was considered healing, and forbidden. If you plucked a grey hair out of your head on the Sabbath, that was considered reaping – forbidden. If you wore your false teeth on the Sabbath, that was considered carrying a burden – forbidden.[i]
The Pharisees and the neighbors argue back and forth. They call the man back into the discussion. “Come here, blind man, or whoever you are. What do you think about this eye-opening experience?” “I think Jesus is a prophet,” he says. Well, that answer doesn’t satisfy them either, so they decide that he must not have been born blind after all. They drag in the man’s frightened parents, and in spite of their fear of reprisal, they admit that this is their son, and that he was born blind. “But that’s it. No more questions. If you want to know any more, ask him. He’s old enough to tell the truth. We know nothing!” Their fear has blinded them, preventing them from fully supporting their son and sharing in his joy. Their fear paralyzes their willingness to see. They don’t want to be excommunicated from the temple. They don’t want to face further ostracism – being parents of someone blind was bad enough – but to get tangled up with this Jesus fellow? No way! There are none so blind as those who will not see.
The Pharisees call the blind man back one last time. “Now look, we know your friend Jesus couldn’t have done this. Things don’t happen that way. If you’re blind, you’re blind. Period. Jesus is obviously a sinner, so praise God for the miracle that has happened.” At last they finally acknowledge that this has something to do with divine intervention. The man replies, “Whether he’s a sinner or not, I do not know. What I do know is this: I was blind, and now I can see.” Can you hear the music to “Amazing Grace” playing in the background?
The Pharisees, like the interrogators in a detective story, keep at him: “How did Jesus do it?” And the man finally loses his patience. “I told you already, and you wouldn’t listen. Why do you want me to go over it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” The Pharisees do not appreciate his sarcasm, but realizing that they’ve come to the end of their rope, in exasperation, they throw him out of the temple. At the end of the story, the blind man believes in Jesus and worships him, but the religious leaders remain blind to their blindness. There are none so blind as those who will not see.
Though most of us are blessed with the gift of sight, we sometimes close our eyes to reality, don’t we? We sometimes just plain don’t see the truth. We get fooled by outward appearances. Our prejudices about those who are physically impaired, for example, often reveal our own blindness. The late comedian, Bob Hope, a pretty fair golfer in his day, was presenting an award once to Charles Boswell, an outstanding blind golfer at the time. Boswell would have his assistant line the club up, but he swung it himself, and was really very good. Well, Hope got to the podium to make the presentation, but he couldn’t resist kidding a little bit. “Outstanding blind golfer, huh? I’d like to play you sometime.” Boswell replied, “Mr. Hope, I’d love to play you a round of golf.” Hope said, “I don’t think you understand. I only play for money.” “Great. I like to have a little side bet going, too. It makes things more interesting.” “What kind of handicap would I have to give you, Charlie?” “Mr. Hope, I’ll tell you what, I’ll play you even up.” Hope was delighted. “When can we play?” Boswell replied, “Tonight at midnight.” It was a humorous moment, but later Bob Hope commented that it had been a serious “eye-opening” lesson for him. He appreciated more what it must be like to be blind, and he also was a bit humbled by what those who are physically impaired can do.[ii] How are you and I blinded by outward appearances?
Sometimes we’re blinded by the assumptions we make. Jesus’ disciples assumed that someone must have sinned for the man to be blind. We often assume that simple or simplistic answers can be applied to life’s complicated questions, but that’s not always true. There are some things that we can’t logically explain; there are some questions in life that do not have easy answers. And making wrong assumptions often get us in trouble. Like the woman who was visited by a tramp passing through town. He was looking for a bite to eat, but was willing to work for it. “Fine,” she replied, “Here’s some paint. Go out to the back of the house and paint the porch, and when you’re done, I’ll give you some supper.” She assumed that he understood her, but he came back a few minutes later. “Lady, are you sure you want me to paint your Porche with this white paint?” “Yes, of course,” she snapped. She made an assumption that he could follow her orders. He assumed that if she said so, she must know what she was talking about. An hour later he came back around to the front of the house, told the woman he had finished the job, and she gave him some supper to take on his way. Just as he was leaving, the man paused and said, “Lady, thanks for the food, but I need to tell you something. That’s not a Porche you have back there; it’s a Mercedes.” How are you and I blinded by the assumptions we make?
Sometimes we’re like the neighbors in the gospel story. They just couldn’t believe a miracle, even when it was staring them right in the face. How are you and I like them? Perhaps when we overlook the miracles around us, perhaps when we do not appreciate the blessings we have – loving families, a caring church family, reasonably good health, the beauties of nature, especially as we think of the miracles of Spring soon to be here, we hope, the privilege of living on beautiful Cape Cod, and in this great country of ours, the gifts of God’s grace that surprise us every day. In what ways are you and I blind to our blessings?
Sometimes we’re blinded by our beliefs like the Pharisees were. They were blinded by an unwillingness to let God work in a new and different way; they were blinded by rigid religious doctrines that prevented them from being open to God’s grace. They had become spiritually blind. The members of the Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas, in the news again lately because of the death of its founder, they are spiritually blind, I believe. I remember Liz, an elderly member in my first church. Liz had gone through 25 or more operations over her lifetime, and had suffered a lot more than any person should have to suffer. And she wanted to know “why?” But I could never give her an answer that satisfied her. So she came up with her own – she must have done something bad when she was younger, and God was punishing her for it. As much as I tried to dissuade her, Liz clung to that belief to the day she died. What are you and I clinging to that is blinding us to God’s sustaining presence and love? How are we spiritually blind?
Finally, the blind man’s parents were blinded by fear, and they missed out on sharing the joy of his good news. How are we blind in this way? Perhaps in those times when, out of fear, we have consciously chosen not to walk in God’s way, fearing that God’s way was too difficult for us to travel; perhaps when we have deliberately denied Christ, when we have been more concerned about what others think of us than what God thinks of us; perhaps in those times when we’ve been so afraid of facing our own sinfulness, that we’ve denied it or ignored it, and shut ourselves off from God’s forgiveness, and from the joy it would bring us, if only we would accept that forgiveness. How have you and I been blinded by fear and missed the joy?
In contrast with all these folks in the story, and all of us who are blind to our blindness, is the one who was aware of his blindness, and who received increasing sight and insight. He first recognized his need – he knew he was blind. He had faith that Jesus could cure him, and he obeyed when told to go wash in the pool of Siloam. He was persistent in his faith, though he didn’t fully understand all of it. And he witnessed to others. Once he was in darkness – physically and spiritually – but then he became exposed to the light, and instead of being blinded by the light, he saw the way, and walked in it.
When you and I are conscious of our blindness – whether we’re blinded by outward appearances, or by the assumptions we make, or blinded to our blessings, or by our beliefs, whether we’re spiritually blind or blinded by our fears – whatever form our blindness takes, if we’re conscious of it, as was the man healed by Jesus, and if we long to see better and to know more, then our eyes can be opened and the Gospel light can shine in. This is the promise of the One who said, “I am the light of the world,” it’s the promise of our God in Christ – for you and for me. Amen.
Rev. Kenneth C. Landall