A sermon delivered by Wendell Griffen, Pastor, New Millennium Church, Little Rock, Ark., on April 3, 2011.
1 Samuel 16:1-13; John 9:1-41
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Samuel Anoints David
16The 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.’ 2Samuel 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.” 3Invite 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.’ 4Samuel 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?’ 5He 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.
6 When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’*7But 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.’ 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these.’ 11Samuel 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.’ 12He 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.’ 13Then 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.
A Man Born Blind Receives Sight
9As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We* must work the works of him who sent me* while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ 9Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 10But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ 11He 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.’ 12They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’
The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then 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.’ 16Some 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. 17So 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.’
18 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 19and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ 20His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but 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.’ 22His 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. 23Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’
24 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.’ 25He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ 26They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 27He 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?’ 28Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ 30The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ 34They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’*36He answered, ‘And who is he, sir?* Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38He said, ‘Lord,* I believe.’ And he worshipped him. 39Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 41Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.
It’s very painful to be ignored or misunderstood by people you love. To some extent, we’re prepared when strangers don’t accept us. Mind you, we want to be accepted by people whether they know us or not. But we really aren’t surprised when we’re ignored or misunderstood by strangers. After all, they don’t know us. But it hurts when the people who know us treat us as if we don’t matter, or shouldn’t matter. It hurts when people who know us refuse to understand who we are and how we tick. It hurts when people who should be able to see our potential overlook us as if we don’t exist or aren’t worth their time and trouble.
So the lessons today from 1 Samuel 16 about David and John 9 concerning an un-named blind man strike home. These lessons reveal that God knows and understands what we experience when we’re ignored and misunderstood. God knows and understands what we go through when people ignore us, disregard us, belittle us, and mischaracterize us. God knows what it means when the people around us act as if they are blind to our abilities and worth. Let’s see what we can learn based on what God knows concerning that blindness.
Face value judgments are often blind mis-judgments. In the case of David, God had directed the prophet Samuel to travel to Bethlehem and select someone who would eventually succeed Saul as king of Israel. Think of Samuel as God’s selection committee for the new king. Samuel knew his job was to identify the person God would select. He knew where he was to look for that person. He even knew that he was to find that person among the sons of Jesse in Bethlehem. So Samuel was surprised when God didn’t endorse any of the men Jesse presented as his sons. They looked fine to Samuel. That was the problem. They looked fine. David, Jesse’s youngest son, was overlooked by Jesse—his own father! To Jesse, David wasn’t a potential ruler. He was simply the runt child.
The disciples of Jesus didn’t overlook the blind man we read about at John 9. They saw him and then reasoned that his sightless condition must have resulted from some flaw in either his morality or that of his parents. To their thinking, a person blind from birth was afflicted either to punish his parents or for his own punishment. The disciples didn’t overlook the blind man. They just looked on him as if he deserved punishment because he was blind! To them, he was a moral reject.
Like Samuel, Jesse, and the disciples of Jesus, you and I are often guilty of making surface judgments. We assign worth to people based on face value judgments the same way Samuel, Jesse, and the disciples of Jesus did. Samuel shows how religious people can give people undeserved advantages based on face value judgments.
And Jesse shows that people can misunderstand us even when we’ve been around them a long time. Jesse knew David was his son. Jesse knew Samuel wanted to meet his sons. But Jesse didn’t think David mattered for the meeting. We can make unreliable face judgments even about people we’ve known for years. How many times have you heard the expression, “I didn’t know she could do that” or “I’ve known him for years and never thought he had that potential”?
Reliable judgments require more than face value analysis. And this is especially true when we are making moral judgments. The disciples of Jesus had no reason to believe the blind man was any more or less moral than anyone else, including themselves. However, they were ready to assign moral blame to him, his parents, or both him and his parents solely because the man was born blind.
Samuel, Jesse, and the disciples of Jesus show that snap judgments might actually be based on our biases and prejudices rather than the truth. The truth about situations and people usually is like an iceberg. Just as the largest part of an iceberg lies below the waterline, truth concerning who people are and what their potential may be can’t be determined by first impressions and appearances.
We should remember what God told 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.” (1Samuel 16:7) The heart of things, and of people, is never found on the surface.
God calls us to do more than look. God calls us to discern. Years ago I had a wonderful time reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s fantastic stories about Sherlock Holmes. In those stories, the great detective would occasionally remind his companion, Dr. Watson, about the need for discernment. Holmes didn’t make up new clues to solve mysteries. He usually solved crimes by making observations missed by other investigators who had the same clues. Other investigators looked. Holmes observed.
Discernment is the difference between looking and observing. It’s the difference between being around someone and being with them. It’s the difference between seeing and knowing. God calls us to do more than look at the world, at people, and ourselves. God calls us to observe, experience, and know. God calls us to exercise discernment.
David and the blind man are examples of what happens when we don’t exercise discernment. David was overlooked as a son and the blind man was misjudged as a moral failure by people who operated on the “what it looks like” level. Things aren’t always what they seem. There is more to a situation than we recognize. God revealed to Samuel and Jesus revealed to his disciples that life is experienced on many levels. The way things appear is only one level to be encountered and understood, but that is only the start of knowing how things and people truly are.
So how do we learn discernment?
1. Discernment requires disciplined thinking and acting. We must remember that seeing is more than looking. Understanding is more than knowing. To progress from looking to seeing and from knowing to understanding involves disciplined thinking and acting. We must learn to question, wait for insight, and test whether our impressions square with that is true rather than fit how we find it convenient to think and behave.
2. Move beyond casual contacts to disciplined interactions. The casual glance of a blind man led the disciples of Jesus to view him as a result of a moral deficiency by someone. But Jesus offered another way of interacting with the man and his blindness. Perhaps the man was part of God’s glory. Perhaps his blindness was an invitation for fellowship rather than a cause for condemnation. Without engaging in disciplined interaction with the man, the disciples misjudged him, mischaracterized him, mis-labeled him. And when we misjudge, mischaracterize, and mis-label people, we are more prone to mistreat them. And this temptation is especially strong when we deal with people and circumstances that are unfamiliar or different from what we’re accustomed to encountering. People who are immigrants, homosexuals, racial and ethnic minority group members, who practice different religions from us are easy to mistreat once we mis-label them, mis-judge them, and mischaracterize them.
3. Remember that God is radically unconventional. Who would have expected God to choose the runt of Jesse’s family to become ruler of Israel? Who would have expected a blind man to become a moral guide for the disciples of Jesus? We often expect God to act according to our expectations, habits, traditions, and beliefs. Although we say God works in mysterious ways, we prefer to believe that our ways should show how God works. Not true! God is radically unconventional. God uses a blind man to teach sighted people about discernment. God uses a runt to show a prophet what God wants in a ruler. God reserves the divine right to even use what we consider offensive for glorious purposes. After all, how many of us would want someone to spit on the ground, stir up a salve in the mud, and apply that salve to our eyes? Discernment requires us to realize that God always operates outside our boxes. God doesn’t stay inside the lines. God is always calling us to life that is higher, deeper, and wider than we have known.
God is showing us through Samuel and Jesus that we are to live with discernment! Samuel learned that God sees a future ruler in someone viewed as a runt. Through Jesus, a blind beggar became an agent of moral insight.
The good news for you and me is that God sees our potential even when those around us can’t or won’t. Even when others ignore us, misjudge us, or mistreat us, God knows our worth. God loves us.
And the good news is that God will act with radical unconventionality to claim us, call us, and commission us to fulfill glorious purposes. Others may be blind to our worth, but God isn’t. Others may reject us, but God won’t. Others may condemn us because we are different, but God doesn’t. God won’t allow their blindness to define who we are. God won’t allow their prejudice to limit our usefulness in God’s world. God will find us. God will claim us. God will commission us. And then God will send us to live with divine discernment to challenge and heal the blindness that prevents others from seeing the rulers and teachers in people they call runts and rejects.
Pastor at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Arkansas, a state court trial judge, a trustee of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, author of one book and three blogs, and a consultant on cultural competency and inclusion.