1 Samuel 16:1-13 • Psalm 23 • Ephesians 5:8-14 • John 9:1-41
This week's readings offer stories of two very different people. The first, a youngest son of seven brothers, becomes a king. The second, a man born blind, gains his sight. In both stories, it's what happens between thing one and thing two that's interesting.
David is a teenage boy, stuck keeping the sheep while his father and brothers entertain a special guest: Samuel. The prophet Samuel was on a mission – looking for the next king of Israel. He's been told he'd find the person in Bethlehem, among the sons of Jesse. But looking carefully at each of the first six, he does not see what he's looking for, finally asking the father if he has any more sons, to which the father replies, "oh yeah, the kid, he's keeping the sheep." Once Samuel sees him, he's sure he's the right choice: handsome, beautiful eyes and ruddy - a healthy, reddish glow to his complexion – the resilient young man the kingdom needed.
For David, what happened between thing 1, his birth, and thing 2, his kingship, were years of being ignored and discounted by his family. Being neglected had an upside for him, though. Being the youngest came with a certain freedom, a chance to build his own character and increase his competency in everything from caring for animals, playing music on a lyre, and using a sling shot, skills that would come in handy later.
The blind-from-birth man in John 9 is never given a name – so let's just call him BB. As the story opens, Jesus has noticed BB. His disciples wondered why this man had been born blind; whose fault was it, the man's, or his parents? Jesus is very clear – this is nobody's fault. No one is to blame. For us in the 21st century, it's clear that in a universe governed by evolution, endless variations occur, including blindness. In BB's time, many believed that suffering reflected sinfulness: BB's blindness was due to some wrong action of BB or his family in the past. Even today, we humans are quick to blame someone, something, or even God – rather than understanding a more realistic, more complicated, bigger picture.
Jesus saw life more clearly. When Jesus declared that the man's blindness was no one's fault, BB was already being healed. As the story unfolds, we learn more about him, a person of insight and courage: one who can talk with the learned Pharisees, sticking to the facts, neither overstating what happened nor backing down. My guess is that those years of simply listening gave him an increased capacity to observe himself and others, sharpening his ability to think clearly, logically, and neutrally.
For BB, from thing one, being born blind, to thing two, being healed, was a long road of preparation that would come in handy right away, as he was quickly thrown out of the congregation by the Pharisees. Jesus, hearing what happened, went to find BB. This is where BB asks Jesus a question, "The son of man – who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him."
It is the perfect question. Tell me what is true, so that I may orient my life to the truth. BB and David both seemed to have faced hard realities, and had practiced orienting their lives according to the facts. Many of us, getting stuck in a resentful, blaming stew, wishing to be someone or someplace else, limit our capacity to grow up. Somehow, emotions can keep us from seeing how things really are. The ability to be thoughtful about how one is feeling, to use emotional reason, and to find the energy to face what one is up against, is the work of a lifetime. Attending to reality, gaining more perspective on one's world, and living according to the way things really are, is the chance of a lifetime.
Morning: What's a reality that I might wish to avoid, or avoid thinking about, today? What do I not know that I could get curious about?
Evening: When did I fall into blaming others? How can I see a bigger picture?
Psalm 23:1: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.