Not As Man Sees Does God See

Post Date: March 15, 2023
Author: Ric Cross

A Reflection on the Readings for Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Lent, March 19, 2023

Reading 1 1 Sm 16:1b, 6-7, 10-13a
Responsorial Psalm Ps 23: 1-3a, 3b-4, 5, 6
Reading 2 Eph 5:8-14
Verse Before the Gospel Jn 8:12
Gospel Jn 9:1-41

The key to the golden thread of our readings this week can probably be found in two verses of our first reading from 1st Samuel:  “Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.” (1 SM 16:7).  And: “Anoint him, for this is he.” (1 SM 16:13).  

For those unfamiliar with the stories of King David, David was actually the second king of Israel.  Saul was anointed by Samuel as the first king, but Saul fell out of favor with God and was rejected by God as king.  That brings us to our reading wherein Samuel is commanded by God to anoint David as Saul’s successor.

Following this passage is a complex series of stories that seem to have taken place before David’s anointing, as there is no indication in these stories of the anointing of David.  For example:  the story of David and Goliath, wherein David is a simple shepherd boy unknown to Saul who, because of his bravery and military prowess, becomes Saul’s armor-bearer.  These stories were probably inserted into 1st SM to give the readers a history of the rise of David as the legitimate successor to Saul, because the Lord was with David.  And the Lord was with David because when: “(Samuel) anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and from that day on, the spirit of the Lord rushed upon David.” (1 SM 16:13). 

Why did God choose David?  The implication is that God “looks into the heart” and could see that David’s heart would be open to the “Spirit of the Lord’ (the Holy Spirit) and would therefore be faithful to God as leader of the Israelites.  David was certainly not perfect.  He was guilty of many sins including adultery and murder.  But he was open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and followed God’s ways in most cases.

Faith is a supernatural gift from God, but it must be activated and animated by the Holy Spirit.  It is supernatural because it is like a seed of faith that is infused into our nature at the moment of our conception, causing us to realize there is something out there greater than ourselves.  But that seed of faith must be nurtured.  First and foremost by the domestic church – the family and friends of the individual – and then the soul of the individual becomes fertile ground for the Holy Spirit to nurture that faith.  Those who are open to the Holy Spirit will develop that supernatural gift of faith.  Those who are not, will not. 

In our second reading, St. Paul uses light and darkness symbolically: “You were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.”  He is not referring to physical sight or blindness or to daylight and darkness but reminds his readers that they were once ignorant of Christ and were, therefore, in darkness.  But, through the preaching of St. Paul they have received the light of Christ and Paul admonishes them to remain in that light.  Act in such a way that your intentions are not hidden because Christ is light, and your deeds should be seen in that light.

As mentioned last week, on the third, fourth and fifth Sundays of Lent, we are presented with three stories from the Gospel of John that were used in the early church to prepare catechumens for baptism at the Easter Vigil.  That tradition is carried on in the modern church in the RCIA on those Sundays in the “Scrutinies,” which are meant to help the catechumens recognize possible obstacles to faith and the power of Jesus to overcome those obstacles.  But this is not only for catechumens, these gospels should also help us recognize obstacles to our own faith that we should be dealing with during this Lenten season of “Purification and Enlightenment.” 

 In the opening passage of our gospel from chapter 9 of John, the disciples ask if the man was blind because of his own sins or because of the sins of his parents.  That question stems from an ancient belief that prosperity was a reward from God for fidelity.  If a person was wealthy and had many children and many possessions, he must be a very faithful person.  Conversely, if someone fell on hard times and suffered illness or financial devastation, it must be because of sinfulness.  For your reference if you would like to do a little extra reading, this belief is particularly prominent in the Book of Job.   In addition, I think it is in chapter 33 of Exodus where we are told that the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the children to the third and fourth generation.  Here we have an “Obstacle to Faith” in the belief that prosperity or devastation are related to faithfulness to God.  An obstacle that early Christians had to overcome. 

Consequently, the disciples ask:  Who is the sinner in this case?  Jesus’ answer is that it was God’s will that the man should be born blind so that: “The works of God might be made visible through him,” when Jesus performed the miracle of restoring the man’s eyesight.  This miracle has nothing to do with the man’s faith before his eyesight was restored.

 It would certainly be a miracle for someone who had lost his eyesight to have it restored, but probably not unheard of with modern medicine.  But it would be an even greater miracle to have sight given to someone born blind, because a person born blind would have no eyes at all.  Even if a person had eyes at the time of birth, they would have atrophied over time for lack of use.  Therefore, Jesus not only gave the man sight, he gave him eyes with which to see. 

We have a little play on words going on in these passages.  The man received physical sight when his eyes were restored, but he also received spiritual sight as he came to believe in Jesus and referred to Jesus as a prophet.  The man is slowly coming to faith.  First, he knows nothing of Jesus, but after the miracle he refers to Jesus as a prophet.  As his faith grows, he is asked: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” and he responded: “I do believe, Lord” and he worshiped him.  He came to believe in Jesus as “the Son of Man;” and he worshiped Jesus, knowing that he would be expelled from the synagogue for acknowledging Jesus as the Christ. 

Jesus could have simply commanded that the man receive his sight, but He restored the man’s sight in a sacramental way – He anointed his eyes – and told him to: “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam.”  The washing and anointing here are symbolic of our own baptism where sin is washed away, and we are anointed with the oil of the Holy Spirit.  And that anointing is the source of the “sin” that the Pharisees accused Jesus of committing.  In order to make the clay out of saliva and dirt, Jesus had to KNEAD the two together; and it was against the law to knead on the Sabbath.  Bake your bread before the Sabbath, not on the Sabbath!

More play on words: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.”  This is not a reference to physical sight.  Those who do not see are those who are, as yet, unaware of the good news of Christ’s message.  But when they are made aware of that message, they will come to believe in it that, “they might see.”  But those who claim to see, such as the Pharisees and those who reject Jesus as the Messiah and expel others from the Synagogue for belief in Christ, are the ones who are blind because of their rejection of Jesus.  

The Pharisees responded: “Surely we are not also blind, are we?”  If they were truly blind because they had no knowledge of Christ or His message of salvation, there would be no sin in them.  But since they claim to SEE, and through their presumed SIGHT, they reject the salvation offered through Christ, they are truly blind, and their sin remains. 

The message for us is that God looks into our hearts to see if that seed of faith has germinated.  That seed is part of our nature, but it must be nurtured.  The nurturing begins with our baptism when we are cleansed of original sin through the water and sealed with the Holy Spirit through anointing with Chrism Oil.  We are anointed again at our Confirmation to strengthen the nurturing and, again, if and when we ever receive the Anointing of the Sick.  And if the seed has germinated in our parents, grandparents, godparents, etc. and we pay attention to how that faith plays out in their lives, then we have only ourselves to blame if it fails to germinate in us.  What does God see when He looks into our hearts?  Have we overcome the obstacles to faith that surround us day in and day out in this constantly changing world? 

Author: Ric Ross

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