4 Lent A

Today’s lessons are all about seeing – about people who should be able to see

and cannot and people who see more clearly than those around them.

 

First, we have the story of Samuel choosing David to be king of Israel. Samuel is

sent by God to Jesse the Bethlehemite, with the promise that one of Jesse’s sons

will be king. Now we all know what a king looks like. He’s tall and handsome,

with a strong jaw and broad shoulders. So Jesse lines up his sons, but one by one,

Samuel says no to each of them. God has told him that he will recognize the one

who is to be king, and even though these young men are all good-looking enough,

none of them seems right. Finally, Samuel asks if there isn’t another son, and

Jesses says that, well, yes, there is the youngest, out tending the sheep. And even

though this boy seems too young, and certainly doesn’t look like a king, this son

is David, who will become a great King of Israel, and, of course, the ancestor of

Jesus. Samuel can see deeper than the surface, and with the eyes of his heart, he

recognizes the one God wants as king.

 

The story from the Gospel is about seeing and not seeing as well. At first it starts

out like a straight healing story, but as the story unfolds we realize that the only

person in the whole story who can really see is the blind man. The people who

have walked by him as he begs on the street have never really looked at him,

never really seen him, so that when his sight is restored, they don’t know who

he is. All they ever saw was his blindness and his begging. The parents of the

blind man see him, but they are unable or unwilling to tell people how his sight

was restored. And, of course, the Pharisees are the blindest of all. All they see

are the rules which give them their power and keep them in power. They cannot

see what Jesus has done because it would threaten that power. They have seen

God acting right in front of their noses, and they cannot see it. But the blind man

knows from the beginning that God has acted to heal him. He is the one who has

the courage to face down the Pharisees and, when Jesus tells him that he is the

promised one, the blind man immediately believes him. The blind man sees with

the eyes of love and faith, and he sees more than anyone around him.

 

Things haven’t changed. We all tend to see what we expect to see. It’s called

a “cognitive bias,” and there are dozens of them – belief and behavioral

biases, social biases, biases of memory. It’s why, when police take stories from

eyewitnesses at the scene of a crime, they get such differing reports. We see

through a curtain of expectation and bias. Learning to see what is in front of

us without that curtain of bias changing the picture is very difficult. But what

the story of the choosing of David and the story of the blind man tell us is what

Antione de St. Exupery said in The Little Prince, “It is only with the heart that one

can see clearly. What is most true is invisible to the eye.”

 

The challenge of faith is to learn to see with the heart. And when I say that, I want

to be clear that I am not talking about sentimentality. Romantic biases are just as

deceptive as any other. To see with the heart is, above all, to see truthfully. We

need to see situations for what they are. It may mean naming injustice or hatred

instead of walking by without seeing those who suffer from them. We need to

see people for who they are, both good and bad. We need to see ourselves for

who we are as well. Telling the truth may mean admitting our own limitations or

ignorance.

 

And seeing with the heart also means seeing with the eyes of compassion. And

make no mistake – compassion takes courage. How much safer it is to walk past

the person begging on the street without really seeing them or, if we do look at

them, how much more comfortable to judge them as lazy or stupid. To look with

the eyes of compassion means taking them seriously – as a human being just like

us – and imagining what we might feel if we were in their situation.

 

Learning to see with the heart – learning to see with truth and compassion has

consequences, and not just for the people and situations we are seeing. It also

has consequences for us. The biases through which we see the world shape our

behavior and the behavior of others toward us as well. One of my favorite stories

about that is this:

 

A man was moving to a new town, and at the edge of town, he saw an old woman

sitting on her porch, so he decided to stop and ask her a question. “What kind of

town is this?” he asked, “What are the people like? Is it a good place to live? Will I

be happy living here?”

The woman paused and then asked him, “What kind of town did you come from?

What were people like there?”

 

The man replied, “Oh, it was an awful place. People were mean and unsocial and I

never made any friends there.”

 

The old woman said, “Well, then, I think you don’t want to move here. You’ll find

that this town is just like the one you left.” So the man thanked her and drove off.

 

A few days later, the old woman was sitting on her porch, and another car pulled

up, and another man got out. He asked her the same kinds of questions, “What is

this town like? Are the people nice? Would I be happy living here?” And again, the

old woman asked the same questions about where he had come from. This man

answered, “Oh, I was very happy in my last town. People were kind and friendly,

and I loved it.”

 

“Well,” said the old woman, “I think you will find this town much the same. You

will find friends here and I think you will be happy.”

 

We shape our lives by what we choose to see and what we don’t. To see with the

heart opens us to love and intimacy, and when we are open to those things, we

have a very different experience of the world. We will see possibilities for hope

and healing and new life that we would never have imagined. And we will find

ourselves making choices that we would not have believed possible. Because

while seeing in this way takes courage, it also gives us courage – and not just

courage, but creativity and imagination. We will see things that we never thought

of before. We will dare things we never dared before.

 

So may God give us new eyes so that we may see from the heart, and, for the first

time, see clearly.

 

Amen

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