I remember this moment during my master’s degree where I was struggling to understand why certain professors thought I should pursue ordained ministry and become a priest. One of my professor’s words to me were quite simple. “I don’t know what a calling is; the way calling is interpreted today is not what Scripture is implying about calling. I see that you love others and that you have more love to give.” And then he quoted to me the words of our lesson from 1 Samuel: “do not look on the [oldest and strongest brother’s] 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.”
In the reading from Samuel, God tells the prophet and Judge Samuel, who leads Israel from being led by Judges, to being led by a King appointed by God, “how long will you grieve over Saul, I’ve rejected him as being the King. God to Jesse for I have chosen one of his sons to be King over Israel.” God doesn’t just reject the experienced, yet errant Saul, from being King over Israel. He also rejects all of Jesse’s older, tall, strong, powerful, experienced sons. The boy whom God chooses is small, young, inexperienced, ill-equipped to lead anything other than the flock of sheep he attended, and yet, at least for a time, like Samuel, God knew his heart: a boy who was open, curious, humble, not arrogant or puffed up as Scripture often puts it, naive in many respects, with no real experience and so ready to soak up what God would show him and to follow him. And of course sure enough, this young David’s first major move would be to slay a giant who threatened the welfare of all Israelites.
This story finds a parallel in our Gospel reading this morning. We have Pharisees who, like Saul and David’s older brothers, have all the outward appearances of being righteous and the obvious choice of a leader: they follow the laws to the extreme, they have power and influence thanks to their possessions and their relationships within the community and thanks to their supposedly superior understandings of ‘how things should be.’ After all, they had been in these positions and in these places of power for a long time. They were used to people doing what they wanted. They were the ones who dictated how things should be; what righteousness is and what it isn’t, and whether something is true, good and right.
Yet God, in the person of Jesus, the Son, does not go to these individuals. Instead, he goes to the weakest, the one who cannot boast in his own power, prestige, influence, or in his ability to control, bully, or overpower others. He does this why? Because he knows by outward appearance – his capacities, his place in society, the relationships and influence he has – the blind man has nothing. But it is precisely because the blind man doesn’t have these things to rely on, that he is open to God’s healing, and in being healed, to God’s leading. This is what my professor was getting at with me: it is not because you have or don’t have certain capacities that I think you are called to be a priest. It is because you are open to receiving God’s love, because you seek it even through your own struggles, and rely on it for engaging others, and that you have more of this love that you do not yet know or see, that God can use you in this particular vocation. And God will use those other gifts and weaknesses you have to his own purposes.
One of the stark contrasts we see in the Gospel lesson this morning is between the Pharisees who think that they are God’s chosen ones and so believe that God will show up to them according to their own ways of understanding and making sense of the laws they’ve inherited and the way they have interpreted them. But along with Saul, the Pharisees have become blind to God because they’ve substituted their own self-righteousness, their own pride and arrogance at being chosen, and being right, for God’s own will. David and the blind man, ironically, in the latter case, can see in large part, because they come to God like little children: open, curious, willing to follow, to test out, to take risks, to in essence, go on an adventure with all the humility, courage and bravery that takes. Those who believe themselves righteous, always right, and who speak out of frustration or anger or contempt to others – as did the Pharisees to the blind man – are sadly thoroughly blind to the God whom they seek so fervently (hence their anger when people don’t follow their ways).
One way of measuring “what is in your heart” i.e. what it is that God cares about, is by examining how you treat other people. How do you speak to them. Do you snap at them, or speak with anger of frustration like the Pharisees did to the blind man when they couldn’t figure out what he was doing? God is warning you in this passage, that this is a sign that you’ve lost sight of him and have substituted your own ways. God is warning us, not to condemn us, but so that we might figure out why we react in these ways and address the underlying reasons so that we can let go of these ways and be open to how God will reshape our hearts so that we can receive his love for us, and act out of hope and faith, grounded in his unchanging love for us rather than out of our own defensive self-righteousness.
The flip side of this is not to sell yourself short in what you have to offer to God and to others. Thinking that you don’t have the capacity, the experience, the gifting, is as much a blinder as is believing you alone know what is right, good and just. In both cases know this: In Christ, you and I have stepped into the light of truth and goodness. That light exposes our own darkness, our fears, our insecurities, and the way this pours out of us in contempt for others, or alternatively, out of inaction and cowardice. So let us, this Lent, confess these things so that we might be opened up and renewed in the light of God’s grace. AMEN