How human Samuel is in today's reading! His story begins with him grieving over the disobedience of Saul, over the loss of a great king to selfish interest and, if we read further in the story, ultimately to madness. Just like us in our Lenten journey, Samuel reluctantly agreed to God's call to set aside being tied to the old ways and to set out in search of something new. But, as the story suggests, Samuel is called to seek a new king for Israel in the most unlikely of places. Even when Samuel began reviewing Jesse's children for the new king, he found himself confronted by a God who kept telling him again and again, "Not this one." Like all seekers, Samuel found himself being asked by God to look differently, to see the world in a new way.
Today's Gospel is all about sight, both physical and spiritual. At the center is the man born blind, whose restoration to sight reveals the blindness all around him, from his neighbors and family to the religious authorities and even Jesus' own disciples. The disciples are caught up, like everyone else, in the perspectives of their own day. To them and to their contemporaries, blindness, like all physical disorders, must indicate some sort of sin. The religious authorities could not see the power of the blind man's experience because they were too focused on the proper keeping of their religious tradition. For them, the only thing that mattered was that Jesus had violated the Sabbath by working a miracle of healing.
For the blind man's neighbors, his healing meant the rupture of a social order they had grown accustomed to. They were, in fact, so comfortable with it, they could hardly recognize him after his sight was restored. We, as enlightened people of the 21st century, might be tempted to think that we know better. But do we? Despite our medical advances and a culture that prides itself on its "tolerance" and sensitivity, we, just like the neighbors and the religious authorities, have our own limitations of sight.
Are we not caught in the same conventions that Samuel found himself in as he reviewed Jesse's children? Samuel's first inclination was to see a potential new king in the tallest and strongest of the boys. The Salt Lake City Olympics concluded recently. For weeks, we have been immersed in the tremendous skill, the victories and heart-rending losses of profoundly talented and hard-working athletes. We, too, have reveled in towering strength and our definitions of physical beauty and perfection. But have we spent as much time and energy probing the depths of the human heart?
This Sunday, our Lenten journey reaches a place where we are called to acknowledge our own blindness and seek Jesus' healing touch. But this kind of seeking is risky, because it has the possibility of turning our neatly ordered worlds upside-down. The man born blind in today's Gospel finds himself in unusual and unexpected places. Before, he was a beggar, scraping out a living on the fringes of society. After encountering Christ, he becomes unrecognizable to his neighbors and finds himself witnessing about the power of God in the court of the religious authorities.
Has your world been turned upside-down by Lent yet? Just as important, has our world been challenged by Lent yet? We, as a church, have our set ways, our pet methods of going about our business. In this way, we are not at all unlike the Pharisees in the Gospel of John. Will we react the same as they did when the light of Christ touches our communities of faith? Recently, the Presiding Bishop has indicated that our old ways of being a church will have to change if we are to be renewed. Indeed, if we are to grow, not just in numbers but in spirit and dedication, we must be prepared to see the world, the church, and each other with different eyes.
And how would the world look if we allowed Jesus to heal our blindness? We might see leadership emerging in strange and unexpected places. We might hear God speaking through the voices of those who have been residing on the margins of our communities. We might find new ways of relating to God and each other - ways that we had not imagined before, and ways that might bring new life to our ministries, to our communities, and to the peoples around us. We might even dare to lift the veils of our own conventional ways of thinking, to think "outside the box" and see that God is greater than our ways of thought and being allow. We might even discover a Spirit that we thought we had lost, a Spirit that might bring us to new ways of witnessing to the power of the Christ's light for a people we thought we could never reach.
So our Lenten journey is indeed confronted by a great challenge today. Do we dare risk the journey of the man born blind? Do we dare venture out like Samuel did to find something new in the unlikeliest of places? Christ is, in fact, asking us to put aside our old ways of seeing and to see, instead, through the eyes of God. And what we will see and how we will see remains a mystery until we actually dare to try-until we put our own blindness completely into the healing hands of the one who says, "I am the light of the world."