Bill had been blinded by napalm in Vietnam. He left for the war a fully-sighted teenager and returned from the war a sightless man. When I met him he was middle-aged, married and a father. He had never seen the face of his wife or his children; he couldn’t admire the roses he tended in the backyard or wave at neighbors passing by his porch on a summer evening. I visited him during one of his many hospitalizations—the napalm had scorched his insides, too—and I asked him, naively, “If you had the chance to see, would you take it?”
I’ve been thinking about him all week in the context of the scripture texts for the Fourth Sunday in Lent. They are all about sight and blindness, light and dark, life and death.
The Old Testament reading (1 Samuel 16.1-3) pits the prophet Samuel against Saul, the first king of Israel. You may recall that God was not a big fan of kings, warning Samuel, “The people who want a king have not rejected you; they have rejected me. Listen to them, but solemnly warn them and show them the ways of the king who shall reign over them.” (1 Samuel 8.8ff) God’s reticence was well-warranted as the first king, though tall and handsome, turned out to be a complete bust. So while Saul still occupied the throne, God undermined his authority, sending the prophet Samuel in search of the next king. That king’s name? David, who was only a boy when Samuel (secretly) anointed him. Samuel was not impressed with David, but God reminded him, “The Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
We take a break from the book of Romans to study a brief passage from Ephesians for our epistle (Ephesians 5.8-14). The letter to the church at Ephesus was meant to encourage new Christians to live faithful lives in anticipation of the return of Jesus. Apparently, the city of Ephesus offered many opportunities to sin, so the writer of the letter warns them not to be Darkness, but to be Light. “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light.” What does light do? Light refuses to be part of “impurity of any kind.” Light shines. Light wakes. Light reflects the light of God.
In the second of the Gospel Scrutinies for Lent (John 9.1-41) Jesus encounters a man born blind who, by the end of the encounter, sees more than he cares to. Jesus told the man born blind that his blindness was an opportunity to reveal God’s glory (sometimes I disagree with Jesus’ theology). Jesus made mud out of dirt and spit, rubbed it on the man’s eyes, and sent him off to wash his face. No one was more astonished than he when the mud was washed away and he could see. “”The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes and said ‘go and wash.’ I went and washed and received my sight.”
Sight turned out to be an unpleasant experience. He saw the faces of neighbors whose voices he had always known, but who distanced themselves from him because of this unheard of miracle. He saw the faces of Temple leaders who accused him of blasphemy and perjury. He saw the faces of his parents who (metaphorically) threw him under the bus: “We do not know how he sees. He is of age. Ask him.” By the time the dust settled, both the formerly blind man and Jesus had been thrown out of town. When asked if it was worth it, the man said only, “Lord, I believe.”
Before I tell you more about Blinded By War Bill, let me invite you to join us Sunday. We know that many schools are on spring break, so we have decided not to offer Sunday School this week. We will however, offer Sunday Forum, continuing our viewing and discussion of Rick Steves’ “Luther and the Reformation.” During Worship we will again offer a sung version of the Gospel reading. As part of our Lent Holy Family Challenge, we will welcome Ruth Newman, long-time faithful volunteer at Lucille’s, a consignment shop whose profits support Holy Family School. (Please remember that, any day of the week, you can contribute financially to our Lent Challenge through Realm. Just go to our website and click on “on-line giving.” We have not yet reached our $13,000 scholarship goal.)
If you are traveling this weekend, we pray for your safety and refreshment. If you are in town, we’d love to see you. (No pun intended.)
Now, the rest of the story. From his hospital bed, Bill turned his head toward me and said, “I can tell what sort of person you are by the sound of your voice. And I trust you. I know how my wife smells and I can feel the wrinkles around her eyes when she smiles; I feel my sons’ hands grow larger and hear the deepening timbre of their voices. I know the birds in the trees by their song and my roses by their thorns. Why would I need to see?”
For Bill, physical blindness was no impediment to a joyful life. But I know many who are sighted, but live blind to the joys and sorrows around them. Is that what God meant by saying, “the Lord looks on the heart?” Is that what the writer of Ephesians meant by, “The fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true?” Is that what Jesus meant when he said to the Pharisees, “Now that you say ‘we see,’ your sin remains.”
We see with the eyes on our faces and the eyes of our hearts. But only God knows who we truly are. And, miraculously, loves us still. And to us those who choose to live in God’s light, Jesus says, “Work the works of God who sent me while it is day.” Will you blame me if I hum, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
Pastor JoAnn Post