“Not as man sees does God see because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”  Those words from the Old Testament, book of Samuel that we heard proclaimed in the first reading are some of the most beautiful, humbling, and haunting words that we can encounter.

Thanks so much for stopping by to read my homily for the the FOURTH SUNDAY OF LENT – March 19, 2023, for sharing it on your social media posts and your feedback and comments…  I’m also grateful for all those who’ve asked for the audio version and share them as well at SOUNDCLOUD click HERE or from ITUNES as a podcast HERE.  May the Lord be glorified in your reading and sharing- Father Jim

There’s beauty in the realization that God, the creator of all that was, all that is, all that will ever be, sees all that was, all that is, all that will ever be.  That He’s not a creator who just big-banged everything into existence and then sits apart disinterested in what He has done.  His seeing is that of knowledge, His sight is that of one interested.  It’s a seeing and a sight that goes beyond the surface into the most intimate part of each and every one of us: the heart.  And that is what makes it so humbling and haunting.  The only thing we know for sure is our hearts the place and space that maintains all of our thoughts, motivations, hopes, dreams, and intentions… – and even that can be complex and confusing at times for us to navigate about ourselves.  When we acknowledge that truth, we recognize we’re in a vulnerable place.  A place where it’s hard to make judgments.  About ourselves and most certainly about other people.

“Not as man sees does God see because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”

When God first uttered those revelatory words about the nature of who He is and the reality of the world to Samuel it was at a pivotal moment in the history of Humanity.  The Jewish people, God’s Chosen People had been told they would have no King but God Himself.  That was one of many ways they were to be set apart, and different from the rest of the world.  Living differently than any other kingdom of people.  Long story short, they stubbornly demanded to be like everyone else.  They wanted a king too. Despite history having shown them time and time again that things didn’t go well when they decided not to listen to God and follow their own impulses, God relented.  And now they had a king, named Saul, who had turned wicked.

So God sends Samuel to find the one He wanted to call as the new King and to anoint the new King.  God directs Samuel to this little town of Bethlehem and tells him the next King is one of the sons of a man named Jesse.  One detail our lectionary leaves out is that Jesse, the father had already figured that it was one of the first 7 of his boys – there was no way the next king could be number 8, the youngest, David.  His dismissal of David from even being possibly considered is often thought that Jesse had overlooked David and was being too quick, hasty, or harsh in his judgment.  But we don’t know what was in Jesse’s heart.  Jesse has been there through every step of these guys’ development from birth to becoming young men.  Been there through the best and worst of days, experienced their reactions to things – how they dealt with failure and success; witnessed their strengths and talents that helped animate their lives and the weaknesses that had been obstacles. Was Jesse basing it on that?  Was it that this was His youngest son, His last son, His baby boy – that made Jesse overly protective, biased, and possessive so that he didn’t want David to be thrust into this new role with great responsibilities and taken away from him?

The scriptures are silent on all of that.  We don’t know what was in Jesse’s heart.  But that experience is what causes God to speak those words as Samuel takes in son #1 and imagining this has got to be the guy – or one of the other 6 brothers in the room… not imagining Jesse has left anyone out, that son #8 out in the fields tending the sheep.  It’s only after going through all the older ones, each mature and gifted in their own ways, but each God rejects as the next King when young David walks in, that immediately God speaks to Samuel – THERE – ANOINT HIM – THIS IS THE ONE.  There’s clarity and immediacy that must’ve been stunning.

“Not as man sees does God see because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”

Those words, this incident are so pivotal as we enter into this Gospel this fourth Sunday of Lent.  This season where we are meant to make time and space to be alone with the Lord and examine our hearts.  Which is difficult work.  And we need God’s help in setting ourselves straight on how to do this.  Because on our own, we tend to revert to our default of going with the appearances, staying on a surface level.

This is why this Gospel is such a gift at this point of Lent.  We encounter so much of the human experience in this episode.  Right out of the gate, we are confronted with one of the biggest questions of life.  Why is their suffering, why is someone experiencing difficulty, a handicap, an illness, or a trial?  For the most part, people have based their answers on their own experiences, just observing life, their reading of scripture, and what they’ve been taught.   This man who people saw as simply born blind and the guy who begs on the street corner – they had assumed he had sinned, his parents had sinned, someone had sinned.  Jesus, being God, would know all things, and clearly tells the disciples that is not the case.  At the very beginning of this miraculous incident, he says that the reason the man was born blind was so that the works of God might be made visible through him.

But in the process, look at what happens.  Not only is this man’s life transformed by an amazing miracle, but there’s also a complete revelation of the hearts of all those around him.  Even though “man sees the appearance” – we realize that this community has encountered the man born blind for years and hasn’t even done that well.  They argue after the miracle “is this the one?” with two groups saying “it is” vs “no it looks like him”  (Dr. John Bergsma in his commentary made the comical observation you can imagine the old Bud Light commercials of “taste great” vs “less filling”)   The neighbors, they can’t see past their judgment and the narrative in their minds blind guy who begs sinned or his parents sinned.  For their part, the man’s parents, can’t see past their fear.  They know it’s their son, they know for sure that he was born blind and had been throughout his entire life.  But rather than the ecstatic joy you would think would be the response after their son experienced a miracle – after all the whispers of “who sinned” had plagued them for years had just been obliterated, instead we hear fear as they distance themselves from him.  “Yes he’s our son… yes he’s been blind from birth – but we have NO IDEA how he sees now… just ask him, he’s of age…”   Maybe they had gotten used to and comfortable with this life that they were living – given up on dreams of things being different, abandoned hope that prayers could be answered.  But most definitely, they were scared because the Pharisees had already decided who Jesus was.  Or rather who He wasn’t.  They were not going to hear He was the Christ.  The hardness of their hearts is so solidified they don’t see how ridiculous and illogical they’re becoming.  This man who hasn’t been able to see his entire life points out the irony as he says “well isn’t that just amazing! You ‘have no idea where Jesus is from’ – when I’ve been the one who’s been blind all this time…” as then the man born blind continues and calls them out:  we know that God does not hear sinners.  But if a man fears God and does his will – this man God hears.  For all of the past time, it has never been heard, that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind.  If this one were not from God, he would be powerless to do anything.”

The man born blind sees everything – physically and spiritually.  He’s moved from darkness to light as he’s been enlightened by Jesus.  And that makes everyone else very nervous.  Their fragile understandings of life, all based on the most surface, superficial of understandings of God, of one another, of themselves, is totally upended by a man born blind being cured by Jesus.  They are confronted with questions like:

– How is fear blinding us to the presence and action of God?

-Perhaps instead of being self-righteous and thinking he or his parents were sinners all these years were we missing how sin had crept into our lives?

– Maybe our understanding of God had become corrupted, narrowed to the point that we didn’t recognize we were seeing Him in our image instead of the other way around.  That we had in fact fallen for the tempter’s lies to Eve in the Garden of Eden (that we heard 4 weeks ago) and started to believe we are gods ourselves.

They were confronted by those questions, but rather than considering them, they expel the blind man from their midst.  They’d rather see with appearances.  They’d rather stay on the surface and superficial layers than look into their own broken hearts that were covered in darkness.

Jesus wants to heal, to enlighten everyone.  And He sees our hearts.  He sees the tension, the confusion, and the conflicts that reside there.  Particularly when we are confronted with something inexplicable like “why is someone born blind?”  St. Thomas Aquinas, the brilliant Theological mind from the 13th Century, once explained that there are 5 reasons for affliction.  The worst case is that it’s the beginning of damnation – it is the result of something evil that we’ve embraced that unless we repent of it, it will lead to far worse than the pain of this situation here and now.  Sometimes afflictions are to correct us from wrongdoing in our past or steer us from future sinful choices;  Sometimes they are meant to encourage virtue and sometimes they are sent to be opportunities for God’s glory to shine forth.

The only way we can discern which of those things it is we’re experiencing when confronted by trying times… the only way through those trials is when we fix our eyes on the Lord’s loving gaze.  That we allow ourselves to be vulnerable and let him into that secret, vulnerable space deep within – which can be so frightening for us to consider.

“Not as man sees does God see because man sees the appearance but the Lord looks into the heart.”

He sees the pain.   He sees the fear.  He sees why we resist, we hesitate.  He sees the shame and guilt.  He sees how often we’ve allowed what others have seen, and what others have said to malign our visions about ourselves, about others, and about God.  Things that have blinded us, left us as beggars simply trying to survive as we’ve accepted the status quo.    The man born blind – look at what happens – the miracle didn’t happen instantly.  Even though it could’ve had Jesus wanted to – He’s demonstrated that before.  But for the man born blind after Jesus touches him, anoints his eyes with this mud He created and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  Waters that he had washed in probably numerous times before which had done nothing but temporarily relieve and clean him…  But this time, this day would be the key.  Because it wasn’t the mud, and it wasn’t the water.  It was faith.  The blind man’s life only changed when he in faith listens to Jesus’ words and believes them acts on them.

On this fourth Sunday of Lent – we’re being challenged on where is our faith? Are we willing to look past our surfaces and go deep in our hearts with Jesus. What needs healing and restoration that we’re perhaps been too cynical to believe Jesus wants to bring healing and restoration too? What sins do we try to hide and deny because we’re embarrassed and ashamed of that we keep resisting going to the Sacrament of reconciliation, that Jesus wants us to bring to Him in confession so we can receive his forgiveness as we are absolved of these sins? The Man born Blind testifies boldly to us here today, Jesus wants to remove whatever it is blinding us from seeing ourselves, others, and God himself as we truly are, who we are called to be.