Above: Samuel Anoints David, Syria, 3rd Century C.E.
Priorities, Misplaced and Otherwise
MARCH 26, 2017
1 Samuel 16:1-13 (New Revised Standard Version):
The Lord said to Samuel,
How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.
How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.
And the Lord said,
Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.
Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said,
Do you come peaceably?
Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.
And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought,
Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.
But the Lord said to Samuel,
Do not look on his 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.
Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said,
Neither has the Lord chosen this one.
Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said,
Neither has the Lord chosen this one.
Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse,
The Lord has not chosen any of these.
Samuel said to Jesse,
Are all your sons here?
And he said,
There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.
And Samuel said to Jesse,
Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.
He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said,
Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.
Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.
Psalm 23 (New Revised Standard Version):
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and my staff–
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD
my whole life long.
Ephesians 5:8-14 (New Revised Standard Version):
For once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light–for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.
John 9:1-41 (New Revised Standard Version):
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him,
Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him,
Go, wash in the pool of Siloam
(which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask,
Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?
Some were saying,
It is he.
Others were saying,
No, but it is someone like him.
He kept saying,
I am the man.
But they kept asking him,
Then how were your eyes opened?
The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, `Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.
They said to him,
Where is he?
I do not know.
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them,
He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.
Some of the Pharisees said,
This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.
But others said,
How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?
And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man,
What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.
He is a prophet.
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them,
Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?
His parents answered,
We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.
His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said,
He is of age; ask him.
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him,
Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.
I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.
They said to him,
What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?
He answered them,
I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?
Then they reviled him, saying,
You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.
The man answered,
Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.
They answered him,
You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?
And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said,
Do you believe in the Son of Man?
And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.
Jesus said to him,
You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.
Lord, I believe.
And he worshiped him. Jesus said,
I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.
Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him,
Surely we are not blind, are we?
Jesus said to them,
If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Gracious Father, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ came down from heaven to be the true bread which gives life to the world: Evermore give us this bread, that he may live in us, and we in him; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
I read little from evangelical writers, for almost nothing from that genre of nonfiction interests me. (I have had some unfortunate encounters with self-described evangelicals over the years. These are par for the course when one is an intellectual liberal with High Church (in my case, progressively Anglican-Lutheran-Catholic over time) leanings in the Bible Belt. Yet Philip Yancey is one evangelical whose books I feel comfortable reading. Two of these volumes are Soul Survivor and The Jesus I Never Knew. In these books I have read that Yancey grew up in a Southern U.S. white culture in which Christian fundamentalism blended easily with overt racism. His family’s church in Atlanta decided to open a Christian school very shortly after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education ruling, for example. And, in the 1960s, when Yancey was slightly older, he went off to a Bible college where civil rights for African Americans were not considered important, but the length of a man’s hair (short) and of a woman’s skirt (long) were major priorities. Yancey wrote that college administrators would not have admitted Jesus based on his haircut (too long), as artists have depicted it.
Cultural blinders are difficult to recognize, and every acculturated person has them. Often these cultural blinders lead us to spiritual blindness, so that, even when we believe we are acting righteously, we deceive ourselves. In 1962 the Presbyterian Church in United States (1861-1983), the old “Southern Presbyterian Church,” approved a revised Brief Statement of Belief. The paragraph on total depravity follows:
Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more and more with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery. Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power, so that even men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society. Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.
As one reads the four canonical gospels, one notices that many (not all) Pharisees come across as the bete noires of those compositions. This is true of John 9:1-41. At the time and place there was a common belief that physical difficulties resulted from sins. These things could never just happen, could they? That was the attitude. So we have the case of Jesus, a man born blind, his parents, and some Pharisees. Jesus gave the man sight, an act which vexed the Pharisees. They spoke to the man’s parents, who referred them to their adult son. The formerly blind man, not understanding the Pharisees’ agenda, asked naively if they wanted to follow Jesus, too. (If this were a cartoon steam would rise from the Pharisees ears at that point.) The Pharisees drove the man out, and he encountered Jesus again. The Pharisees were spiritually blind, but the formerly blind man had clear spiritual vision. And the Pharisees did not recognize their blindness.
1 Samuel reminds us that God looks on the heart, but that we humans are frequently superficial in our judgments. Attractive people seem to rise to the top, do they not? When physical beauty and handsomeness are paired with qualifications, talents, and skills, this is not a problem. But I cannot help but think about the example of U.S. President Franklin Pierce (in office 1853-1857), who competes with Warren G. Harding and James Buchanan for the “worst president” slot in historians’ ratings. The nicest statement I have read about Pierce is that he was the most handsome president.
David, 1 Samuel tells us, was not handsome, at least compared to his elder brothers. No, he was ruddy. But he had leadership skills, which were more important than his appearance.
By grace may we can approach more closely a state in which we see as God sees, and therefore follow Jesus. May we lay aside our fixations on trivial religious matters, embrace goodness, and love one another.