It seems to be a human need to be seen. An infant held at arm’s length facing us is just the right distance to focus on our face and will respond to us and we to them. We desire to see and to be seen. And most of us ache to be not only seen in the everyday sense we long to be seen as we potentially are – to have someone see us as we could be, are meant to be, are hoping and growing toward. We live in an age and culture when being seen as we would like to be is an art form that brings fear and reassurance. Think of the effort that goes into social media accounts and managing our appearance in the world. The shadow side of this desire is the anxiety about being seen as we fear we really are.
The readings set for this week explore how God sees us, how well or blindly we see, and how this process of being seen, of being exposed to the light can transform us. (1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; and John 9:1-41.)
In the story of the selection of King David we thrill to hear that the Lord passes over the beautiful and strong older brothers and chooses David whose heart the Lord sees. This is all the more remarkable and confounding because these words are found in the ‘grown up’ or ‘warts and all’ account of King David’s life in 1 Samuel. There are two accounts of his life in Scripture: one in Chronicles which is the somewhat sanitised or formal account; and then here in 1 and 2 Samuel is the much more detailed account in which his infidelity, his murderous attempts at cover ups, his grief and repentance, and the terrible consequences of his sin impact his family, are all detailed for us recognise ourselves and our current age in the story. If the Lord chooses this one with all his character flaws to lead his people then we too might dare to believe that we with all our flaws and limitations might too be chosen. God sees us as we are – and then chooses us anyway! God’s grace is not overwhelmed by our limitations.
To not be able to see, to be blind, was and is a great hardship. And in the time of Jesus to be born blind begged questions about sin and punishment. Jesus makes it clear that the sin or otherwise of this young man and his parents is not the issue. For despite the fact that the story of the miraculous healing is told three different times it is not the real point of the story. John wants us to see that Jesus is indeed the Son of God and does the work of God. We then get a delightful re-enactment for the sake of the Pharisees who try and trick the parents and then the young man into saying something blasphemous about who Jesus is. And then Jesus confronts the Pharisees and has them stab themselves in the foot in the repartee about who is blind and who is a sinner. The gospel reading finishes with Jesus challenging the Pharisees about their blindness as to his true nature and their own sinfulness. And because it is the bad old Pharisees we can relax and laugh at their expense.
But along comes St Paul and his letter to the Ephesians and suddenly it is the Christian faithful who are in the spotlight so to speak. As disciples, as faithful people, we are called from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight, and from spiritual darkness to light. And Paul puts it a very interesting way. He doesn’t simply say ‘Thou shalt not live in darkness and do the things that people do in the darkness’. He describes a process, a way in which we move from darkness to light. ‘Everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light.’
And isn’t that the experience of faith, particularly in a penitent season such as Lent. Our experience of God, in prayer, in Scripture, through preaching and teaching, and personal reflection – shines God’s light into our lives and shows up, or exposes, things about ourselves that we would rather not have to see. That is why we kept them in the shadows! But – here comes grace – the act of exposing what is shameful, grubby, injured, anxious, prideful … transforms us into light. The very process of exposure is the beginning of healing, of being made new, of being redeemed.
As an old adage puts it ‘Sunlight is the best form of disinfectant.’ Sometimes fresh air and sunlight are what is most needed to allow something to heal. It is the core principal of much therapy that it is by remembering and talking we bring into the light what is old and half forgotten but still poisoning us and others in our lives. And the very process of bringing something up to the surface and into the light changes it – heals us, takes some of the sting and shadowy power away, and helps us begin to change and grow into freedom.
So all this self examination is not simply because some strange people enjoy pain – although there are a few no doubt – or because people think they are not worthy to gather up the crumbs under the table and deserve no better – although at one level that is true enough. All this self examination is so that we can invite the light into our lives, including all the embarrassingly not nice corners of our souls and lives.
But it is not an easy process for there are great forces of resistance – denial of sin, minimising, rationalising … the list of defences against the grubby truth is long. In what ways are we blind? What parts of our life do we keep in the dark hoping God can’t see us and hoping that we won’t have to deal with it? Many of us prefer to suffer than to change, than to accept healing. The common adage ‘better the devil you know than the one you don’t’. This might be true but we apply it more like ‘better to suffer what we are familiar with than to risk change and possible failure’ which is very limiting.
Part of the gift of Lent or any process of reflection and self examination – of having the light shone in and things revealed to the light – is that we might find that even those aspects of ourselves that we despair of can be seen differently. For the God who chose as King a young boy full of promise and flaws also chooses us, sees us in such a way that we are remade.
We are seen as we are not in order to be judged and rejected but in order to be loved and encouraged into our fullness! What we and others disregard or disapprove of may just be the wound that allows us to compassionately and humbly serve others. The gift and inconvenient passion we suppress may just be the charism or gift that the world needs more of. And the energy that we spend protecting, containing, disapproving of aspects of our selves (and usually others as well) may just be better spent giving over every aspect of our selves to the transforming light of Christ so that we can become more fully the one who God knows and sees and calls.
Even so, come Lord Jesus Christ of the journey, come.