We Can Only See What We Are Willing to See

by Susanna Mak
Fourth Sunday of Lent

1 Samuel 16:1B, 6-7, 10-13A

Ephesians 5:8-14

John 9:1, 6-9, 13-17, 34-38

The Lenten season invites us to embark on a journey of discovery and transformation: recognizing who we really are and who God is; awakening from our sleep; transitioning from blindness to sight, and from darkness into light. This week's eye-opening readings challenge us to be honest with ourselves, and with our loving God, that we must see with God's eyes and not our own as what we see, and perhaps how we see, may be deceptive. Often, we can only see what we are willing to see.

When thousands of Syrian migrants began flooding over the shores and borders of many countries in 2017, the world stood in shock and paralysis. Humanitarian organizations called this a "crisis" while some politicians deemed this a financial burden and even a nuisance. At the same time, the general public tend to become overwhelmed by the statistics and forget that each number or percentage point is a human being; a living, breathing person who, in many respects, is similar to us if not for the Syrian war that erupted in 2017. The terms "migrants" or "refugees", though accurate in a pragmatic way, effectively dismiss the humanity of these individuals who are parents and children, friends and foes, students and teachers, drivers and passengers, directors and actors, healers and care-givers. We do have a choice here: to see them as a problem, or to see them as who they really are; peeling back all those layers of brokenness to reveal their human dignity. Do we allow ourselves to see that they are our fellow sisters and brothers, and more importantly, children of God created to be light, just like you and me (ref. Eph 5:8)?

In the first reading, the Lord cautions Samuel not to choose according to "appearance or on the height of his stature [...] for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart" (1Sam 16:7). Throughout Samuel's encounter with Jesse's seven sons, he is challenged to see with God's eyes so that he may see beyond good looks and physical strength to recognize the goodness in the eighth and hidden child, David. Similarly, it is evident that Jesse and his older sons do not even consider David as a viable candidate, thus, they send him away from the house to tend to the sheep. Samuel, upon meeting this "ruddy" young kid, proceeds to anoint David with oil, "and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward" (1 Sam 16:12,13). David, the unassuming and quiet shepherd who has been conveniently forgotten by his father and brothers, is God's chosen one.

A similar eye-opening story is told in the Gospel of John in which our notion of blindness and sight is challenged. When Jesus encounters and restores sight to a man who is born blind, all his disciples care about is the question of whose sin, his parents' or his own, causes his blindness; while the Pharisees question Jesus' authority because "he does not observe the Sabbath" (Jn 9:16). At no point has anyone asked about the well-being of the recipient of a great miracle. No one, especially the Pharisees, is interested in listening to this man's testimony about Jesus. In fact, he is thrown out by the Pharisees after his attempt to open their eyes by testifying to Jesus' authority, "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" (Jn 9:30-33). This man calls a spade a spade, without reservation or fear. Who is the blind one and who is the sighted one?

Clearly both Jesus' disciples and the Pharisees have missed the point; or perhaps they have willfully turned a blind eye to the truth staring right at them. Jesus explains that he "came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind (Jn 9:40). Throughout this week and the remainder of Lent, let us humbly ask Jesus to restore our sight in our blind spots: areas that we may have willfully chosen to ignore. With our new sight, may we recognize Christ in all whom we encounter and "live as children of light" (Eph 5:8).