1 Samuel 16:1, 6-7, 10-13; Psalm 23:1-6; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
“I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” – John 9:39
One of my go-to movies when I need a tear-jerker is A Family Thing, a 1996 tale in which Robert Duvall plays Earl Pilcher, an Arkansas good ole’ boy whose mother pens a deathbed confessional letter telling him that she is not his real mother. What’s more, Earl learns that biological mother, Willa Mae, who died giving birth to him, was black, and he also has a black half-brother in Chicago. Earl reluctantly travels to meet that brother, Ray Murdock, played by James Earl Jones. Embittered by the loss of his mother so many years before, on top of being a black man who had escaped from the segregated South, Ray is not too thrilled about the news, nor is he willing to have a relationship with Earl.
Irma P. Hall provides the prophetic voice in this film as Aunt T., a feisty old blind woman who is the sister of Earl and Ray’s mother. As Ray and his son Virgil want nothing more than to send Earl back to Arkansas, Aunt T. pointedly insists that both men accept Earl into the family, skin color be damned. Before her climactic recollection of Earl’s birth, Aunt T. takes on racism with a simple yet memorable line:
“I don’t know how he look, I can’t see him like you can, and I don’t need to. I don’t have the blessing of being able to separate people by looking at them any more.”
In this weekend’s first reading, Samuel is sent by God to the house of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint the man who would be king. Samuel sees Jesse’s eldest son Eliab and, based on his impressive appearance, assumes that he is the king-to-be. Not so fast, God tells Samuel.
“Do not judge from his appearance or from his lofty stature, for I have rejected him. Not as man sees does God see, because man sees the appearance but the LORD looks into the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
I imitate Samuel far too many times than I’d like to admit. I’ve worked with difficult students who I thought were hopeless, only to see them make decisions to turn their lives around. I have allowed disagreements with others to turn into antagonisms, blocking me from the peace of mind of knowing that my way is not necessarily the right way, and that being at variance is not in and of itself a personal attack. I’ve caught myself making assumptions about people because of the way they look or the way they talk, only to be alerted to my folly upon getting to know those people better.
As Aunt T. says, and as Jesus tells me in the Gospel reading, I have the misfortune of being able to see:
“If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see,’ so your sin remains.” (John 9:41)
It is unfortunate that I can see, because that makes me blind. However, as Jesus cures the blind man in the Gospel, he can cure me of my blindness, if I would just allow him to. Only by my acceptance of Jesus’ call to discipleship can I be made to see. Only then, as Paul writes to the church of Ephesus in the second reading, I can avoid “the fruitless works of darkness” (5:11) and live as a child of light (5:8).
Nota bene: If you want to help the blind, turn your attention to Stevie Wonder. He is on the board of directors for Junior Blind of America.