Several years ago, a well known deacon within my archdiocese prepared a “trap” for those attending the monthly diaconate formation session being held at a suburban parish.
This deacon is an unusual individual, even by the askew standards of the diaconate. On one hand, he is a regional coordinator for deacons and a member of the formation team that teaches would-be deacons how to be deacons. On the other hand, he is a chaplain for a local police department, an avid motorcyclist (see Harley Davidson), as well as a recovering alcoholic and drug addict- sober for nearly thirty years, I might add.
And on this day, not only was this deacon the featured speaker, but he also taught us a powerful lesson- not all of it during his talk. As many of us were pulling into the parish parking lot, a panhandler approached several cars. As might be expected in any American town, most of the people approached by the man turned down his request for money. Only later did we learn that the “panhandler” was this deacon. As I arrived before he did, my car was not approached; but I must admit, somewhat shamefacedly, that I would not have been among the select group who did part with a dollar or two to help a “stranger down on his luck,” at least on that day. Just as this deacon did, the Holy Scriptures bring into sharp focus for us the consequences of relying upon stereotypes to form our impressions and our consequent actions.
In First Samuel, we are told that Samuel received a command from The Lord to find a replacement for Saul, the King of Israel, who had become corrupt. Samuel had already ascertained that the new king would come from the line of Jesse. So Samuel calls Jesse and requests that he bring along his sons. Jesse is, no doubt, pleased if not overjoyed, that the new king will come from his lineage. So he brings along the family, most of the family, that is. David, the youngest, is so far out of the running by everyone’s assessment, including his own, that there is simply no point in his making the journey, or bothering the prophet, but as I am fond of saying, God has a sense of humor.
As Samuel goes from one son to another, he discovers no one whom The Lord considers worthy. So at that point, he asks Jesse whether there are any others, and as the story continues, Israel receives its first Shepherd King. Things are not always as they appear. The lesson is repeated in the Gospel of John (9:1-41).
It is a familiar story to us, the story of Jesus healing the Blind Man. In order to adequately understand this passage, we need to have some context. In Jesus’ time, anyone who wasn’t physically whole was assumed to be sinful. So, when the Pharisees ask Jesus whose sin is responsible for the man’s blindness, they are being disingenuous, but they are asking a legitimate question. In their minds, their belief system actually, such a thing could only result from sinful behavior.
When Jesus answers that no one has sinned, no doubt some in the crowd consider Him mad or uninformed at best, blasphemous at worst. Then the blind man is healed. Not only is he able to see, but he is able to adjust to the sighted world and become a fully functioning part of that society, a feat that is miraculous even by today’s somewhat more enlightened standards. Indeed, one cannot always make a sound judgment from appearances alone.
In his Letter to the Ephesians (5:8-14), St. Paul reiterates this same message from a slightly different perspective. Paul tells us that light, that is enlightenment, is key to understanding life, even to the understanding of Scripture. We must learn “What is pleasing to The Lord.” We do this through the study of Scripture, through the guidance of The Church, and through our own efforts to live a good life and regularly receive the Sacraments of Reconciliation and Eucharist. By pursuing as many graced encounters as we can, we bring ourselves closer to The Most Holy Trinity, and we thereby bring ourselves closer to the heavenly reward intended for us. That’s our eye opening lesson for today. We need only open our eyes to receive what Jesus has to offer.