The first reading is extracts from the remembered tales of the early history of the Israelites’ settling down as a nation. At first they were ruled by men called Judges (like military overlords), but then there was a general outcry to have a king like other nations. Samuel was the overall prophet at the time and he warned the people that kings can be troublesome – they raise taxes, commandeer troops, and generally ride roughshod over the people, like the absolute rulers they are; they lead the nation without consultation or consideration of others. But the people still asked Samuel for a king and through him, guided by God, a ruler was selected. He chose Saul who was a fine example of manhood (1 Sam 10:20ff). But, just as the prophet Samuel had predicted he turned out to be a bad leader as king. Today’s reading is about the prophet Samuel being sent by God to choose a better man. The point of the reading for us might well be that ‘better’ does not mean taller, more handsome or any outward appearance. The key message of the reading is that “not as man sees does God see” – God does not regard the outer externals but rather the inner being of the person, and that is how we should try to see. And David, the new king, went down in history as the ideal ruler, so that ever after the people hoped for a new king live David. The genealogies in Matthew’s and Luke’s gospels trace Jesus back to this king David.
The letter to the Ephesians, is really an encyclical letter, i.e. one that was written to be distributed around the churches and which is not concerned with issues of any particular community of Christians. In the opening address “to the saints…” many of the early manuscripts do not add the phrase “in Ephesus” and an early Christian writer (Marcion, circa 150 AD) thought it was written to the Laodiceans ; in addition it seems that some other Christian letters were encyclical; for we read in Colossians: “After this letter has been read to you, see that it is also read in the church of the Laodiceans and that you in turn read the letter from Laodicea” (Col 4:16). The grand style of Ephesians elaborates the wonderful impact of Jesus becoming one of us and the magnificent notion of the reconciliation of the whole world with God. In our short passage, the writer reminds readers that they are no longer symbolically in the dark, and encourages them to live in the light; it ends with what might be a quotation from an early Christian baptism service: Come up, O sleeper, arise from the dead, and God will shine upon you!
The gospel reading (John chapter 9) is superficially the story of a man cured of his blindness and the skeptical questioning of him by the Pharisees. The man’s blindness, thought by Jesus’ disciples to be because of some sin, is an opportunity for the glory of God to be exhibited – a living symbol. Throughout the story there is a depth of meaning beneath the account of cure, of legalism and of antagonism to Jesus’ work that foreshaddows the attitude of authorities to Jesus and His final death. Light and seeing are, all the world over, symbolic of inspiration and real understanding of what life is about, just as dark and blindness are of stubborn ignorance and refusal of truth. The detailed account of the cure is not unlike the ceremony of baptism, but thereafter the various dialogues expose human hesitancy, timidity and arrogance. The underlying narrative comes to the surface at the end of the passage when Jesus says: ” I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” (This passage is omitted when the short gospel reading is used).
See Jeffs Jottings – The danger of seeing