Being Blind

Friday, September 21, 2012 — — Week of Proper 19

Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

[Go to for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer)

EITHER the readings for Friday of Proper 19, p. 985

Psalms 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 (morning) // 73 (evening)

Esther 1:1-4, 10-19 or Judith 4:1-15

Acts 17:1-15

John 12:36b-43

OR for the Feast of St. Matthew, p. 999

Morning Prayer: Psalm 119:41-64; Isaiah 8:11-20; Romans 10:1-15

Evening Prayer: Psalms 19, 112; Job 28:12-28; Matthew 13:44-52

We have two choices for readings today — either the readings for Friday, Proper 19 or the readings for St. Matthew.

For the next week we also have choices to read either from Esther or Judith

In several places in the Hebrew scripture, the text implies that God blinds some people so that they fail to respond to God’s activity. Their failure then provokes God’s judgment and some ensuing catastrophe.

In today gospel reading, John 12:40 quotes from the call of Isaiah (chapter 6), remembering the old story. When Isaiah responds to God’s call, saying, “Here am I; send me!” God tells Isaiah, “Go and say to this people: ‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend; keep looking, but do not understand.’ Make the mind of this people dull, and stop their ears, and shut their eyes, so that they may not look with their eyes, and listen with their ears, and comprehend with their minds, and turn and be healed.” Isaiah knows that his message will be rejected. He asks, “How long, O Lord?” The answer is ominous. “Until cities lie waste without inhabitant, and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate…”

In Genesis it says that God hardened the heart of the Pharaoh so that he would not let the Hebrew people go. But in 2 Corinthians 4, Paul declares it is “the god of this world” who blinds the minds of the unbelievers, “to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.”

It is easy to accept that some people are blind because they are oriented away from the priorities of God, distracted by worldly concerns, the gods of this world. It seems more problematic that God would intentionally blind others in order to pursue some divine intent.

Yet so often we can see, usually in retrospect, how evil designs and wrong intention may often set in motion great opportunities for divine blessing. The story of Joseph’s being sold into slavery by his brothers gets reinterpreted that way. The brothers meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. Had Joseph not been sold, he would not have been in a position to save his family from famine.

How do we interpret the cross? Wasn’t it God’s intention that all would listen to Jesus, heed his message, and turn with love toward God, neighbor and self? Yet it was certain that if Jesus challenged the Temple monopoly with a message of open access to God’s grace and forgiveness, and also challenged the Roman authority with his invitation to a Messianic Kingdom where God, not Caesar reigns, then Jesus certainly would be killed by those authorities. So, did the “gods of this world” blind them so they could not see his light? Or did God stop their ears and blind their eyes so that Jesus could reign from the cross?

In either interpretation, we are saying that God prevails. Some may see God’s mastery as so thorough and so overweening that God is behind even the evils that God must rescue us from. There is something comforting about imagining the possibility that the willing ignorance which we see around us, the kind of stupidity that can lead only to catastrophe, is also within God’s hands and purpose.

Right now our nation seems to be in the grip of such fear and anger that we appear destined for catastrophes. Blind, incomprehensible, reactionary rhetoric abounds. It seems unlikely that sentiments like those which motivate the Tea Party can create anything good.

We have so many Biblical examples of desperate circumstances. Both of our options for our first reading are set in ugly times. The story of Esther hearkens to a kind of Jewish persecution that has haunted history. In the story of Judith, Israel is caught in the grip of fear. We keep reading of the serial rejections that Paul faced, with life-threatening violence, as he moved through the diaspora with his gospel. And in our gospel readings, Jesus heads for the cross, with willing courage.

God save us from our selves and from all else that threatens us. Especially when we are so blind and deaf that we do not know how to help ourselves.

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