Looking at the Outside

34They answered and said to him, “You were born totally in sin, and you want to teach us? And they threw him out. — John 9:34

7But YHWH said to Samuel, “Don’t look at his appearance, nor at how tall he is, for I have rejected him. For people don’t see the way God sees, for people look at the outside, but YHWH looks at the heart. — 1 Samuel 16:7

It’s easy for us as modern, western Christians, to overlook just what is going on in John 9:34. Here’s the scene. The man who had been born blind is healed, and the religious leaders are losing their argument with him. Their final argument is what we call an ad hominem, an argument directed at the person who is speaking, rather than at what they are saying.

“How can you teach us,” they ask, “When you are such a total sinner?”

What we miss here is this: We think of everyone as a sinner. It’s the common Christian confession. I’m a sinner. You’re a sinner. No big deal. Everyone’s a sinner.

But these religious leaders didn’t believe that. They believed they were righteous. Further, they believed that you could tell whether someone was a sinner or righteous based on God’s blessing—or the lack of it—on them.

Do you remember the question the disciples asked Jesus in John 9:2? “Who sinned?” They knew there had to be a sin, because they could see a man who had been born blind. Such a curse! The man had to be a sinner. So they tell him he was born in sin, and they don’t need to listen to anything he says.

In a slightly weaker form, they’re applying the same argument to Jesus. The reason it’s not possible that Jesus could heal was that he was a Sabbath breaker (verse 16). So they’re also looking at the external criteria, though in a different way.

God, on the other hand, was looking at, and healing, the heart.

Does this happen in our lives? Do we look at the outward appearance of someone who brings God’s word and decide that we don’t need to listen because of who they are (or aren’t) or what they do? Will we miss God’s voice speaking to us because he chooses a child (like Samuel, 1 Samuel 3), or an animal (Balaam’s donkey, Numbers 22)? Or are we ready to hear God however he chooses to speak to us?

You can’t tell just by looking at the outside. God’s messengers may be rich or poor, learned or simple, impressive or unimpressive. If we’re listening for God, we’re going to hear his voice, no matter how he chooses to package it.

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