A sermon preached by the Very Reverend Nicholas Papadopulos, Dean of Salisbury at Evensong
Joshua 14: 6-14; Matthew 12: 1-21
Today, 21st October, is not only the 21st Sunday after Trinity. It is also Trafalgar Day, this year the 213th anniversary of Nelson's great victory over the combined French and Spanish fleet, which secured British sea supremacy for more than 100 years.
Stories about Nelson abound, but my favourite has always been that famous occasion before the battle of Copenhagen. Ordered to withdraw in the face of superior numbers, he held his telescope to the eye he had lost in a previous engagement and announced blithely "I see no ships". The phrase "turning a blind eye" has entered all our dictionaries, and commonly means those moments when we choose not to see what is right in front of us, or choose deliberately to ignore it, concentrating instead on something that is of greater interest to us.
The stories we have heard in both our first and second readings this evening might both be interpreted as occasions when a blind eye was turned. Jesus first defends his disciples who have picked ears of grain on the Sabbath. He then heals the man with the withered hand and claims that his actions are justified. Is Jesus turning a blind eye to the Sabbath's requirements?
The story of Caleb is a little more obscure, but it’s interesting to note that the book of Joshua records him as being the son of a Kenizzite. Kenizzites were among the tribes who God promised Abraham he would drive out of the land of Canaan - yet in this story Caleb the Kenizzite is presented with a prime piece of real estate in the land of Canaan. The reason? Caleb was one of the followers of Moses who dissented from his colleagues' judgement that Canaan was too well defended to allow the Israelites to occupy it. He preferred to trust the generous providence of God and to believe that the promise that Canaan would fall to Moses would be fulfilled. So in the story we have heard tonight is it that God is turning a blind eye to his previous injunction that the Kenizzites and others will be driven out of the land?
I read both stories not as stories of blind eyes being turned but as stories of both eyes being opened, opened to what is real and true. Caleb may be of dubious parentage and incorrect ethnicity, but he trusts the promises of God. The action of picking grain or of healing a suffering man may contravene the laws of the Sabbath, but the one who performs the healing, the one whose disciples pick grain, is the one who ordained that the Sabbath was special and different.
God does not turn a blind eye to Caleb‘s origins. God opens both eyes to Caleb‘s faith. Jesus does not turn a blind eye to the Sabbath regulations. He asks his hearers to open both their eyes to the identity of the one who is speaking to them.
God never invites us to turn a blind eye to his ways in the world but he invites us to open both eyes to discover what those are. Amen.