Scripture: John 9:1-41
We can never completely understand everything we see or hear. Our world is an extremely visual place where things come and go, flash by us in an instant never to be fully understood or fully seen. Many things in this world are designed to provide a quick and concise message. We have advertisements that are designed to catch our attention and neon lights that point the way to a hotel. Whereas other messages are meant to be pondered, questioned, and asked what does this mean? We have museums that are filled with beautiful paintings and architecture just ready for us to admire; we have deep conversations about philosophy and faith for us to ask questions.
But in the long run, we cannot understand or see it all. We struggle with this limited view of life and not being able to see with eyes, a clearer picture of ourselves and those around us. During the first class of an Introduction to Philosophy class I took years ago, my professor stated that no one can completely understand where we are coming from or how we felt in any given situation. It’s not possible. To be able to completely understand the situation from another’s point of view, is not only impossible, but to say such would be to blind ourselves to the situation or story they were telling us.
To understand and see things in our world is very important to us as humans. We have created new ways of seeing better, starting with glasses to Lasik surgery to recover our sight. We have phrases that give voice to our disbelief or awe or understanding. Our eyes are considered by some as windows into our very soul, providing each of us with glimpses of who God is in each of us. As soon as we are born, we begin to look at the world around us and begin to learn the shapes and colors of this world. And all of this is true, that is, as long as you can physically see. There are individuals, such as the main character of today’s passage, who are born blind, never having the opportunity to see the world as we see it; never having a point of reference for what a tree or flower look like; never knowing what a sunset or sunrise looks like. There is no reference, no image to see in the mind’s eye.
In today’s scripture, we are confronted with a scene where some understand what is happening while others are blind to that understanding and it is not until the end that we finally see things in 20/20 vision. You see, the blind man acts differently in this pericope opposed to other stories of signs and miracles in the gospels. When Jesus enters the picture, usually the person to be healed cries out, runs up, or reaches out for Jesus to heal them. However, in this story, that does not happen. Instead the man becomes the focal point of a lesson for the disciples and for us. Who sinned Jesus; this man or his parents? Who did something wrong? What did this man do wrong? Tell us now Jesus! See, blindness in this story is not centered on the ethical; who did what and when and where and how. Blindness in this story is a place of being; just as sight is a place of being.
When the disciples ask who sinned, their place of being was in utter blindness; those closest to Christ, the light of the world, did not get it. Throughout the story, more people lose their sight, not physically, but rather their ability to believe and understand what they witnessed and it is only the blind man who comes to a deeper understanding and clearer sight about what happened and who Jesus is. When studying for this sermon, I came across this section in Frances Taylor Gench’s “Encounters with Jesus”. She writes:
“Not too long ago, I encountered someone with a strong bond of connection to the man in John 9: a seminarian of unusual gifts and graces, one of the finest candidates for ordained ministry I have known. But he has recently figured something out about himself: he is gay. It was an experience of God’s grace in his life that opened his eyes—one that liberated him and allowed him to see himself as he really was—indeed, as God created him to be. But new sight came with a cost, for what do you do when you are a candidate for ordination, facing a series of interrogations by candidacy committees and ordaining bodies before finally accepting a call? Is it any wonder that he felt a strong bond of kinship with the man in John 9 and his ordeals? Some will no doubt label this seminarian a sinner, even an “abomination”. But “one thing I know”, he says: “I once was blind, but now I see”.
So, what should the blind man teach us today? What is our church seeing or, more importantly, not seeing in our world today? How are we ignoring, not listening, overlooking, or not recognizing those sitting along the roads of our life journeys? How are we not recognizing Christ in the blind man, in our neighbor, and in ourselves?
We will never fully understand where we are in this story. One day, we may be the blind man, not knowing where Jesus went or how this conversion in our lives happened. Another day, we may feel like the Pharisees, not understanding what this might mean for the status quos in our lives. We may feel like the parents, being able to recognize the familiar aspects of life without understanding what happened to other parts, or not sure how to respond to our own doubts and fears. However, Christ comforts us even in these ever shifting moments of our lives. Christ carries us through the valley of Lent and through our lives by affirming that when we think we have it all figured out, that is when we are blind, but God knows exactly what God is doing. And those are the moments when we are seeing with the eyes of blind man; not knowing what happened, just knowing that it did.
Friends, the story of the blind man is our story. This is a story for all who are blind and those who see; a story for the powerful and marginalized; a story for the privileged and outcast. This is a story for all. We are not meant to react with cynicism and disbelief. This is a story of hope and trust and faith; one that is focused on gaining a deeper understanding of who God is. This is a story for us all and a lesson in our own understanding of ourselves and those around us.
We are all in positions to speak up for those marginalized people; those people who speak for themselves but are ignored for contradicting the established norm. We are in the position to push back against those who discount the truth as being unbelievable. We, as the church, have the ability to walk with each other on our journeys. We are called to look around the world to see those signs that point to God and believe that God is at work in this world and that, in the words of Desmond Tutu, “Hope is being able to see that there is light despite all of the darkness”. And really, isn’t that what our calling is? To inspire and affirm hope for all the people of the world, even in the midst of the deepest, darkest nights.
So my friend, this is the challenge that the story of the man born blind presents to all of us; how will we react to this sign? How will we react to those we pass on our way home today? How will we stand with those ignored and forgotten? How are we to understand that we were once blind, but now we see? Amen.