John 9: 1-41; 03262017; 4 Lent
I just have to start out by saying how much I enjoyed Deacon Tom’s reading of the Gospel this morning. Tom, it’s good to have you back in the saddle, and you can never leave again.
“Seeing is believing.” How often have we heard those words before? “I won’t believe it till I see it.” “The proof is in the pudding.” “Don’t pull the wool over my eyes.” “What you see is what you get.” The list goes on and on. But the truth is that our eyes frequently deceive us. One learns that quickly in policing. Witnesses often give inaccurate descriptions. It’s not their fault; the adrenalin in their bloodstream often distorts the senses. It’s hard to remember details when you’re confronted with such trauma.
Jesus wants to lead us to a different way of seeing. We begin to see somehow, with our other senses. Jesus makes it possible to see in the midst of darkness. Or more accurately perhaps, he teaches us to see despite the darkness. In the words of the great John Newton hymn, we are blind but now we see.
Real seeing changes us. We see people differently. We begin to see those needy folks around us. We begin to see the pain and sorrow in their lives. We begin to realize that we’re really not that different from them, because we share a common pain. We stop pretending that we’ve got it all together. We become what Carl Jung first called, “a wounded healer”.[i] The writer Henri Nouwen borrowed that phrase and used it for his book, “The Wounded Healers.”
In his book Nouwen wrote this. “The great illusion of leadership is to think that man or woman can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.”[ii] Well, we know all about the desert here in Midland, and I know that many of you have been there.
In his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine upon you.” Not that he will necessarily relieve your pain, but he will walk the journey with you. And if there is anything we can say with certainty, it is that Christ truly understands what pain is.
In our Gospel story, Judaism is going through a split. The Christian faith is slowly emerging out of its Judaic traditions. As with most splits, there is angst in both directions. The Pharisees are concerned about maintaining their relationship with the Romans, and the Christians are worried about being ousted from both the Temple and the synagogue. Both sides have cause to fear the repercussions of their actions.
The Pharisees have a pretty good deal with the Romans. They share the temple taxes, though they’re weighted towards the Romans. On the other side, the early Judeo-Christians are worried about being exiled. Being cut off from the Temple and the synagogue means being ousted from their family and their friends. In the Jewish tribal structure, the loss of family contacts is a recipe for both starvation and disaster.
Jesus walks intentionally into this complex situation. He makes contact with a man blind from birth. His disciples want to know who messed up, the parents or the man himself, that he became completely blind. Jesus answers neither and sends the man to bathe in the Pool of Siloam and it is there that man regains his sight.
This miracle gets tongues a wagging. The former blind man, at this point, has no idea who Jesus is. Though he can see now with his eyes, he still remains somewhat spiritually blinded. The Pharisees try to question him, but they get no satisfaction. And so they to go his parents’ house, to see if the blind man has tricked them.
We might ponder for a moment what a dangerous time this was. The Jews were bound by their laws to worship at certain times in the Temple. To be exiled was to have to live outside the Jewish covenant. It was to be a refugee, ostracized by one’s community. And, there was the threat of being branded as a rebel and an instigator. The Pharisees weren’t going to risk angering the Romans, and losing their own privileged status. The parents of the former blind man knew all this, and they wisely danced around the questions.
They acknowledged him as their son and confirmed that he was born blind. But as to the particulars of the healing, they did what wise parents have done for many generations. “Go ask him, he is of age”, they said. “He will speak for himself.” Their strategy worked and the parents surely breathed a big sigh of relief as they closed their door.
At this point in the story, we might ask; who is blind and who is not? The man tells the Pharisees, “One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see.” The formerly blind man held his own and the Pharisees chastised at him, and then let him be.
Blindness is a curious thing. We can see with twenty-twenty vision and still be blind as bats. As humans, we can train ourselves not to see those suffering around us. It seems like it’s been a long-term human problem. For Jesus said “He came into the world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” How are these things possible?
Frederich Buechner wrote this, “People are prepared for everything except for the fact that beyond the darkness of their blindness there is a great light. They are prepared to go on breaking their backs plowing the same old field until the cows come home without seeing, until they stub their toes on it, that there is a treasure buried in that field rich enough to buy Texas. They are prepared for a God who strikes hard bargains but not for a God who gives as much for an hour’s work as for a day’s. They are prepared for a mustard-seed kingdom of God no bigger than the eye of a newt but not for the great banyan it becomes with birds in its branches singing Mozart.”[iii]
And so, the question begs itself, on this fourth Lenten Sunday. Take a look inside yourself-are you blind enough to see?
[i] Wikipedia contributors, “Wounded healer,” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wounded_healer&oldid=755570808 (accessed March 26, 2017).
[ii] Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society, (New York: Doubleday, 1979) .https://www.goodreads.com/work/quotes/1202823-the-wounded-healer, accessed March 25, 2017.
[iii] ttps://wwwh.sermons.com/sermon/beyond-darkness/1445620 Christian Globe Networks, Inc., Christian Globe Illustrations, by Frederick Buechner, accessed March 25, 2017.