I Can See Clearly Now….or Can I?
John 9:1 – 41
Pastor Beth Burton
I love optical illusions. For example there is the illustration that when looked at one way shows an old woman and when looked at from another perspective shows a young woman. They can also be a lot of fun trying to figure out just what is wrong within the picture. There are a number of examples on the internet and especially on Facebook where it appears like there is an extra arm or leg within a photo of a group of people. Some of them can make you really think or at the very least make you wonder if you have seen what you think you have just seen. And others are just downright funny. One of my favorite is called the Ponzo illusion and was first demonstrated by Mario Ponzo in 1911. It is a drawing of what could be a train track and two of the horizontal lines are highlighted. What our eyes see is two lines of very different lengths. But in reality they are exactly the same. Trust me I have measured those lines numerous times and each time my ruler tells me they are the same length but my eyes keep seeing one as being much longer than the other. What optical illusions teach us is that there are times when our perception of reality is inaccurate. Our eyes are being tricked into seeing what the artist wants us to see and not the facts. Magicians work off this same principle. They are masters of illusion and misdirection and their art is to make sure we see only what they want us to see. The fact of the matter is – we need to learn to see….I especially love how Richard Rohr, a priest in the Franciscan tradition, put it: “Most people do not see things as they ARE; rather, they see things as THEY are.” Our perceptions of life around us are based out of our own personal notions and ideas of truth and these are the culmination of our life experiences up to this point in time. These form our biases as our brains process what our eyes see – and sometimes our perceptions of reality are completely wrong.
Jesus sawa blind man. In our story, we will see the bias of all the people who saw this blind man and out of all the people who saw the blind man….we will discover that Jesus is the only one who has an accurate perspective – from the disciples who were with Jesus…the town folk who knew the blind man from the time he was born…the blind man’s parents…and the Pharisees. Probably especially the Pharisees. Each one saw the blind man but each one of them only saw what they wanted to see and not what was actually there: a man in need of love…kindness…compassion…a man in need of his sight and more importantly – a man in need of a Savior. So for this man born blind, those who should have been seeing spiritual reality most clearly – his friends, family and the religious leaders – and seeing it in everything around them, were the most blind and undiscerning.
Part of the problem is we don’t see God anywhere. In her book, “Pursuing God’s Will Together”, Ruth Haley Barton writes that – When we embark on our spiritual journey through life, we are supposed to move “from seeing God nowhere, or only seeing God where WE expect to see God…to seeing God everywhere, especially where we LEAST expect to see God.”
So, our passage today begins with a simple fact: Jesus saw a blind man. The disciples who were with him at the time want to begin a discussion about sin. Because the first thing they say is not how can we help this man, or what does he need, but “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind.” They want to begin a theological debate about sin and its origins. Theological discussions being ever so helpful to someone born blind. Now bear in mind, in the culture of the day when the gospel of John was written, people believed that physical impairments and mental illnesses were directly related to how sinful someone was or how sinful their parents were. Fortunately today, we have a better understanding today of both physical and mental disabilities because of the advances in science, medicine, and medical technology… so this would not be a question we would even consider but in their historical time frame it was a pertinent question. However I can just see Jesus doing the proverbial eye roll at his disciples as they are asking the question. Because you see Jesus knows this is just not true as we hear his answer: Neither sinned. Jesus refused to make a link between human suffering and human causality (coz-al-ity) (the relationship between cause and effect.) The thing is, that as humans we may suffer when we sin – when we do something wrong we will have to deal with the consequences – the fall out of our actions…but just because we are suffering does not mean we have sinned. Suffering and sin do not necessarily go hand in hand. And then and probably even more importantly….Jesus knows they are asking the wrong question. They are asking from an old way of seeing….an old way of interpreting reality. A bad perspective.
Jesus reveals to the disciples that the man’s blindness is not the result of sin but because of this man’s blindness Jesus will take the opportunity to reveal God to those who have eyes to see. So a better question we can learn to ask when faced with something that puts our belief systems and belief structures into question is: “What is God doing in this situation, and how can I get on board with what God is doing. Please know, Jesus is not trying to make light of the man’s situation or any difficult situation we may find ourselves in today…Jesus is not ignoring the realities of sin and evil in this world and all the tragic consequences that go along with all the sin and evil…But what Jesus also knows is that blaming and pointing fingers doesn’t do any good either…we still have to deal with the tragedies of life and the resulting fall out. People make bad choices and bad stuff happens. That is why the real question is: what is God going to do with all he broken pieces scattered around in our lives and in our world and how can we partner with God to help be a part of the solution.
So Jesus heals the blind man – He does this by making some mud from dirt and spit, putting it on the blind man’s eyes and then telling him to wash in the pool of Siloam….The man is obedient to Jesus’ commands and when he is done…the blind man can see. What we learn from the disciples is that we don’t always ask the right questions and more importantly our faith is best expressed in concrete examples of love and compassion and not in philosophical or theological debates.
Of course all his neighbors see him out and about and walking unaided when he arrives home and realize this man they knew as blind can now see. And we meet our next set of people who are blind even though they can physically see. They ignored the miracle of sight given to this man they knew and instead denied that it could even be the blind beggar they had known so long…even as the man himself proclaimed the miracle of sight given to him. This should not come as a surprise to us today. How many times do we miss the miracles around us? I think we miss them many times because miracles…many times… tend to come in the midst of chaos. The man is bombarded with questions that include proving his identity, the details of his healing, how he got his sight, and by the way….who did this to you. All the man’s friends and neighbors were not prepared to see a miracle. I honestly don’t think we would be any different today since we tend to only see what we are ready to see. When something happens that is unexpected and way out of the ordinary…we…like the friends and neighbors either refuse to see or deny what is right in front of our eyes. We need to learn to see…to expect to see God working in our world in unexpected ways and places.
So… the friends and neighbors… take him to the Pharisees…Oh and by the way…did I mention….this healing Jesus did took place on the Sabbath…a day where no work was allowed…which as far as the Pharisees were concerned meant the man who did the healing could not possibly be from God…because you know…God would never allow healing to take place on the Sabbath…The Pharisees were all about preserving the current religious system at all costs. They were by the book people and determined to be right at all costs. They adhered to the laws and the rituals of their faith and anything that fell outside of those paradigms were automatically suspect…this is partly why Jesus was always in trouble with the Pharisees…Jesus worked outside the system they had carefully built up.
So the Pharisees begin to question the blind man who remains steadfast in his story. He was healed, he does not know how it worked, but it worked. He also does not know the name of the man who healed him but he did heal him which means he must at least be a prophet. And the Pharisees…these men who are more schooled in who God is and about the scriptures…refuse to believe him. They have gotten caught up in what we now call groupthink…which means they had so surrounded themselves with others who thought exactly like they did…they were blind to the work God was doing right in front of their eyes. How many times do we do the same…so afraid to acknowledge that how we think or believe or do could be wrong or hurtful or not a part of how God is working in this world right now. We are afraid of the chaos but sometimes miracles can and do happen in the midst of the chaos.
Probably in a bit of frustration since the man isn’t saying what they want to hear…the Pharisees send for the man’s parents…enter our next set of people who affirm this is indeed their son who was born blind…they don’t know how he can see but they do acknowledge that he can see. And then man’s parents pass the buck back to their son saying he is of age you will have to ask him if you want to know any more. Part of the reason they do this is because the Pharisees had said anyone who sides with Jesus will be thrown out of the religious community. This is a big deal. This is their extended family. This is their life line. This is their identity as God’s chosen people. This they could not let happen so on what should have been one of the happiest days of their life…a day for celebration…their blind son can now see… they take a pass.
The Pharisees turn once again to the man born blind and who can now see and begin to question him once more. They want him to tell the truth…but what truth? Apparently the Pharisees are so caught up in being right…in their faith being defined in one specific way…they can’t allow they may be wrong and so the only answer they will allow as right is the one they want to hear. The Pharisees may be able to see physically but they are spiritually blind to what is right in front of them. And here in our passage we see the blind man has not only regained his sight but he has come to a deep spiritual understanding…he sees what the Pharisees cannot…Jesus…this man he really has not met yet since the last time they were together the man was still blind…has really and truly come from God. The Pharisees are so caught up in the legal aspects of their faith they have lost all their compassion for the people they have been called to serve. The blind man on the other hand is resolute in his faith in the man who healed him. I love what he says in verse 25: “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see!”
The blind man is breaking down the barriers and boundaries the Pharisees have built up around their religion…the man is not saying what they want to hear….and yet through it all the man continues to grow deeper in his faith…which unfortunately for the man culminates with the Pharisees throwing him out of the religious community.
Like I stated earlier, sometimes miracles come in the midst of chaos and this blind man has had a whirlwind of a day filled with events that have turned his life upside down. He has lived his entire life blind and now he can see…the emotions that must have been running through him just at gaining sight had to be high. And then instead of his family and friends and the religious leaders celebrating with him…he is put through his own personal inquisition that culminated with him being thrown out of the only community he ever knew…thrown out of his church. All because he would not say what the religious leaders wanted to hear.
But his day is not over yet. Jesus has heard all that has happened and Jesus seeks him out. Isn’t it wonderful we worship a God who seeks us out? When Jesus finds him…Jesus asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Now of course the man does…he has been defending Jesus all day long but he has never seen him nor does he know who he is and he tells Jesus this…and Jesus reveals to the man who was once physically blind that Jesus who is standing right in front of him and who he can now see…Jesus is the Son of Man and he worships him. This man has moved from being blind…both physically and spiritually… to gaining his sight….to having a new vision…one that brings him to a deep and abiding faith in Jesus as the Son of God.
I believe the punch line for the story…if you will…is said to the Pharisees and found in the final words of Jesus in this passage: “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” That’s the irony – those who admit their blindness, their sin….see. Those who, like the Pharisees, are convinced that they see just fine and stubbornly refuse to admit their need for healing…will never be able to see anything new. They will remain in Spiritual darkness. Blind as the proverbial bat.
It seems the first step we need to take in learning to see clearly…is to work on becoming humble and acknowledging that not only do we not know everything…not only are we sinners… but like the blind man we too are in need of a Savior.