| John 9
||Sun, March 17, 1996
Rev. Ed Searcy
|He just happens to be standing there, minding his own business, when Jesus walks by. This man, blind from birth, says nothing. He is no blind Bartimaeus crying out 'Jesus, have mercy on me'. He just happens to be standing there when the disciples make him the subject of yet another theological discussion: "What do you think Rabbi ... is it his own fault or did his parents cause the blindness?" "Neither", says Jesus, "he's here so that God's works can be seen ... don't forget, I am the light of the world". The man has never seen before ... and doesn't ask to see now. He is used to things as they are, thank you very much. But Jesus changes all that. Its the same thing that she said of her life. "It's the way things are", she said, "I always assumed that I would marry, have children, keep house and home ... and be happy in my nice cozy surroundings". Others have said things like it: "We are satisfied just to fit in ... to go along with the crowd ... to get a degree, find a job, please our parents, satisfy our bosses and invest wisely". They have never seen anything else before ... and they don't ask to see now. But Jesus changes all that. He appears out of the blue, spits on the ground and puts this home made mud on the man's eyes ... the woman's eyes ... the people's eyes. "Go, wash in the pool of Sending", he says. Lo and behold, they come back seeing. Nothing can be the same again. And all because they just happen to be standing there, minding their own business, when Jesus walks by.
Then, as quickly as he came, Jesus is gone. There is no time to ask questions, to learn what it means, to get a Masters Degree in Divinity from the Master. Jesus is gone and the neighbours crowd in: "Is this the same beggar we used to see by the roadside? I hardly recognize him." With that, the debate begins. The coffee klatch can't figure out what has hit her. Why, just last year she seemed so contented, so happy, so satisfied with things the way they were. But then, one day, she 'saw the light' (as she put it). One day she started talking about a life of her own ... about opening her eyes to what God had in store for her ... about seeing a very different future than she had ever imagined. It happens to others, too. At work one day they no longer fit in. Instead they stand out ... by standing up. "Production", the company says, "it's all a matter of production". "No", they say, "not if it means destruction ... destruction of overworked lives and over-logged landscape or over-fished seascape". Are these really the same people we once knew? What has come over them? "Tell us", we plead, "How did it happen? How did you change?". "It was the man called Jesus", they reply, "he muddied things up and then said 'Get washed'. When we did, everything had changed." "Where is he" the neighbours and the coffee klatch and the co-workers ask. "I don't know", comes the answer, "he's gone".
So now it's a matter for the authorities. After all, we can't have people seeing things differently until it has received the stamp of approval from on high. It is clear that this Jesus is a rule breaker. "Healing on the sabbath", they say, "upsetting old conventions ... subverting young minds." But when the authorities ask what has happened, the answer is the same: "He muddied my eyes, I washed, now I see. You see in him a sinner ... a witch-doctor, a charlatan. I see a holy man of Israel, a prophet, a light". She is asked by the elders, the ordination committee and the theological professors to explain herself. Her answer sounds the same: "All I know is that he touched my life ... and now I see, I see things in a whole new light ... I see my value and worth ... I see my calling ... once open, I cannot close my eyes to God or to the world that is waiting ... even if it means trouble". And when the elected officials speak to the protestors, and when the magistrates sentence them, the people say: "Before we were blind to everything but economic forecasts and job creation statistics. Then He dawned on us. Now we see forests of incredible beauty waiting to be tended and suffering neighbours to be loved in the schools of the sea". Jesus gives the unsuspecting recipients of his generosity a real eye-opener. To be given sight by Jesus is to find yourself landing in a heap of trouble. Remember the Freedom Riders of three decades ago? Blacks and whites riding busses into the South, to be questioned by religious authorities and deputy sherriffs about just who had given them such unauthorized colour-blind sight. The authorities are inevitably involved.
And families are inevitably involved, too. "Where did this kid pick up such a crazy way of seeing things? Maybe he was born this way ... maybe if we just ask his parents, her husband, the relatives ... maybe we'll sort this all out." But the families don't want to get involved. They know what is at stake. To stand alongside the boy who sees in Jesus a prophet is to stand with him, outside looking in, when he's tossed out of the cozy community. "Listen", they say, "we hear nothing, we see nothing, we say nothing ... we know nothing. Ask him. He's of age. He can speak for himself." And the husband whose wife is suddenly transformed ... who says that the scales have fallen from her eyes ... is left speechless. "It's her alright", he says, "and yet she's changed, she's not the same woman I married, she sees herself and me and us so differently. To see things her way would mean leaving my world behind. Perhaps you should just leave me out of it". That's what the relatives make of us, isn't it: "Strange nephew, that one ... never expected our neice to become such a fanatic. They insist this Jesus business is more than a quaint Sunday morning habit ... that Jesus has given them new eyes to see, that they see God at every turn and can't understand why we can't see it. Well, we can't. To tell you the truth, we wonder about such blind faith. Too bad, really. Too bad." Families are inevitably involved when we see things as Christians. Families are involved because they notice the change ... they wonder at such newfound perceptions ... and they either see it that way or they don't. More often than not, they don't.
In the end, the man born blind is left to fend for himself. Neighbours back off. Family washes its hands of him. In the court of public opinion, the source of his new found sight is labelled sinful, heretical, subversive, dangerous. And, did you notice, Jesus is still nowhere to be found. What an unusual New Testament story. An entire chapter (41 verses to be exact) in which Jesus almost vanishes from sight. Yet it's true, isn't it. It's true that he's often out of sight when we wish he were close at hand. John's own church feels that way. Born and raised as faithful Jews, their belief in Jesus as the Messiah has earned them one thing - a slammed door in the face at the local synagogue. Neighbourhood, family and 'powers that be' all agree - anyone so blind to reality, anyone whose vision is so clouded by this Messiah, anyone who calls Jesus the Christ must go. And when they go, he is still nowhere to be found. Maybe they have all made some terrible misguided mistake. Maybe he hasn't healed their sight after all. Maybe it is a blind faith. We must be prepared for the same dark doubts. Oh, we'd like it to be otherwise. We'd like the newspapers and our neighbours, our bosses and our families to see things the way we see them. We'd like our soon to be installed Board to do and say things that make University Hill Congregation the biggest, most popular church on campus. We'd like to flourish and grow and bask in the limelight. But we know better. Like the man born blind, we cannot deny our new found sight. Like the woman who revises all of her relationships in the light of Jesus' healing touch, we cannot go on as if nothing has changed. Like the Christians in every locale who get up out of their pews and follow Christ into the streets, we cannot restrict God's vision to this enchanting sacred space. Like all of these others we have a simple but powerful story to tell and to live: "I was blind, but now I see." Like these others we can expect to receive the same bum's rush given to the man born blind. It is told in five painful words: "and they drove him out".
Well, guess who shows up now? Yes ... Jesus hears. Jesus hears that he has been driven out, excommunicated. Jesus hears that she stands alone, separated from family and neighbours and the world as it is because she sees how it is meant to be. Jesus hears that his visionaries have been locked up for trouble making and locked out of decision making. Jesus hears ... and he finds them, finds them all. They who have been told that their's is blind faith lay eyes on him: "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" he asks. "Who is he?", they reply, "Tell us so that when we lay eyes on him we will know we've seen him". "You have already seen the One and the One you are speaking with is he". It is that moment of recognition in the singing of a hymn or the reading of a word, that instant of clarity in prayer or in sacrament when the shivers run down your spine and you realize that what you saw before is nothing compared to what you are seeing now. This is no ordinary dime store healer, this is not even a wise and wonderful prophet ... this is the One who sheds light on the world, on your life. "Lord, I believe" says the man born blind ... and the woman who sees herself with new eyes ... and the church that gazes on cultural wastelands but perceives, instead, the fields of God's redemptive harvest. Together we worship him with our lives. Together we give worth to the One who has given us our sight, the One in whose light we live every day. There are those among the powers that be, those who assume that things are the way they appear, who take issue with such claims. "Are you suggesting that we are blind?" they ask, "We who have our finger on the pulse of the family, the university, the culture ... we who have our PhDs, our data banks, our diplomas from the school of hard knocks? Who, us, blind?". Jesus mutters in response: "The worst of it is that you claim 'to see' ... claim to live in the light of technology and capital and consumption ... claim to see God's world clearly. This ... this is blind faith." Yes. Jesus is a real eye opener. As the story ends, the man born blind sees that Jesus is the Christ ... the woman transformed eyes Jesus Christ waiting - for her ... the Church turned inside out glimpses Jesus Christ not in here but out there, in the street. Seeing Him waiting, out there, we say 'thank God' and follow Him. But that's another story.