Opening the eyes of the blind

Lent 4

John 9:1-41

Marian Free

In the name of God who causes the blind to see and the deaf to hear. Amen.

Some of you may have seen the movie A Time to Kill. It is based on a John Gresham novel and set in the Deep South of the United States. A black man (Carl) is on trial for attempting to kill the men who raped and tortured his ten-year-old daughter Tonya. The evidence is clear and the white jury have no sympathy for the grief and rage that led the man to take justice into his hand. It becomes clear that he will be condemned and that he will receive the death penalty. His lawyer (Jake) tries to persuade him to plead guilty but Carl says to him: “If you was on that jury. What would convince you to set me free?” What follows moves and challenges me every time I think about the movie.

In his summing up, Jake takes the jury on a journey in their imagination. He describes what happened to the child – how she was abducted, raped so viciously that she would never have children, used as target practice – full beer cans thrown so hard that they tear her flesh to the bone. He tells how she was urinated on, had a noose place around her neck and hung from a tree and how when her tiny body proved too heavy for the branch, she was tossed back into the truck, driven to a bridge and thrown thirty feet into a river. “Can you see her?” he says.” “I want you to picture that little girl. Now imagine she is white.” At that point the penny drops for the jurors. At that moment, the child is no longer a stranger, no longer a member of a race for whom they have no respect. She becomes their own child – their daughter, their niece, their granddaughter. The horror of the crime and the violent grief of the father become understandable. They would have felt the same.

Of course, powerful as that is, it is fiction and it is set against a particular background. That said, it is a reminder that many of us tend to see the world in a certain way. We tend to be blinded by our experiences, by our cultures and our religious ideals. Whether we like it or not, most of us make judgements about other people. We create stereotypes that are difficult to break and make assumptions based on false or limited information. Sometimes our ideas change gradually as we get to know the person or group we have demonised. At other times we need something to shock us out of our complacency so that we can see the other for whom they are, not who we believe them to be.

Jesus is an expert at shocking people into a new way of seeing. He wants us to see things in new ways, not in the conventional, centuries old way of seeing things. He astonishes us by appearing to disregard the law, by healing on the Sabbath and by eating with tax collectors. His parables explode existing religious truths and force his hearers to reconsider their ideas about God and about other people. His teaching and behaviour are sometimes contradictory. In Luke, the story of the rich young man is followed by the account of Zaccheus. Jesus urges the rich young man to give away all his possessions then he commends Zaccheus who only gives away half of his possessions. It begs the question: What are we to do with our possessions? Jesus is not being fickle or obtuse, the contradiction and confusion have a purpose – they are designed to destablise our preconceptions, to make us dependent on God and to prevent us from believing that we can have all knowledge and all truth. If Jesus does not conform to the party line, and if his teaching is apparently then inconsistent it is impossible for anyone to claim that they fully understand or that they have a monopoly on truth.

The account of the healing of the blind man is a lesson about seeing – seeing differently. The Pharisees, who believe that they can see clearly are exposed as those who are blind whereas the blind man gradually comes to see who Jesus really is. The Pharisees who believe that they have nothing to learn are shown to be misguided and ignorant whereas the blind man who is aware how little he knows is proven to be the one who recognises the truth. The Pharisees are so locked into what they think they know that they are unable to change their preconceptions and expectations, whereas the blind man who recognises that he knows little is open to new ideas. He is aware that he has room to learn.

Throughout the story the Pharisees dig themselves into a deeper and deeper hole – demonstrating how little they really know. The blind man not only receives his sight, but allows himself to be enlightened and his ideas to be challenged. The Pharisees who represent the religious leaders, judge Jesus on outdated credentials – he is a sinner, he does not observe the Sabbath, he does not observe the law (9:16), they do not know where he comes from. The blind man uses other – also legitimate – criterion to accept that Jesus comes from God. Just as his forebears believed Moses because of the signs he performed so the blind man sees and believes in the signs that Jesus does – making the blind to see (9:16). He understands intuitively that God listens to one who worships him and obeys his will (9:31). The Pharisees believe that they give glory to God by rejecting Jesus, yet it is the blind man who gives glory to God by worshiping Jesus.

John’s gospel is written for those who will come to faith – that is ourselves. As witnesses to the drama that is unfolding, we are challenged to think about ourselves and our ability to see; to ponder whether we identify with the blind man or the Pharisees and to consider how much we know about and whether we are willing to know more. We are challenged to remain open and expectant, to allow God to reveal God’s self in ways that are unanticipated and that break apart our previous ideas as to who and what God is. We are warned against holding rigidly to preconceptions and assumptions that lock us into only way of thinking and that therefore lock us out of the truth.

The problem with believing that we know it all is that it can blind us to what is actually in front of us. confidence in what we know means that we see things from one point of view – ours. If we believe that our perspective is the only one that has a claim to truth, we are forced to protect and defend it even when the facts contradict it. The Pharisees were unable recognise Jesus because they persisted in their way of seeing things, even when Jesus’ actions seemed to put the lie to it. The blind man was not bound to one interpretation, one view of the world. He was willing to learn and to use what he did know in a different way.

Let us not be so self-assured, so confident in our way of seeing that we are blind to the presence of God or that we fail to see Jesus even when he is right in front of us.

 

 

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