There are none so blind as those who will not see

Lent 4 – 2017

John 9:1-41

Marian Free

In the name of God who opens our eyes so we might know God. Amen.

By and large people believe what they want to believe – often despite evidence to the contrary. At least 10 years ago, Andrew Denton produced a documentary called: “God is on our side”. It was a report of a conference that is held annually in the Southern States of the USA. I found it all rather disconcerting. A major part of the gathering was the marketing of Christian artifacts books, pictures and movies a central theme of which was the “rapture” the belief that when Christ returns the dead who are to be raised, will join the living in a rapturous ascent to heaven, while everyone else is thrown into hell. Most frightening however, was the preacher who was addressing an auditorium filled with at something like 5-10,000 people and who proclaimed Cold War style that Russia intended to invade Israel. Those who attended were lapping up this out-dated and fear-inspiring version of the state of the world as if it were real. Books that supported the preacher’s argument were available for sale, reinforcing the “truth” of the matter. For those who accepted his authority, his reality became their reality.

Social media promised to make the facts more readily available to more people. It is increasingly evident that social media can be employed equally effectively to promote “fake” news. Many people who have no other source of information will believe what they are told, or what they read – especially if it is on the news, in the newspapers or spoken by someone in a position of authority.

As the old proverb goes: “There are none so blind as those that will not see.”

There are several layers of blindness in today’s gospel – the physical blindness of the man who is healed and the metaphorical blindness of almost every one else in the story. The disciples are blinded by tradition or folklore – physical deformity is evidence of sin. The man’s neighbours are blinded by the information that they currently have – the man whom they knew was blind – the man in front of them is not – he cannot be the same person. The Pharisees are blinded by their fear of change, and their desire for power. If people are allowed to believe that Jesus comes from God, their influence will be severely diminished. Finally, the parent’s of the once-blind man are blinded by the anxiety that if they claim to understand their son’s healing, they will be thrown out of the synagogue. Even the man born blind takes some time to fully comprehend the implications of receiving his sight.

The story of the man born blind takes a long circuitous route. He does not come to Jesus seeking to be healed. In fact it is only because the disciples ask Jesus about him that Jesus restores his sight. There is no suggestion that the man had faith, nor that his cure led to faith or caused others to believe. Not is there any suggestion that the man is surprised. He appears to take his newfound sight for granted. Those who knew him are surprised, so surprised in fact that they refuse to believe that it is the same man whom they knew as a beggar. The Pharisees on the other hand are threatened by Jesus’ power. They try to persuade the man that Jesus cannot possibly be from God implying that his power comes from elsewhere. Their antagonism has the opposite effect from that which they intended. Their assault on the once blind man and their disapproval of Jesus pushes the blind man to think about what has happened and to come to his own conclusion about Jesus – surely he is a prophet. In the face of such negativity, the man begins to understand the implications of his healing. It was not a random event but had a purpose and a meaning. Not only has the man received his physical sight, he is gaining insight and coming to faith.

When the Pharisees fail to intimidate the man, they take on his parents. Unlike the neighbours they recognise and own the man as their son, but they refuse to enter into any debate as to the person who healed him. To suggest that Jesus is from God would lead to their being thrown out of the synagogue. Finally the Pharisees attack the blind man one more time and when he refuses to give up what he has learned they throw him out of the synagogue. It is only then that Jesus seeks him out and reveals himself to him.

Over the course of the story, the man’s sight and his insight have been gradually sharpened. Despite opposition, he has held on to his sense of self, discerned the self-interest that led to the false teaching and the blindness of the Pharisees and has gradually discovered that Jesus the healer, is Jesus the prophet, is Jesus the Son of Man. He has learned the truth about Jesus because he was not bound by tradition, limited by what he thought he knew, not determined to maintain his place in the world and not imprisoned by the fear of what others might do to him. His openness to the truth gave him courage to hold his ground in the face of opposition and his willingness to learn brought him to faith. He has gained his sight in more ways than one.

As today’s gospel illustrates, God is patient. God will reveal the truth at a pace at which we are able to grasp it. God will give us courage to stand against those who would mislead and confuse us and will in time bring us to fullness of faith.

Lent is love. God’s story includes the timid, the questioning and those who come to believe one step at a time. No matter what holds us back – “fear or doubt or habit”[1] God will open our eyes and give us time and space to find our way to the truth and to take our place in the story that is without beginning or end.

 

 

[1] To quote hymn writer Elizabeth Smith.

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