Saturday, April 5, 2014

Seeing is Not Always Believing

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1As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes,7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

I was blind but now I see.

Most of us who encounter those words hear them in song. Those words bring to mind the hymn Amazing Grace. We don’t so much hear the words as we do everything that surrounds them—the melody, the sound of an organ, or maybe the voice of the congregation singing as one body in the church. 

Those words also carry with them memories. Maybe it’s fancy gloves or itchy tights. Maybe it’s the sunlight on the sanctuary or the smell of grandma’s perfume.  Many of us who have been in the church for a while could create a sensory mosaic around those words. If we think of it like a picture, the words are the main subject and the memories are the background.

None of us exist in isolation. There are always people and events in our background. What impacts us, impacts them as well.  In our reading today, we have a blind man who learns to see. And while this is the main focus of the story, there are important things that are happening in his background.

While the blind man experiences a miracle, it doesn’t happen just to him. It has an impact on the people around him—his family, his neighbors and the Pharisees. Exploring the reactions to these people, we discover that change is not always easy. Even if that change is for the better. Even if that change is miraculous. Even when the change is God-given.

Our families and communities are as delicately balanced as a mobile that hangs above a baby’s crib. When everyone is hooked in and hanging the right way we spin happily round and round—perhaps with a cheerful song playing as we go.

But if we unhook ourselves, if we change, if decide we want more freedom or space or if we begin to engage the world in a whole new way, the other people on the mobile are suddenly forced into a new and unfamiliar space. It’s out of balance. This happens even when the change is for the good.

The same thing can happen when bad things happen. When the heaviness of  job loss, depression, or illness weigh us down, things get out of balance, forcing our families or friends or church family into a different place.  Change is hard.

The call of Christ is participate in what God is doing in the world. We are to be part of the change Christ brings by changing ourselves according to his teachings—We are to love more, to give more, to let go of what we are comfortable with, to repent.  Being a follower of Christ means we are often challenging and changing ourselves AND the groups we are part of—our families, our communities and even our church.

We can learn a lot about the changes our faith walk may bring if we look closely at what happens in the different scenes of this story.

In the first scene, the blind man is sitting there, likely begging. In our story though he doesn’t say anything. He probably is hearing the discussion between the disciples and Jesus.

“Why is he blind? Because of his parent’s sin?”

But the blind man doesn’t speak.
He doesn’t ask to be healed.
He doesn’t request a miracle.
He sits there. 

He hears someone spit and some wet, sloppy mixing going on. In the next moment there’s warm mud on his eyes. What was he thinking? Was this just another group of people humiliating him? But then Jesus speaks directly to him, telling him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.  The blind man still hasn’t said a word. Not a mumble. But somehow he goes to the pool and washes.

We can’t control the presence of Christ in our lives. Sometimes God just shows up whether we want it or not. God can come in the form of extreme gratitude when we look at our families. God can also come like a kick in the pants when we make those bad choices over and over again. God comes as clarity, helping us to understand the next step in our lives. 

When God breaks into our lives like this, we change. God changes our hearts and our actions. We become different people. Sometimes the change is as extreme as having blinders take from our eyes. Sometimes it's a complete about face. Sometimes it’s a subtle as learning to say thank you or I’m sorry.  God comes. We change. I was blind but now I see.

The second scene places the once-blind man in the presence of his neighbors. They were so used to thinking of him as the blind man they had trouble recognizing him as someone who could see. They knew he looked familiar but they just couldn't place him. Like seeing the dental receptionist at the grocery store. Or maybe it’s like looking at some of those miracle weight loss photos. You know the ones that show a person with a pudgy belly in one photo and six-pack abs n the other one. I look at those and think really? Is that the same person?

When we change the characteristic that defines who we are it can be hard for the people around us to recognize us. We upset the balance and everyone needs to figure out how to be. The once blind man no longer needed charity, but now would need a job or a wife. He needed new and different things from the people around him. 

We do this in our families and communities as well. When the alcoholic gets sober, her family has to adjust. When the lazy son decides to come back go to work, the hard-working son is furious. When the obsessive mother decides to stop dictating the way dad handles the baby, he has to discover who he is as a parent. 

Next there are a couple scenes with the Pharisees. In the first, the neighbors take the man to the temple. He tells the Pharisees what happened but the Pharisees think they are being hoodwinked by the neighbors. Can the peasants be trusted? Can they know any better? In their eyes, the healing was not legal since it occurred on the Sabbath. A man of God would not heal on the Sabbath. So they end up fighting amongst themselves.

 In the end, they decide not to see what’s happening. It’s easier to kick the blind man back to the curb than it is to acknowledge the miracle. The blind man who didn’t speak in the first scene now talks in paragraphs and gives a theological defense of Jesus’ actions. He says, Only God performs miracles. God only listens to those who worship him. This man performed a miracle which meant God is listening. Therefore this is a man of God. Some are blind. Some see.

In another scene the Pharisees bring in the parents for questioninglike being brought into the prinicpal's office in school. That big desk separates you and you just know that he or she holds all the cards. Standing before the Pharisees the man’s parents shrug their shoulders and say, we don’t know how it happened. Yes he was born blind but now he sees. The man’s change could get them in trouble. Their blind kid was healed. A miracle happened and they are afraid to talk about. They disconnect and say they don't know anything.

Maybe you have a family member like that. The one that nobody wants to own or the one everyone dreads. The sister with too many shoes. The racist grandfather. They are outside of our norm and we don’t know how to explain it. Oftentimes we judge or disparage it. We shake our heads and disown it. because we are afraid of what might happen if people think we are like them.

After these encounters with his neighbors, his family and the Pharisees, the story winds down and the once blind is on the street. Can you imagine how baffling this would all be? One minute you are yourself doing what you always do, the next minute you can see it all. You can see the shallowness of your neighbors, the confines your family places upon you, and the ridiculousness of the religious rules that do nothing but constrain you.

But that’s what Jesus does best. He changes not just the outside, but the inside, too.  We don’t just see new things. We perceive the old things differently. This is what it means to come to Christ. This is what it means to see the world though Christ. It’s new sight. It’s a vision that makes you feel like you are walking a different direction and it’s hard to explain why.

In the final scene the man is back where he started, on the street. Christ is fully revealed but what has changed? So much is the same and yet so much is different. I was blind but now I see.

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