Learning to See Our Own Blindness

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     Jesus didn’t see “a blind man.” Jesus saw “a man.”  “Blind from birth.”  Do you hear the difference?…  But wait—there’s more!  You know how things tend to get lost in translation?  Well, in the original Greek of the New Testament it says Jesus saw an “anthropos,” a fellow human being, as in the word “anthropology.”  And this human being just happened to have been born blind….  I think that’s one of the most important things you and I can take away from this story.  Think about it, sisters and brothers:  How often do you and I walk by other people without really seeing them as fellow human beings?  I’d be willing to bet we all this do this multiple times every day!…   Or, when we do see a stranger, what is it that we see?  We see “a homeless man.”  We see “a black woman.”  We see “an autistic child.”  We see “a Mexican farm worker….”  You know, as I’ve thought about our gospel story, it occurs to me that you and I have more in common with Jesus’ original disciples and with the Pharisees and townspeople in the story than we’d probably care to admit….  Of course, we like to think we’re a bit more enlightened that those first-century folks who believed that blindness and other afflictions were a form of divine punishment for sin.  We recognize that bad things happen to good people every day; as Scripture says, God makes the sun shine and the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike![1] And yet I can’t help thinking that you and I are like those ancient people in today’s gospel lesson in the sense that we still have a tendency to view other people through the lens of our own fear and prejudice….  My friends, when we do this, we end up seeing only the surface—only one or two visible aspects of who those other people are.  Sadly, this can cause us to end up labeling and pre-judging people we don’t even know…..  I wonder:  What would it be like if you and I could learn to see others in the way Jesus sees?  What if, instead of seeing a homeless man, we could learn to see a fellow human being, who happens to have been plunged into poverty and has lost his house?  Or instead of a black woman, what if we could see a fellow human being, who happens to have been born female and black?  Or, instead of seeing a Mexican farm worker, we could instead see a person who happens to have been born in Mexico and earns his living as a farm worker?  Or instead of seeing an autistic child, what if we could see a child, who happens to have been born with a gene that causes autism?… What if we could learn to see our common identity as fellow human beings before we saw anything else?…  I invite you to hold onto those questions while we take a deeper look at today’s gospel lesson….

     Again, Jesus sees a human being. Who happens to have been born blind….  Jesus also sees that this man is suffering.  He’s suffering because his blindness marks him as a sinner in the eyes of his community, making him an outcast and forcing him to become a beggar.  So, when Jesus sees the man’s suffering, he heals him; however, in the process Jesus pushes all his opponents’ buttons, because he breaks pretty much every rule in the book of Pharasaic law!…  You may recall from other passages in the gospels that the Pharisees were pretty obsessed with religious rituals of purification.  For example, they had strict rules about washing their hands, washing pots, preparing food, quarantining people who were “unclean” or ill, and avoiding bodily fluids and dead bodies.  So, when Jesus heals the man by spitting in the dirt and making mud and then plastering it on the man’s eyes, he’s really poking the bear.  And the fact that he performs this act of healing on the Sabbath, when all work is forbidden, pushes the Pharisees over the edge and causes them to fly into a blind rage!…   They just can’t handle the fact that Jesus is doing God’s work outside of their carefully constructed box of religious order.  So, when they see that the man who was born blind is now fully sighted, the religious leaders respond by doubling down and refusing to recognize that this miraculous healing comes from God.  They question the poor man over and over, but they’re obviously not interested in knowing the facts.  They’re only interested in affirming their own alternative view that the former blind man and Jesus are both sinners and that this healing can’t possibly be the work of God….  To sum up, it seems the Pharisees would rather be right than righteous.  Their closed minds and closed hearts blind them to the reality that God sent Jesus to reveal God’s love for the whole world by offering healing to all who are open to receiving God’s gift of new vision and new life….

     Jesus sees a human being.  Who happens to have been born blind in the physical sense.  And Jesus heals him, because the man is open to receiving God’s gift of healing and new life….  Jesus also sees some other people.  People who happen to have become blind in the spiritual sense.  But he isn’t able to heal them, because they’re not open to receiving the healing insight God has sent Jesus to bring them….  Ah, there’s the rub my friends!  What about you and I?  Are we open to receiving the gift of healing God desperately wants to give us?  As followers of Jesus, are we open to learning to see others the way he sees them:  as fellow human beings who are suffering and are therefore deserving of healing and new life?…  The Good News for today is that you and I can learn to see others as Jesus does, and when we do, we’ll find that we have compassion for them.  And we just might find we have more in common with them than first meets the eye.  As the saying goes, “You shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” because underneath the surface, every one of us has multiple pieces to our identity, and all of our “pieces” come together in a unique way to make each of us the person God has created and is calling us to become.  As our youth and young adults learned at their recent retreat, this coming together of all the pieces is called “intersectionality.”  The concept of intersectionality can help us recognize that we and others are complex human beings who have certain things that set us apart and certain things we hold in common.  The various pieces of our identity may either subject us to discrimination or allow us to hold privilege in our society: take, for example, our gender, skin color, and socioeconomic class….  I have to admit I’m still learning, but it seems to me that the concept of intersectionality can teach us to see beyond our fears and beyond surface prejudices that cause us to treat others as “less than” we are:  that is, less important, less deserving, or even—I’m sad to say–“less human….”  A couple of weeks ago in confirmation class, Sonnet brought up the topic of “intersectionality,” and I was so proud of her!  I mean, here’s an eighth-grader teaching us all a very important life lesson!…  Anyway, Sonnet gave some examples of how intersectionality applies to her own identity:  She’s female.  She’s black.  She’s of African descent. She’s a teenager. She’s a musician.  She’s an athlete….  And because I’ve gotten to know her a bit, I’ll add a couple more pieces:  She’s an American by birth.  She’s a Christian.  She lives in the suburbs of Portland.  And she comes from a loving family….  As I reflected on this, it occurred to me that even though Sonnet and I seem very different on the surface, we have some important areas where our lives intersect:  We’re both female.  We’re both Christian.   We’re both Americans by birth.  We both live in the Portland area.  We both come from loving families.  Like Sonnet, I also enjoy making music, and although I’m not super athletic, I do like sports….  So, you see, even though we look very different, Sonnet and I have some important things in common….

     Dear friends in Christ, our Scripture story from John’s gospel sheds light on the blindness in our world today:  a blindness that’s all around us and deep within us….  I don’t know about you, but the words Jesus speaks to the Pharisees in our Scripture story make me squirm, because I realize that they also apply to us today:  Our closed minds and closed hearts blind us to God’s loving presence in our world and in the lives of our fellow human beings.  This blindness is what causes us to remain in sin—that is, to remain separated from God.  After all, the most common meaning of sin in the New Testament is “breaking relationship,” and when you and I break relationship with our neighbor, we end up separating ourselves not only from our neighbor, but also from our God.  Sadly, our blind sin continues to cause a lot of pain in this world, and so, I wonder:  What would it look like if we were able to see our own blindness?…  The Good News for today is that God desperately wants to help us see our own blindness, so that we can receive the gift of healing:  that is, the new vision and new life revealed to us in Jesus Christ.  That’s why God keeps reaching out to offer each of us whatever we need.  All you and I have to do—indeed, all we can do!–is open our hearts to accept the gift of healing.  And when we do, God will help us learn bit by bit to see each other’s common humanity.  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become convinced that it takes a lifetime to learn to see in the way of Jesus.  I know I’m still learning!  I know my old eyes don’t see so well anymore, and I have to wear these glasses now—especially when I’m trying to do things like read the menu in a dark restaurant—you know what I mean?!… And yet in other ways God is still teaching me to see better.  For example, while out walking this past week, I noticed three strangers who were obviously bearing deep personal pain.  With two of them, I could see it in their faces and in the way their shoulders slumped.  The third was sitting in his car on the side of the road, chugging a beer….  As I passed each one, I felt compelled me to stop and say a silent prayer….  Looking back over the course of my life, I’m also aware that over the years God has expanded my capacity for loving my neighbor by chipping away at my fear and prejudice a bit at a time.  In fact, as I was driving here this morning, I chuckled to myself as I thought, “Hmm…I think that’s how the Grinch must’ve felt when his heart grew ten sizes!…”  Yet I know I still have room for growth, and so I take heart in knowing that God’s not finished with me yet….  And God’s not finished with you, either!  In fact, as long as you and I walk this earth, our God will never stop reaching out to offer us the gifts of new vision and new life…and THAT, my friends, is some seriously Good News!….  So, here’s our takeaway for this week:  As you and I get ready to leave this sanctuary and go back to the routine of our daily lives, let’s resolve to practice seeing others as Jesus sees us:  with open eyes and open hearts.  Let’s practice seeing each other as fellow human beings, as sisters and brothers who reflect the rainbow image of our loving Creator God, because that, my friends, is the only way to heal the blindness and brokenness of this world God loves so deeply.  Amen.

[1] Matthew 5:45.


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