Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Eyes to See

Eyes to See
John 9:1-41[1]
We all have “filters” through which we process what goes on around us. Those “filters” come from our perspectives on life and our convictions and assumptions about truth. It’s the way we make sense out of the many and varied experiences and pieces of information that come our way every day. In some respects, it’s simply the way our brains work. But at times, we take our “filters” too seriously. We assume that they are “truth” with a capital “T,” and that anyone who disagrees with us is wrong. When that happens, our “filters” become “blinders.”
Blinders have a useful purpose: they prevent animals from being distracted or spooked by what’s going on around them. But when it comes to people, blinders rarely turn out to be positive. Especially when it comes to matters of faith. When we assume that our convictions are the absolute truth, then we have no choice but to judge those who have a different perspective to be “wrong.” In the history of the church, this has often played out in terms of branding persons as “heretics,” shunning them, and even executing them for their different beliefs.
I think our Gospel lesson for today is a story about how our convictions can become “blinders” that prevent us from seeing what is obvious.  In this story, the religious authorities are blinded to what is the obvious truth, something they should be able to see plainly.  The episode is about Jesus’ encounter with a man who had been born blind. Part of what makes this story ironic, however, is that while the Gospel continually speaks of him as “the man who had formerly been blind,” the religious authorities go to great lengths to try to discredit this obvious truth. As it turns out, they are the ones who are blinded because of their assumptions.
The first blinder in the story is that anyone who suffers tragedy must have brought it on themselves by some grievous sin.  Jesus’ own disciples voice this belief, asking, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2).  Their question reflected a view as old as the story of Job that if you do what is right you will be blessed by God, but if you do what is wrong you will be punished.  But Jesus explodes the myth.  I like the way The Message translates Jesus’ response: “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do” (John 9:3, Message).  Jesus says that tragedy in our world is an opportunity for us to demonstrate “the works of God” (John 9:4): kindness and compassion!
The next blinder has to do with the fact that Jesus heals “the man who had formerly been blind” on the Sabbath day.  Because Jesus dared exercise God’s mercy by healing this man, the religious authorities believed he had “broken” the Sabbath and therefore assumed he was a “sinner.”  Some of them put it this way: “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath” (John 9:16).  Since Jesus didn’t follow their meticulous rules about keeping the Sabbath holy, in their eyes he must have been a sinner. Ironically, it is “the man who had formerly been blind” who exposes their blindness.  The religious authorities keep trying to find a way to avoid the obvious conclusion that he had been born blind and Jesus had restored his sight.  And this unlearned, very like unkempt man, simply says to them, “One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (John 9:25). The irony is that sometimes it takes someone we consider beneath us to make us aware of the ways in which we let our assumptions keep us from seeing what is obvious.
That’s one of the great dangers when we let our convictions and assumptions about faith and life harden so that they turn into “blinders.” As Jesus often chided the religious leaders of that day, those kinds of prejudices often keep us from seeing what is truly important. When our faith and our assumptions lead us to brand another person as a “sinner,” it seems to me that we have overstepped the bounds of our human limitations. Surely when it comes to labeling who’s a sinner and who’s not, we should heed the humility that reminds us that it’s not for us to say! 
I think that is what the whole story is about.  When we let our convictions and assumptions lead us to hate another person, we’ve missed the point. We’ve closed our eyes to the fact that Jesus himself said that the highest expression of our faith is to love God and love others. At the end of the story, Jesus says “I came into the world …, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind” (John 9:39, The Message).  This story is about exposing how our assumptions and convictions can make us completely blind to the grace and mercy and compassion of God. 
But I don’t think Jesus intended this story to stop there. I think the point of the story is to make us take a hard look at the “blinders” we may be wearing. I think it’s meant to challenge us to consider the ways in which we may have allowed our convictions and assumptions to harden enough to make us shun or even hate others. The fact that we all tend to do this is something that we’d rather not have to face. It’s humbling, to say the least. But that’s what the season of Lent is for: a time to humble ourselves and admit, at least to ourselves, the ways in which we have been blinded. When we do that, it can be like the scales falling off St. Paul’s eyes on the road to Damascus. When we recognize the “blinders” we’ve been wearing, we can take them off so that we have eyes to see the “works of God” all around us!

[1] © 2017 Alan Brehm. A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Alan Brehm on 3/26/2017 at Hickman Presbyterian Church, Hickman, NE.

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