“Blindsight” March 22, 2020 Psalm 130 and John 9
I like to walk in the dark. It’s not just that I like walking in the morning, and in this part of the world that usually means it is still dark. I like the stillness that comes before dawn. The way familiar shapes seem different. Sometimes that can be a bit frightening, but sometimes it helps me see things differently.
There would be some parts of the world I would not walk in the dark alone. Depending on the time of year, it can even be a bit dangerous here. It’s not always easy to tell when the darkness of the path is dry ground or sheer ice. But somehow when I rely less on my eyes, the rest of my body feels so much more involved. I can tell the temperature by the crunch of the snow, or how thick the ice is on a puddle by how it flexes or cracks. I notice smells I might otherwise miss, distant sounds seem closer, even the air on my face feels different. In a way the world seems smaller in the dark. But sometimes “seeing” less of the external world, also opens up whole new horizons of in-sight.
It’s always there, this other way of “seeing” the world, but most days we’re too busy, to self pre-occupied to notice or to remember. I wonder what helps expand your vision?
Perhaps it’s being part of a community of faith that supports and encourages, or the time you spend in prayer during the week. Perhaps it’s a child who asks questions that get you thinking about the ordinary in extraordinary ways. Jesus was pretty good at getting people to open up to experience life in new and different ways. I think some of that rubbed off on the gospel writers. They began to notice what Jesus noticed. And they wanted to invite others into seeing the world through Jesus’ eyes.
Take today’s reading from John’s gospel. We can hear it as another example of Jesus’ miraculous healing powers. For those of us facing diminished eye-sight that may be what we need. We might get hung up on the discussion about sin and confess our own short-sightedness and preferential treatment of the able bodied (you’ll only be able to read this message, not hear it). We could look at it along side the other gospel accounts of Jesus’ restoring sight to the blind. Matthew, Mark and Luke all have some version or another. Sometimes it’s one man, sometimes two, sometimes the man has a name, sometimes he is nameless. It’s a bit like getting one’s facts from the Tim’s tables. The interpretations are endless but not always accurate.
John tells the story a little differently. Jesus and his disciples are traveling along when they notice a man who has been blind from birth. How they know this, John doesn’t tell us. But their question to Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents?” reveals more about the disciples than it does the man. It’s an attitude not limited to first century Galilee unfortunately. That tendency to look for blame, to want to make sense of catastrophe by scape-goating. It’s the language of fear not faith that equates illness with sin. Jesus is too smart for that and his response invites listeners then and now to see the man, the world, through God’s eyes.
Which isn’t easy to do, according to John. The neighbours are suspicious. The powers that be, are critical. Even the parents of the newly sighted man are fearful. Under all this doubt and disbelief, the man finds his voice and testifies to Jesus. Each time he is questioned, his response become more clear, more adamant. But he pays a price for sharing Jesus’ vision.
If we noticed even a bit of what Jesus sees, we could no longer turn a blind eye to the woes of the world, or to the plight of our neighbour. We could no longer pretend we don’t see Jesus in the stranger who joins us on the journey.
What will you see during this time of social distancing and self-isolation? Will you spend countless hours watching news feeds, listening to others fears and interpretations and miss the chance to really connect with the holy? Will you be frustrated by what you can’t do, or focus on what you can do and reach out to connect with others by phone or on-line? Will you look at the world through the eyes of fear or risk noticing the beauty that still exists, the kindness of strangers, the benefits to the earth of less travel? Perhaps all of the above, but at some point, like the crowds in John’s gospel we face a choice. To see the goodness, or not. And what we pay attention to, grows.
Lent invites us to put our trust in God, to travel with Jesus to Jerusalem and beyond. To hear the crowds and the silence. To rely less on ourselves and our abilities, and more on faith. To watch for signs of God’s presence in whatever situations cross our path. Lent invites us to take a walk in the dark, if you will. To travel in a different way, less cluttered, more open. Less leading, more following, less talking, more listening.
I wonder what we might “see” if we were to walk with Jesus?
There’s a story about a rabbi who sat under a spreading oak tree, on the banks of small stream, at the end of the day. Gathered around him were the students, some who had followed him for a long time, some who had joined them only recently. They listened as the sounds of the world began to give way to the quiet of the might. And evening reached up it’s arms to embrace the sky. The rabbi asked his followers… how can you tell the exact moment when night gives way to day?
They thought about the question, as the sunset faded. They listened to the steady murmur of water on rock as the sky deepened into darkness. The darker it got, the more stars began to sparkle overhead. Could it be as simple as birds singing? If they had known how to keep time or had access to the internet, they could have provided the precise moment to the hundredth of seconds, but the rabbi’s questions always invited them into a bigger world, a different way of seeing.
Finally one said, We know night gives way to day when we can tell the difference between a goat and a lamb. And the rabbi smiled and said nothing…
Knowing there was still more to see, another student said, we know night gives way to day when we can tell the difference between a fig tree and an olive tree. Still the rabbi smiled and still said nothing.
Overhead the stars gave way to moon and the light was beginning to grow in the east. Still the rabbi waited. Finally one of the newcomers coughed, and whispered, we will know night is giving way to day when we can see a stranger, and recognize the face of a friend.
We are part of this story. Hear what the Spirit is speaking to us that our eyes might be opened and our hearts moved to respond. Amen.