Seeing Blindness Differently

March 26, 2017

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now I'm found.
Was blind, but now I see

 

Which character do you identify with in today’s gospel?

Is it the blind man who was transformed, the Pharisees who couldn’t see beyond the laws?

Is it the parents who were fearful of being thrown out of the synagogue?

Or Are you one of the bystanders who doesn’t recognize the blind man once he could see?

In some ways, I identify with the blind man, people don’t recognize him partly because it seems they never really looked at him before. He was in many ways invisible to them. Most likely he became part of the backdrop in the village, just part of the landscape. I have felt invisible at times in my life; when my comments haven’t been recognized in a conversation, in a restaurant when people seated after me are getting their food while I continue to wait to place my order or the other times when I have fallen through the cracks and been left out.

Being invisible is dehumanizing and hurtful. Some people don’t understand “invisibility” in a human sense. They imagine invisibility as Casper the Ghost or the invisibility cloak in Harry Potter. These are simple explanations, easier to comprehend, instead of realizing that you as a human being are unable to see another human being as an equal. For those like myself who have felt invisible it is hard to understand. I am a child of God as every human in this world, And as a child of God everyone, even those who are difficult to love, deserve the respect, dignity and love that God asks of us in the commandment “to love our neighbor.” The more visible we are, the more visibility we can bring to those who are oppressed, the more difficult it is to create the marginalized and treated others as sub-human and 2nd class citizens. Acknowledging others as visible and being acknowledged as visible ourselves, brings life to us all and works to aid God in the fulfillment of Heaven on earth.

In our gospel today the people didn’t recognize the blind man now that he could see. Perhaps the bystanders never really saw the blind man before, so they are not entirely sure. Do we ever really look at the homeless person on the side of the road so that we would recognize them under different circumstances? Sometimes we don’t even recognize people we know in other settings. Maybe someone you usually see in a uniform is hard to recognize when they are wearing street clothes. For whatever reason we become blind to some of the most everyday things and people.

To continue our press conference style this Lent, I asked for a few questions on today’s readings. I must say that I was hoping for a 3-4 questions and ended up with enough inquiries for many sermons. I won’t scare you ---I only picked a few.

QUESTION #1: What was the point of Jesus using mud and spit? It’s pretty gross and very unsanitary.

It is likely that the use of saliva for medicinal purposes was a common practice of the time. Jesus has used saliva in other stories of healing; when he heals the deaf and mute man (Mk 7:31-35) and when he heals the blind man at Bethsaida (Mk 8:22-25). Both in the gospel of Mark.

Clay was also associated with healing practices, however it seems to have been unusual for a healer to make clay by using spit. There are also biblical connections to clay as God has been portrayed as a potter and human beings as clay (Job 10:9; Is 45:9; 64:8; Jer 18:6; Rom 9:21).

There are commentaries that suggest that the sight of the man is “recreated”, the saliva and mud implying a newly created sight for the man focusing us back to the second creation story and the forming of man from dust (Gen 2:7). One of the main points in this passage is that it is not just mud and spit, but the living waters washing away the mud from the man’s eyes that heals him.. as our own baptismal waters cleanse us and bring us new life.

QUESTION #2: How can I, in this day and age, wash the silt from my vision so that I may see and how will I know what I am seeing is the truth?

This is a difficult question to answer. How can we know? We can do our best. We can be Christ’s hands in the world reflecting on his teachings and guidance. We can to practice our awareness; ask questions, be curious. We can look around more, listening to our inner self, and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right when we see oppression. We can speak up for ourselves, practicing our assertiveness. We can be open to transformation, to change, and pray that what is invisible will be made visible in God’s time. It’s not easy to wait around for an answer; it’s not easy to have patience. It’s not easy to trust that something will be revealed.

We also need to share our faith stories, it is through telling our stories that our faith will grow stronger, just as it did for the blind man. He went from saying he was healed by a “man” to saying he was healed by a “prophet” to confronting the Pharisees and bystanders and speaking his truth that he was healed by “a man from God” whom he now worships.

We can be like the Blind man and have faith in God’s healing grace.

QUESTION #3: Why is no one celebrating the fact that the blind man can now see?

Perhaps there is no celebration because no-one wants to admit to the miracle; they don’t want to believe that Jesus could provide this healing; they can’t seem to realize that the grace of God was among them. Instead, they want to fit this into their formula, their laws, to be acceptable in their eyes. They can’t accept something outside their version of reality, what they know as the answer.

The bystanders can’t believe that this is the same man who couldn’t see before, asking him multiple times. Bringing in the Pharisees, who also don’t believe him. Asking his parents, and still they doubt that he was the blind man from before.

The man was born blind so that God’s work would be revealed in him. Jesus heals his blindness to demonstrate the grace of God. What motivated the miracle was not the man’s blindness, not his needs, not his prayers (he didn’t even ask to be healed) but the need to make God’s work evident in the world.

One last comment about the motivation for this healing, this miracle – this was not about the blind man being a sinner who needed to be made whole or holy. This was about making God’s work manifest in the world. While God’s work may be in the world through divine healing, it can also be shown in living faithfully even without healings or in spite of debilitating conditions. If a healing miracle doesn’t happen, the strength and courage to live with that reality is divine work that comes from Jesus and is received by faith. In sickness and in health, in living and in dying, we see so that we can make God’s work visible in our lives.

QUESTION #4: Are we in danger of becoming like the Pharisees, if are we not seeing what is right in front of us?

I have to say, Yes. Transformation makes visible that which has been invisible. Jesus is making the Invisible God, visible through the works of God. Jesus is the light in the world; he’s bringing light to darkness; and sight to the blind man. Remember people didn’t recognize Jesus after the resurrection, until he spoke. The sin is in seeking our own will instead of the will of God. The redemption is God setting us free from the power of evil, sin and death.

 I read an interesting article the other day about an interview with the first people who had successful cataract surgery. All of them were blind from birth, and were able to see after the surgery. They had mixed results from the participants, some were saying how beautiful everything was while others were unable to judge distance, understand shapes, and couldn’t adjust to the world around them. One of the girls ended up pretending she was blind again in order to be happy, and a fifteen-year old boy said he would tear his eyes out if he didn’t get to go back to the way things were before he’d gotten his sight.

It’s hard to believe such rejection “after being rescued from a life of darkness, after being hauled into the light and presented with a world full of color, depth, movement, and space?” It was too much for him. Some were overwhelmed by the vastness of their new worlds and begged to return to their smaller, safer, quieter worlds. The interviewer couldn’t understand this reaction, as humans are meant to see – but some would rather not see.

That is what this whole passage is about, to see or not to see, what we are blind to and what we can only partially see. The blind man can now see and sees his faith with spiritual sight, and the Pharisees who think they can see are really spiritually blind. What are we going to do? What are we going to do today in our decision to see or not to see? We can stay where we are, where it’s familiar and comfortable and where we know the rules and our laws, like the Pharisees, or are we willing to see everything there is, the good and the bad; in ourselves, and in the world around us? Are we willing to be vulnerable? When our blindness is lifted it can be overwhelming. We need to have courage and seek out help from others and mentors to help us in our journey. Are we willing to risk exposing our blindness to gain new sight? Are we blind to our own blindness?

I once was lost, but now I'm found.
Was blind, but now I see

 

Resources

Amazing Grace, Lyrics John Newton

 

The Book of Common Prayer: And Administer of the Sacraments and Other Rites and Ceremonies of the Church (New York,    N.Y.: Church Publishing, 1979).

 

Mixed Blessings, Barbara Brown Taylor 

Whoever you are, wherever you are on your journey of faith, you are welcome here.