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"How can... the blind see?"

Only Jesus sees a precious child of God, no more sinful than anyone else. Only Jesus sees him as something more than broken, an object of pity, a piece of human trash in the gutter. Only Jesus sees him as someone who will display the mighty power of God.

“The Man Born Blind" by Ronald Raab
[1] “The Man Born Blind" by Ronald Raab

​John 9:1-41

March 19, 2023

Dr. Todd R. Wright Barbara Brown Taylor has written a book, Learning to Walk in the Dark. She begins the chapter “The Eyes of the Blind” with this confession: “There are so many darknesses I will never know. Someone with dark skin tells me what it is like to live among people who do not think twice about using “dark” as shorthand for sinister, sinful, tragic, or foul. Someone from northern Canada tells me how precious darkness is in midsummer, when the sun does not go down until midnight and is back in the sky by five. [And] someone holding the harness of a seeing-eye dog asks me if I know what “darkness” means to someone who is blind.”[2] Taylor admits she doesn’t know. I don’t either.

 

But the man who is the central character in our passage today knows all about darkness. He knows that his parents love him, but most people hardly see him at all. He knows that he lives in a world that is biased toward the sighted; and that without eye sight he cannot work the way most people do. He knows most people see him as broken, in fact, his begging is dependent on their pity. He also knows that scripture often equates spiritual failure with blindness, so people attribute his condition to some sort of sin – his or his parents’. He may not know what people mean when they say “blue” or “dawn”, but he has learned to tell the difference between the hostile and the helpful. And I like to think that, even before Jesus appeared, he knew the words of Isaiah: “Here is your God … He will come and save you.” Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened …”[3]

 

What he does not know is that Isaiah’s words are not poetic metaphors or empty promises, or that Jesus is able to create a new reality with dirt and spit. What he does not know is that his healing will create a hornet’s nest of questions – questions that will lead to frustrations and denials and revelations. What he does not know is that his story will force people to reconsider … the limits of sight and the blessings of blindness. What he does not know is that the day’s events will result in … his being thrown out of one community but finding another.

 

Perhaps Jacques Lusseyran could have told him, if he hadn’t been born 1900 years too late. Taylor tells the story of Lusseyran, a blind French resistance fighter, who wrote about his experience in a memoir And There Was Light. He was not born blind, but he lost his sight in an accident at seven. He soon learned from the reaction of those around him what a total disaster this was. In those days, blind people were swept to the margins, where those who could not learn how to cane chairs or play an instrument became beggars.[4] The doctors suggested sending him to a school for the blind in Paris, but his parents wanted him to learn how to function in a seeing world. They never pitied him. His mother learned Braille with him. His father said, “Always tell us when you discover something.” One thing he discovered was that light was not an external thing. He wrote, “I could not see the light of the world anymore. Yet the light was still there. It dwells where life also dwells.” Taylor, being a pastor, assumed he was speaking metaphorically or theologically. He wasn’t. With practice he learned to attend so carefully to the world around him that he could … tell trees apart by [their] sounds. He could tell how tall or wide a wall was by the pressure it exerted on his body. Taylor was amazed! “Why,” she asks, “had I never paid attention to the sounds of trees before? Surely the leaves of an oak made a different sound in the wind than the needles of a pine. I just never bothered to listen, since I could tell the trees apart by looking.” “The problem with seeing the regular way,” Lusseyran wrote, “is that sight naturally prefer outer appearances – the surface of things. We let our eyes skid over trees, furniture, traffic, faces, too often mistaking sight for perception.”

 

So when the disciples look at this man, they see a blind beggar and wonder who sinned to mar his life with this malady. The neighbors, who have walked past him every day, maybe sharing a bit of food or conversation about the weather, see him after he is healed, and are so shocked, they question if it is really him. They have never bothered to look below the surface before, so they can’t tell now. The Pharisees present do not see the man as anything more than a pawn in their battle with Jesus over Sabbath law. They do not dance at his new sight. They grumble about the timing. Even his parents, who were broken-hearted that he wasn’t born healthy and whole, see him and can identify him after the healing, do not rejoice. They see which way the wind is blowing and back away. Only Jesus sees a precious child of God, no more sinful than anyone else. Only Jesus sees him as something more than broken, an object of pity, a piece of human trash in the gutter. Only Jesus sees him as someone who will display the mighty power of God.

 

You might think that power is displayed in the man’s healing. It is, of course! Only God can create sight in a man born blind. But there’s more here. But I think Lusseyran’s story reminds us that, by the power of God, the blind have abilities to see the light we sighted people can’t imagine. I think Jesus sees this man as a worthy disciple – one who can bear witness to the power of God and isn’t afraid to do so! I think John includes this story as a rebuke to people who do not bother to look below the surface and judge the book by its cover, and, as a result, miss the power of God. We have been created to be more than that!

 

Taylor sums up, this way. After reading Lusseyran, “it makes me wonder how seeing has made me blind --- by giving me cheap confidence that one quick glance at things can tell me what they are, by distracting me from learning how the light inside me works, by fooling me into thinking I have a clear view of how things really are, of where the road leads, of who can see rightly and who cannot. There is a light that shines in the darkness, which is only visible there.” May God open our eyes … and use the story of a blind man to do it. Amen


[1] “The Man Born Blind" by Ronald Raab [2] From page 91-92 [3] See Isaiah 35:4-5 [4] She tells his story on pages 102-108
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