The tiny rural congregation I serve a few times a month is closed for the duration, so I’m offering a weekly meditation to give them something to consider as they prepare for video streamed worship made available to every congregation. Here it is for your consideration also.
In these days of uncertainty and unknowing, bombarded as we are with conflicting news, it’s hard to understand what we see going on in the world about us. Making sense out of it is difficult. It’s timely that this week’s gospel lesson from John 9 tells the story of a man born blind to whom Jesus gives new sight. It may help us deal with our own sense of inward blindness. We shall see.
A person born blind has no way to understand what visual images mean. Their usual ways of sensing the world about them are thrown into chaos. Everything is frighteningly confusing. The process of learning how to use sight takes time, lots of it. We may not be physically blind, but what we see going on around us these days has upended our usual ways of understanding things. It’s going to take time to make sense of it.
The miracle in the story of Jesus and the man born blind is not that he could suddenly see, but that he could see with understanding. In an instant he had clarity of vision; there was no confusion about how to make sense out of the never before seen visual images surrounding him. He knew without doubt that the healing power of God had entered, and remained, in his body, mind and soul. That was some miracle. But wait, there’s more.
He knew the man named Jesus had done it, but who was Jesus? It took time for him to begin comprehending that whoever Jesus was, he was of God in a way that no one else could be. The story leads us to believe that days passed before the religious leadership interrogated him, then sought out his parents, then interrogated him again. In those passing days he discovered that with his vision he also received a gift of holy insight into godly truth. He, an unlearned beggar, knew what the religious leaders didn’t. Even though he told them, they would not listen: listen to an ignorant beggar, certainly not. “Here’s an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
Even so he had no idea what Jesus looked like. When Jesus found him, he had to ask. In that moment his sight and insight filled him with new understanding: this is the Messiah. He knew he was in the presence of God, and he worshiped. We hear no more about him, but my guess is he became one of the disciples.
We do hear more about the religious leaders. Huffing and puffing that they, being learned in scripture and faithful in worship to the last detail, were not spiritually blind like the beggar. Jesus was brutally honest with them. Because you think you see everything clearly, your sin remains, he said. Was he talking to me? I think he might have been.
When John Newton wrote the words, “Amazing grace…Twas blind but now I see,” he meant new sight with understanding had enveloped him, new sight blessing him with fuller understanding of what Jesus meant when he gave the new commandment to love one another as he loves us. For Newton it was a command to love in word and deed as a person who would bring a greater measure of God’s healing justice into the world.
He had to make room for new sight by giving up old ways of seeing things, old ways of assuming class, privilege, power and self righteousness. Those are costly things to give up. It wasn’t easy. It took time.
Jesus knows well what my inward blindness is, and yours too. But new sight is ours to have because he’s already given it. We only have to accept it, and to live into it with intentionality. The fruit of new vision is found in all that is good, right and true, and what is good, right and true is found in all that Jesus said and did.
I work at it. It ebbs and flows in my life, better some days, not so good on others. The process of learning how to use new sight takes time, lots of it.