Listen to the sermon from Sunday, March 26, 2017 titled “Seeing Eye God” by Rev. Dr. Larry Bethune.
“Lights out!” announced some adult. I was nine years old. The first night of my first church camp. Thrilled and terrified by the strange arrangement of the rustic bunkhouse reminiscent of the World War II concentration camps we’d seen in the movies, we had all showered, put on our jammies. Perched on the top bunk in the darkness, the only light streaming bright and unfiltered from the restroom door, I was squinting towards that light when he walked out: my pastor in his underwear! A pasty, pudgy old man in white boxer shorts.
You can’t unsee that! It’s the only thing I remember from that camp. That’s when it dawned on me my pastor was just an ordinary human being, no special super-saint with a halo and hidden wings. More like a spare tire and knobby knees. It was a sad epiphany, the first on the way to the illusion-stripping loss of innocence that all adults, even parents, were only human and made of mortal stuff.
There are some things you just don’t want to see. When Jesus meets a man born blind in the Gospel of John, he causes the guy a lot a trouble. Notice he never asks Jesus to open his eyes. Sure, it has its headaches, but he has a good gig. All he has to do is play the victim, beg help from other people all the time. Like the disciples, he can blame his parents for everything else. He doesn’t have to be responsible for anything.
And then along comes Jesus, who spits in the dirt and rubs it in his face. “Here’s mud in your eye!” Jesus toasts. And that’s when it started. His neighbors get up in his grill. “You been faking it all these years?” The Pharisees investigate. “You claimin’ special favor from God?” ask the guys who think they’re especially favored by God. They call in his Mom and Dad, even though he’s a grown man. “Ask him yourself; he’s a grown man!” his parents say.
Our sickness and our healing happen in a social context. Sometimes it’s hard for a family or a neighborhood or a community to let somebody heal because everybody’s used to him being “that sick guy.” Or because they gain something by keeping her in her place.
The Pharisees try so hard to bend this guy’s testimony to fit their preferred narrative, but he refuses to cooperate. He just tells his truth: “I do not know whether (this man) is a sinner. One thing I do know: once I was blind, now I see.” Well, Jesus healing this guy doesn’t fit their God-narrative, so they reject him, revile him, remove him, and turn a blind eye…
Makes me think of other times I’ve heard people say, “Jesus opened my eyes, healed my hurt, called me to follow,” but the religious leaders said, “No, the story we control says God won’t help your kind!” And then they attacked their parents, stirred up the neighbors against them, rejected, reviled, and removed them, and turned a blind eye…
I mean, it’s not enough that they say God hates the people they reject. They want everybody else to hate them, too. And if you don’t hate the people they hate, they will reject, revile, and remove you, too.
At the beginning of the story, Jesus reminds us disciples, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” It’s interesting to see how that light dawns on this blind guy, not all at once, but in stages. Sure, Jesus puts mud in his eye, and he can see. But notice the dawning progression of the man’s testimony. At first he calls his healer “that guy named Jesus” (v. 11). Then he tells the Pharisees, “He is a prophet” (v. 17). Then, after he has been rejected, reviled, and removed, when Jesus asks “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” he says, “Lord, I believe,” and worships him (v. 38).
Do you see what I’m saying? There are different levels of seeing. Jesus opens our eyes in stages. We move sight to insight, from healing to faith (which is the fullness of healing), but it doesn’t usually happen all at once. And it doesn’t always make our lives easier.
There are some things you just don’t want to see. But once Jesus opens your eyes to them, you can’t unsee again. Years ago I attended a workshop in San Francisco called “Unlearning Racism.” It opened my eyes to see what white privilege had blinded me to seeing: specific examples of racism that continue in our nation to this day.
Being married to a woman in ministry and having a daughter and granddaughter opened my eyes to see how women are generally mistreated, objectified, subject to abuse, denied adequate healthcare, limited in choices about their own bodies, and refused equal pay.
Beggars in the street. Single mothers living in poverty. Gay and lesbian persons and their families discriminated against in the name of religious freedom. Our transgender friends bullied over bathrooms. Christ opens our eyes to see the people the Powers want to reject, revile, and remove. And once our eyes are opened, we see. We see! And we can never turn a blind eye again to the victims of their narrative of special privilege.
Maybe in this world, at this moment, it’s easier to be blind to those people. This story also reminds us, to be healed is to be responsible in a new way to do something about what we see. Speak our truth at least. Confront the twisted narratives of privilege. Follow Jesus even if it means being rejected, reviled, and removed. At least we’re in good company.
Every story in the Bible where Jesus gives someone sight is about spiritual insight. Every story where Jesus heals the blind asks us to see who is really blind. Look at the story again. The neighbors are blind, the parents are blind, the Pharisees see but choose to be blind. Makes us ask – who do we refuse to see? What are we blind to, in our own context? How is Christ wanting to open our eyes for the work of light he came here to do?
End of story: Jesus says, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees are still hanging with him, and bless their hearts, I think they want to do the right thing. They ask, plead, really, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” And Jesus says to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
This story almost screams at us, begs the question, today. Do you see? Do you see? May we pray?
Seeing eye God,
You see and you know us. Open our eyes to see as you see the people around us. Open our ears to hear their prayers. Open our hearts to share your love. Oh Lord, in our divided and distressed land, open the eyes of those in power, open the eyes of those opposed to one another, grant sight, insight, and vision to your people again, in the name of Christ, amen.