Friday, March 24, 2017

Watch Your Blind Spot: Reflections on John 9.1-41

Watch Your Blind Spot
Reflections on John 9.1-41

RCL Lent 4A
26 March 2017

Saint Faith’s Anglican Church
Vancouver BC
                  9.1 As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.  2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent).  Then he went and washed and came back able to see.  8 The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”  9 Some were saying, “It is he.”  Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.”  He kept saying, “I am the man.”  10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”  11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’  Then I went and washed and received my sight.”  12 They said to him, “Where is he?”  He said, “I do not know.”

                  13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.  14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.  15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight.  He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes.  Then I washed, and now I see.”  16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.”  But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?”  And they were divided.  17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him?  It was your eyes he opened.”  He said, “He is a prophet.”

                  18 The [Jewish authorities] did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?  How then does he now see?”  20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes.  Ask him; he is of age.  He will speak for himself.”  22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the [Jewish authorities]; for the [Jewish authorities] had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.  23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

                  24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God!  We know that this man is a sinner.”  25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner.  One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  26 They said to him, “What did he do to you?  How did he open your eyes?”  27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen.  Why do you want to hear it again?  Do you also want to become his disciples?”  28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.  29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”  30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing!  You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.  31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.  32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?”  And they drove him out.

                  35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  36 He answered, “And who is he, sir?  Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”  37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”  38 He said, “Lord, I believe.”  And he worshipped him.  39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”  40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”  41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin.  But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

            When Ron Harrison, the former diocesan Executive Archdeacon, called a candidate to schedule a job interview, he would sometimes ask, ‘Do you want to be first or last?’  The first candidate, he explained, set the bar for the interviews that followed.  The last, he added, had the advantage of being remembered a tad longer.

            What Ron was pointing out were the blind spots that often appear in an interview process.  If the first candidate sets the tone, then he or she influences, for good or for ill, the reset of the process.  The committee might consciously or unconsciously create a template against which each successive candidate is measured.

            The final candidate faces the risk of an exhausted committee who just wants the process to be finished.  If the final candidate lacks a bit of sparkle or brings little new to the table, then he or she has little chance of success.  On the other hand, a stellar, charming final interview might just erase the memories of her or his predecessors.

            Ron’s observations about how one’s place in a list of candidates to be interviewed provide a necessary perspective on how to make important decisions.  It’s often good to take a step back, relax and review all the options rather than launch oneself immediately into a decision or course of action.  During my time at Vancouver School of Theology, we had numerous faculty and staff searches.  We often built in a break of a day or two between candidates for a position.  During the break we could prepare our own notes on the pros and cons of the candidate or candidates we had must thus far.  Our goal was to ensure that did not miss a diamond in the rough or a subtle hint of trouble.  Our motto could have well been:  Watch your blind spot!

            In today’s gospel reading Jesus takes aim at the blind spots of his opponents.  It must be said that these opponents are members of a party within the Judaism of the time who were most likely to sympathize with Jesus’ teaching.  This healing of a man born blind is meant to lead us to question our own blindness to God’s work in the world, especially when that work occurs in what may be our blind spots.

            And what is God’s work in the world?  I can think of no better summary of that work than what is said by the prophet Micah:

[The Lord] has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? (Micah 6.8)

We might even hear Jesus speaking to his opponents:  ‘Is it just that a man born blind is forced to beg just to survive?  Is it kind when one has the means to alleviate his suffering but refuse to do so for some ritual excuse?  Is one walking humbly with God if one refuses to give thanks for an act of mercy and grace performed in God’s name on behalf of someone in need?’

            Fidelity to our religious faith as expressed in its beliefs, its rituals, its traditions, is intended to open one’s eyes to God’s activity in the creation, redemption and renewal of the world.  In later centuries Judaism would incorporate a prayer blessing God when one sees or hears or experiences something totally unexpected or previously unexperienced.

            I confess to having more than one blind spot.  The one that tends to trip me up more often than the others is my tendency to hold on to first impressions of people and situations.  I am quick to make an early assessment and it is difficult to sway me from this position once I’ve made it.

            This trait of mine has, in some situations, served me well, but there have been occasions when it has not.  It has blinded me so that I have missed signs of change or growth in people or situations.  My blind spot prevents me from seeing how God’s grace works in us and through us over time.

            I was blind to the possibilities of how God could bring healing when a person who has been married and divorced seeks to remarry with the church’s blessing.  I was blind to the gifts and insights the ordination of women brought to the church.  I was blind to the possibility that the marriage of same-sex couples might actually be a fruit of the Spirit and bring a renewed understanding of faithful love between two people.
            Fortunately I was surrounded by faithful and patient people who did not let me stay by my own little ‘pool of Siloam’.  With the mud and spittle of the Spirit I, who was blind, now could see.  These days when I attend a meeting, I will sometimes write the following words at the top of the first page of my notes:  ‘Wait.  Watch.  Listen.  Ponder.  Breathe.  Then act.’

            So, my friends, do you know your own blind spots that may obscure your view of God’s justice, of loving kindness and of faithful humility?  Through the community gathered to hear the Scriptures proclaimed and to celebrate the sacraments, God provides the mud and spittle to cure our blindness so that we can see God at work among people and in places and in ways we’ve never thought to look.  Glory to God, whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine --- even cure our blindness and reveal to us God re-creating, redeeming and renewing this ‘fragile earth, our island home’.

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