Some tme ago a video on the internet that depicted the response of 40 year old Joanne Milne, deaf from birth, also blind, being able to hear for the first time. Her tears of shock and joy, her struggle to capture the nuances of pitch and sound; has been seen around the world. She wept to hear the names of the week, the sound of her voice, the turning of a light switch. A good number of people certainly wept with her in her outpouring of joy.
For those of us who have all our senses intact, it is hard to imagine what is like to live without sight, without hearing. Our brains are intricately wired and calibrated to capture all we see, hear, smell, taste and touch – we don’t give it a second thought. Those who recover sight or hearing have a challenging road ahead of them. Those who recover sight struggle to learn judgment around depth perception and shape. Mike May, a man who regained partial sight after being blind from birth for 43 years noted the following:
“I have just returned from a conference and my first intense business and social interaction with the use of low vision. I found it very distracting to look at people's faces when I was having a conversation. I can see their lips moving, eyelashes flickering, head nodding and hands gesturing. …It was easier to close my eyes or tune out the visual input.”
Learning to see is a process – adjusting, naming, integrating all the subtle features and processes that someone who has had sight from birth has gained naturally, without thinking, over time. So it is with our spiritual sight – it takes time to learn about compassion, forgiveness, love, justice and peace. It takes time to get to know Jesus, the Light of the World. It takes us time to act with love in a consistent manner, to forgive, to go from spiritual blindness to eyes wide open.
Since it is holy humor Sunday, let me illustrate with a clever story told by the Indian sage Jiddu Krishnamurt:
Once Satan and his demon sidekick were walking down the street, closely watching a man 20 yards ahead who was on the verge of realizing the Supreme Truth. The demon grew worried, and began to nudge Satan, but Satan looked quite calm. Sure enough, the man did, in fact, soon realize the deepest spiritual Truth. Yet Satan still did nothing about it. With this, the demon nudged Satan harder and, getting no response, finally blurted out, “Satan! Don’t you see? That man has realized the Truth! And yet you are doing nothing to stop him!” With that, Satan cunningly smiled and announced, “Yes, he has realized the Truth. And now I am going to help him organize the Truth!”
It is not enough to experience the truth. What is key is how we relate to and align our lives to Truth. To take the time to understand what Truth means for us, and how we are to live our lives are aligned with the truth. The question Satan poses to his apprentice is this: do we pattern our lives to Truth, as Jesus revealed to us, or do we fit Truth in according to the pattern of our lives?
Our lessons present us with situations where there is spiritual blindness to the truth because hearts are not aligned with God. The prophet Samuel is sent by God to the house of Jesse of Bethlehem, to anoint one of his sons as the next king. Jesse brings out all his seven older sons, all strong and good kingly material. Samuel believes God would surely chose one of these brothers. God however says no. God doesn’t see like mortals see – while we look on outward appearance – God sees what’s on the interior, in the heart. Finally Jesse had to send for his youngest son, David, out keeping the sheep, out doing the dirtiness, grungiest job on the farm. Jesse didn’t even bother to include David. Yet God chose David. God was no respecter of human customs – customs which assigned spiritual and cultural power to the prominence of the eldest – the one who receives the best blessings and the bulk of the inheritance. As the devil knew too well – the experience of power, wealth, education, and privilege organize how we see the world. God sees a world organized around the matters of quality of spiritual character and principle.
This dynamic is carried out in the lesson from John’s gospel, in the story of the blind beggar whose sight is restored by Jesus. First the disciples want to know how this man or his parents sinned, that he was born blind. They think they are asking an enlightened, reasonable question. They are seeing this beggar through their prevalent cultural lens that considered deformities, disabilities or illnesses as caused by a demon or sin. Jesus sees it differently. This situation was not caused by sin – and furthermore, they would God’s glory manifest even in a lowly, blind beggar. And with mud and spittle Jesus anoints the blind man, and sends him to be washed in the pool of Siloam – a word that means sent. The blind beggar obeys Jesus and his sight is recovered.
The healing of the blind man, instead of causing joy and praise – creates suspicion among the religious leadership. They go on and on -- Jesus can’t be sent from God, why, he worked on the Sabbath! They doubted the miracle. They interrogated the blind man at least twice, as well as his parents, and then they interrogate Jesus. They put down the blind man and Jesus as sinners; while exalting themselves as disciples of Moses. Ironically, this healing, this sign of restoration of sight – they remain blind to God’s truth in Jesus, that Jesus is the light of the world. Their rigid interpretation of the laws and their pride leads them to deny that the miracle came from God. And so Jesus tells them – “You say – “we see, “so now your sin remains.”
Jesus heals this overlooked blind beggar to show that God sees. God sees. God sees the lowly blind beggar. God sees the youngest son, David who is not considered worthy enough to bring in from the fields. God sees what we are blind to; how we have taken the Truth and made it captive to the observations which bolster how we see the world. We pass judgments yet God sees the truth. God sees the heart of the matter; God alone knows what is really going on with those who are different from us. It is the devil’s task to get us to organize and interpret truth through the lenses of our blind spots. Jesus, who is Truth, heals us so our eyes can be open wide – and our lived ordered by the Truth that awakens us to spiritual sight.
Here’s another cautionary tale how we think we see, but in fact remain blind:
A rabbi and a cantor are standing in the largely empty synagogue one day, talking mystically about how, given the awesome glory of God’s Infinite Divine Presence, they are each really “nothing.” “Yes,” says the rabbi, “I am nothing!” The cantor also affirms, looking up to the heavens, “O God, I am completely nothing!” And they go on like this for several rounds—”I am nothing… I am utterly nothing.”
Meanwhile, the synagogue’s janitor is off in the corner on his hands and knees, scrubbing the floor. Filled with piety and a fervent spirit, he has all the while been repeating in a gentle voice, “O Lord, You are everything and I am nothing… I am nothing.” The rabbi and cantor at one point listen in and, after a few moments, come to realize what he is saying. At this, the rabbi nudges the cantor and smugly says, “Look who thinks he’snothing!” Or as one Buddhist monk leaned over to another and quietly asked, "Are you not seeing what I'm not seeing?"
We have about two more weeks in our journey of Lent. The task before us is to learn to see – as Jesus sees.. To see all we overlook – in others and in ourselves. To see how we are often mistaken in our judgments about who is worthy, who God uses to reveal God’s glory. To put it in a different way, in light of our Holy Humor theme, the philosopher Voltaire once remarked "God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh." We don’t laugh because we are afraid. We are proud. We are blind.
It might help us on our journey to sight to know that the words, human, humor and humility all come from the same root – humus – ground – organic material that brings fertility to the earth. It is not surprising that Jesus put mud – stuff of the ground – onto the man’s eyes. Sight – spiritual sight that can see into the heart – is connected to the earth from which we came. Humility and humor are precious gifts of the earth – that ground us and enable us to see as Jesus sees.
Over the next few weeks, as we prepare ourselves to journey with Jesus in Holy Week – let us pray for eyes open wide to the world around us. Its beauty and its pain. The sinful and the holy. The prejudice and the diversity – the mundane and the mysterious – the tragedies and the miraculous. The oppression and the freedom. The connectedness and the brokenness. The known and unknown. Death and the resurrection.
May truth order us – and may we laugh with God as we reveal God’s glory in the service and love we manifest – through Jesus – the light of the world. Amen.