1 Samuel 16:1-13 , John 9:1-41
There is great truth in the saying, “things are not always what they seem to be.” Remember the optical illusion we shared in “Not for Children Only?” Depending on the angle you looked at the picture we see either 3 or 4 bars. Now look at the optical illusion under the sermon title in the bulletin. What do you see? How many first saw a duck? How many first saw a rabbit? Can you see both? It all depends on how we shift our vision. There is more than meets the eye. We have to be trained to see what lies beneath the surface. (NOTE: you can see these optical illusions by going a google search as well).
Sight is a very complex process, the brain is wired in such a way that is able not just see objects, but how to interpret light, understand depth perception, sort out color, and compare these objects with images in our brain’s memory banks. We learn to see through experience. Dr. Pawan Sinha, a neuroscientist at MIT, describes a video in which a teen-age boy, blind since birth because of opaque cataracts, sees for the first time. The boy sits still and blinks silently, trying to comprehend what he is seeing. Sinha believes these first moments for the newly sighted are blurry, incoherent, and saturated by brightness—like walking into daylight with dilated pupils—and swirls of colors that do not make sense as shapes or faces or any kind of object. As American educator Steven Covey astutely observes: “We see the world not as it is but as we are as we are conditioned to see it.” If we are conditioned to see the world as a frightening place, then it is scary. If we are conditioned to see the world only through a materialistic lens, then we will only see opportunities to exploit and get. If we are conditioned to see the world through the eyes of God, then we will see the miraculous, the impossible, the beauty, the majesty of the divine at our fingertips. Look at the ability of animals and other organisms to camouflage themselves and blend in with nature. The predator sees a stick, not an insect. We see danger, God sees potential. God sees sin where perhaps we just note the routine, ordinary habits of life. Because we see the world as we are conditioned to, not as it really is.
There’s a parallel process between our natural sight and spiritual sight, how we perceive the world through our inward eye. Our inward eye is guided by God’s vision. However, because of conditioning, we fail to use our inward eye. We can believe in God, know his commandments, but still be guided by worldly sight, completely unconnected to that inward eye inspired by God. God tells Ezekiel that his people "have eyes to see but do not see, and ears to hear but do not hear" (Ezekiel 12:2). Jesus speaks of this phenomenon in Matthew … ‘You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving” (Matthew 13:14-16). Seeing is at the surface level. Perceiving is spiritual sight that sees beyond physical sight to the workings of the hand of God.
Throughout the bible there are multitude of believers who have a condition known as Believers Blindness. Their spiritual wiring is off. Their memories how to see deviate from God’s vision. Their conditioning is narrow-minded. They only see the rabbit, or only the duck. They believe but see in a worldly way not a Godly way. It is a dangerous condition for religious people to have. We assume our way, most of the time the worldly way, of seeing is sanctioned by God. The can’t be further from the truth.
In our Old Testament lesson, the prophet Samuel thinks the Lord’s anointed is among the handsomest, tallest and oldest of Jesse’s sons. But God says no and tells Samuel: “God does not see the same way people see. People look at the outside of a person, but the Lord looks at the heart.” Jesse brings forth son after son, seven in total. but God said no. It wasn’t until the youngest, the one out tending the sheep is called for, does God give his approval. Thus, Samuel anoints David as king. Samuel went from seeing in a worldly to fortunately open to obeying God and shifting his vision to a spiritual way.
In our lesson from John, Jesus encounters the blindness of the disciples and the Pharisees. The chapter opens as Jesus and his disciples walk by a blind beggar, “Teacher, they inquire, “who sinned that this man was born blind? A question rooted in the religious conditioning of the disciples: it was a common belief that illness was the result of sin. Jesus confronts this spiritual blindness. Through this man, Jesus says the work of God will be manifested, seen, revealed. Jesus restores sight to the blind man, and the drama unfolds in such a way that we discover that sin and blindness are indeed related. The sin and blindness of the Pharisees are made manifest as they cruelly interrogate the blind man twice, then question his parents, fight with Jesus, and then excommunicate the healed man as he boldly places his trust in Jesus.
Through the blind man, we learn what it really means to see. The work of God, the passage reveals to us, is for us to confront the blindness in ourselves all the while God offers to us the gift of inward sight, through faith in Jesus.
In the Old Testament, being blind is one of the many metaphors used to describe the condition when people do not live as faithfully as God required. The problem of such Believers Blindness is that the faithful display an inability to see things in a new or different way, to see God’s redemptive activity is always unfolding in our midst. Just last week we heard the story of the people of Israel, just freed from slavery, quarreling and fighting in the wilderness. They blamed Moses for leading them out into the wilderness to die, despite the fact that God had just liberated them from servitude. They were conditioned as slaves, and because of this, they lacked the faith in God to provide water for them. The prophet Isaiah speaks to this problem: “I am doing a new thing, now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:19). Our religious conditioning often makes it difficult if not impossible to see God’s handiwork around us. God wants to move us forward, but all we see is what we know: the same, old solutions to how church should be and what worked in the past. All we see are the buildings and grounds. All we see are the once great choirs, filled sanctuaries, different fellowship groups that were popular. The problem is, looking back to what we are conditioned to see makes it almost impossible to catch of whiff of God’s vision for the future. The Aymara people of South America have an interesting feature in their language. The Aymara have the same word for "front" and "past," and another word that means both "future" and "behind." This is because, in Aymara thinking, what we see clearly in front of us is the past. It is the future, which we cannot see, that is behind us, which of course we can’t see because we don’t have eyes on the back of our head. Get it? That’s the spiritual dilemma we face.
Because of this, it is critical for us to grasp that we can believe, but at the same time be spiritually blind. Many believe in the existence of God without a relationship to God that transforms them inside and out. We lack the ability to see God working in our midst, because it is often different to what we are accustomed to seeing. We can’t identify it. It is only apparent with faith.
This is characterized by the Pharisees treatment of the blind man in our story. Isn’t it interesting that the miracle itself is not initially what annoys the Pharisees? The man with the restored sight is brought to them, but instead of rejoicing that a human being is now able to see, they focus on the violation of the sabbath laws. The Pharisees have grown complacent, confident that they are the authorities to interpreting God’s presence in the world, because that’s the way it’s been for centuries.
The texts show us that we can we believers, we can even be esteemed believers, prophet like Samuel, leaders and elders like the Pharisees and be spiritually blind. We prefer the old ways we are conditioned to see than confess the handiwork of God that is beyond our control, that moves where it will, that turns our safe, sanctimonious world upside down. Many times, the Spirit would have us let go, or lead us to consider a troubled situation from a different point of view. We don’t have to stay in darkness. God wants to bring us into the fulness of light.
The blind beggar takes that risk. When Jesus anointed his eyes with clay and told him to wash in the pool of Siloam, he didn’t stop and question Jesus. This blind beggar had every right to feel ridiculous with mud on his eyes, as he made his way to the pool. But that’s what spiritual sight risks: God often lead us to places we don’t know or asks us to do things that we don’t understand? It takes that inward sight to take a risk to surrender control and to put our lives in God’s hands. Look at the progression to spiritual sight of this blind man: he goes from acknowledging that he doesn’t know Jesus, to deciding Jesus is a prophet, to finally worshipping him as Messiah. He does this as the pressure of the Pharisees grows more severe until they finally excommunicate him, and he turns to Jesus. He has not only received his physical sight, but inward sight. The Pharisees can see well, but they remain blind to the handiwork of God. And so, their sin remains, declares Jesus.
This Lent is the time where we are called to confront our Believer’s blindness. We are called to acknowledge our distorted judgments against others. To confess the pride and selfishness that get in the way of treating others with compassion and block our ability to forgive and upbuild others. To acknowledge that we have failed to celebrate the unexpected, unbidden works of God in our midst. We resist the new thing God is doing in us, around us, and through us.
Today let God open your eyes. Let our spirits be rewired, to let go of the past and see the bigger picture God wants to show us. May our sight be corrected so we can see both the duck and the rabbit in the picture. May we see all God wants to reveal to us, as confusing, disorienting and blurry as it may be at first, confident through Jesus all will come into focus. Most of all, may we see and believe in the son of man, the human one, the one who is light, and proclaim as this healed beggar did, “Lord I believe! And worship the one who enables us to perceive the awesome doings of God, taking place right here, right now, in our midst. amen.