THE BLIND SEE
John 9: 1-17
Thanks to the plethora of medical commercials on television, I have now been exposed to something called Non-24. It is a circadian rhythm disorder. Some sighted people can experience this syndrome, but most often it affects those who are blind. The Non-24 website says:
Though Non-24 may appear to be a sleep disorder, it isn’t. It’s actually a serious, chronic circadian rhythm disorder very common in people who are totally blind and it can arise at any age. Currently there are 1.3 million people who are legally blind in the United States. Of the legally blind, 130,000 have no light perception (i.e. totally blind) and as many as 70% suffer from Non-24.
If you are sighted you know doctors often advise patients who have trouble sleeping to darken their room as much as possible. That triggers the sleep hormones in their body. But what if your world was dark 24 hours a day? How would you know day from night? By sounds? By an audio clock? By friends telling you the time of day? Like the children today who tried on the face masks in the children’s sermon, it can be unnerving to not be able to see what, or who, is around you. Amazingly, a number of blind people have excelled in their dark world: Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and Fanny Crosby are three of them. Interestingly their lives were tied to music! Fanny Crosby, whose hymns we are singing today, was a physically blind person who perhaps was able to lean on the everlasting arms of a God she could not see, in part because her daily living depended on having faith in humans she could not see! We sighted people have as many as five good senses to test the world around us; we usually live much more by sight than by faith! Those who are blind must put faith in others. William P. Sherwin, the man who wrote the tune for the hymn “Break Thou the Bread of Life,” said Crosby was “a blind lady whose eyes can see splendidly in the sunshine of God’s love.” And Frances Ridley Havergal, the writer of the hymn “Take My Life and Let it Be,” called Crosby “the woman with a seeing heart.” She learned to “see” through the eyes of faith and love. How else could she write, “Perfect submission, perfect delight, visions of rapture now burst on my sight!”
In our text today, John describes a crowd gathered in Jerusalem. It was a crowd not unlike those surrounding celebrities in our day. They had heard that Jesus—one called “Son of David”—would pass that way today. He seemed to have the religious leaders of the day uneasy. But others wanted to see him! The streets were lined with people like they were waiting for a parade. Today we hear about a man whose life Jesus changed. He had at least two strikes against him: one, he was blind; two he was described as a beggar. Two strikes for people of the world, but two reasons for Jesus to notice him! Our Savior was not willing to walk by or ignore those in need. And this man needed others. In our day those who are blind can ask for a guide-dog to be a constant companion; or for Braille or Talking Books to be sent to their home. For your information: the largest talking books library in the United States in here in Daytona Beach! But the blind man in Jesus’ day had no such resources. He was solely dependent on others. The old spiritual declares, “When I fall on my knees with my face to the rising sun, O Lord have mercy on me.” When was the last time you did that in prayer; when you actually dropped to your knees to pray? That is a posture of helplessness and submission. It shows the kind of helplessness that the blind man felt. Some people pray in that kneeling posture daily. But others just imagine themselves kneeling in prayer. This beggar needed help. And in the midst of that, a discussion started, by Jesus’ disciples no less, about who sinned to cause his blindness: one of the most unhelpful conversations to have when there is a serious problem is about placing blame. Taking the energy to assign blame in a family, in politics, or among friends does not move the conversation toward a solution. It deflects the conversation to causes, and reasons, why such and such happened. It is a response that is encouraged by actors on stage or screen, or in the plots in novels. But if your goal is to come to Jesus, to be real, and to be honest, a different conversation has to take place. When the disciples ask Jesus “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus must have sighed. Then Jesus said pointedly, “It was not this man or his parents who sinned; through his blindness, you will see the mighty acts of God!” I have not told you how Fanny Crosby, or Stevie Wonder, or Ray Charles became blind. How they became blind is a distraction from the music they made! So Jesus turned a question from disciples into a teachable moment with people watching. The blind man proceeded to do something seemingly odd, but he complied because he was trusting Jesus to save him. He does what he was told to do. Jesus spat on the ground, and made a kind of clay from the dirt and moisture, pressed it to both of his eyes, and directed him to go to a nearby pool, called Siloam to wash his eyes. All through the Bible, God asks people to do some unusual things. God asked Abraham to leave his country and to go to another country where he had never been before. And he went. An angel of God asked Mary to bear the Son of God. “May it be according to your word,” she replied. Jesus told Peter to come to him by walking on water. He did … until he thought about it, and he sank. Our Lord asks some strange things. But maybe it takes learning from a man who has had to depend on others his entire life; maybe a blind man has something to teach us about submitting to our Lord’s requests. Our text says of the blind man: “He went, and washed, and came back seeing.” That should have been the end of the blessing. But, as we heard, there was a lot of diversion: people deflected, and they questioned how the man could have been healed.
This is the way of the world. We see it with reporters who ask questions that have been asked and answered. We see it with children who ask questions on top of other questions. And we see it even in dysfunctional families that continue to harp on or pick on another family member who has barely broken free of a toxic lifestyle. “Who caused this?” one asks. “This was your father’s fault!” another cries out. “Your sobriety won’t last” someone else predicts. “You’ve fallen off the wagon before.” Not helpful; not at all. May those blind people see today! For thirty verses Jesus did not speak, while others got distracted with every issue—except for the work of God that had given a blind man sight. Read it in John chapter 9! It is a microcosm of people. Jesus had a consciousness that functioned above the fray of human responses. Some through the ages have gained his insights too. Read your Bibles carefully. The Jesus you think you know is not always the Jesus John describes.
There are plenty of sighted people around who are blind, aren’t there? At times, I’ve been one of them. I have missed the beauty that God wanted me to see; or I missed seeing the needs around me, or I missed how important it was for a child to share a picture with me. But I have learned; I have learned by watching others; I have learned from my grandsons; but mostly I have learned by looking at Jesus again, and hearing what he said, seeing what he did, and noticing when he said nothing. I now look at the reasons I have to be grateful; I’ve looked at my past when my first responses were anger and irritation, and I do not answer with deflecting answers assigning blame. What a misguided waste of time that was. But because I am sighted, I now try to be the eyes of Jesus, seeing what he might see: not the crowds, but the little man, or the gentle woman, or the child, or the blind man, and to see them through eyes of love. I was blind; then I, like Fanny Crosby, prayed:
“Pass me not, O gentle Savior hear my humble cry; while on others Thou art calling, do not pass me by.”
Now I see, at least I see others better.
Pray to see through the eyes of faith. Then see what you can see.
Jeffrey A. Sumner March 23, 2017