Fourth Sunday in the Midst of Lent
TEXT: John 9:1-41
“I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25)
How many of you have seen the movie—or the play—The Miracle Worker? Even if you haven’t seen the film, or watched the stage play, you probably know about Helen Keller.
As a child, Helen Keller had lost both her hearing and her sight. However, a teacher—Anne Sullivan—was able to break through the isolation imposed by those disabilities, allowing the girl to blossom as she learned to communicate. Helen Keller went on to complete college, and she became a famous author and lecturer.
Keller was asked once whether she thought that blindness was the worst thing that could happen to someone. Her answer was no. The worst thing that could befall a person, she said, was not to lose their sight, but to lose their vision.
Because someone was able to bridge the gap between Helen’s silent, dark world and the world of light and sound, she was able—despite her limitations—to lead a meaningful life of helping others. In spite of great obstacles, she found a sense of purpose and vision.
Most of us have blind spots—assumptions, ideas and perceptions that we never even think about changing. These blind spots can be major roadblocks on our spiritual journey, and they can cause severe damage—to others, and to ourselves. And I think we all run up against them, no matter who we are—even if we sit in church (or stand behind a pulpit) every week,
Today’s gospel lesson illustrates this point. Consider the Pharisees. The poor Pharisees … they get a rough ride in Scripture. Yet the Pharisees were the good religious people. We don’t get much of a sense of it in the gospels, but the Pharisees were—in many ways—the most like Jesus of any of the religious parties in first-century Judaism. They were leaders in the synagogues and in society, and they were the ones who advocated most aggressively for the poor and the underprivileged—the widows and orphans, the aged and crippled.
Even so, some of them seemed utterly blind when it came to Jesus and his ministry. They were important religious leaders, yet their own spirits had become hardened and dead. They were supposed to be leading people into the light of God—yet they had become so smug and sure of themselves that they were not able to recognize God’s light as it shone in the person of Jesus. These particular Pharisees were as blind as anyone could possibly be.
But we’re not like them, are we?
“Surely we are not blind, are we?”
If we have blind spots, they exist because we have developed them—and this development is not a random thing. Consciously or unconsciously, we choose our blind spots. We choose them to protect ourselves from things we perceive as threats.
For their part, the Pharisees were blind to the power and goodness of Jesus. Their blind spot protected them from having to give up any of their authority or power. And that’s not such an unusual blind spot, is it? Even today, people in authority want to protect themselves from anything or anyone that might threaten their position. I guess that’s why election campaigns look and sound the way they do.
Today’s gospel lesson challenges us to take a closer look at those areas of our lives that we have blocked off from God and from others—and maybe even from ourselves. But there seems to be a built-in problem here. If I am blind—but don’t recognize my blindness—how can I move toward healing? Toward seeing?
Blind spots surround our fears, most often. If there is something that we need to protect from outsiders, then we conveniently fail to see the reality that threatens us.
Prejudice is one such blind spot. We think that those who are different from us are a threat to us, and so we keep our distance from them. We afraid of what they might do to us, or demand of us.
Growing as they do out of our deepest fears, blind spots are not logical or rational. That is why you cannot argue a person out of their blindness; they are emotionally incapable of listening to you.
Only conversion works to help people see. But to be converted, we must be open to receiving new sight. Prayer can be the first step in this process, for in prayer we open ourselves to God working within us. If we sincerely ask God to reveal those parts of ourselves that we don’t see, we can be sure that God will answer our prayers.
There is one clue to our blindness that we would all do well to be aware of. That clue is anger. Now, it’s true that there are many reasons for anger—some good and some bad. If we become angry because an injustice is being done, we are not doing anything other than what Jesus himself would have done. But—if we are honest—we have to admit that most of our anger is not provoked by injustice.
Often, we are angry because someone has threatened something that is personal to us—whether that personal thing is a possession that we cherish, or an idea that we cling to. So it’s important for us to pay attention to our anger.
The Pharisees became so angry with the formerly-blind man that they expelled him from the synagogue. And it’s easy to see why. The fact that he was cured by Jesus—someone who was not exactly a friend of theirs—did nothing to help the popularity or authority of the Pharisees. So, in anger, they threw the man out of the synagogue—out of their community.
Our anger is the first thing we must consider as we explore our own blindness. If you discover a pattern to your anger, you have likely discovered your largest blind spot.
Want a Lenten exercise? Try this. Write down all the times and places in the last several months where you have lost your temper. Then look at all of those instances very carefully as you try to discover a pattern. If you do discover a pattern to your anger, then go to the root of that anger, and you will have discovered one of your blind spots. As we become more aware of what motivates us, we will also become more able to control that motivation.
This is worth doing—and not just because it’s Lent. To deny your imperfection is to deny yourself, for to be human is to be imperfect. Accepting your imperfection, it seems to me, is the beginning of healing. Discovering and accepting our blindness is the foundation for receiving sight from the Lord.
In one of the other lectionary readings for today—in the Letter to the Ephesians—the apostle Paul urges us to come out of the darkness:
For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord … everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Eph. 5:8-10, 14)
As we continue our Lenten journey, may the Lord bless all of us with new insight—and with new vision.