The Man Formerly Known as “Blind”
I don’t have any hard facts for what I am going to tell you. Don’t complain later I am gave you fake news; this is just a theory of mine: I think maybe God gets more frantic prayers (from adults) during tax season than any other time of year, like the ones from my house over the last few weeks. My brother’s a tax wiz – he didn’t know the answer to my tax question. The lady at the bank had a CPA friend. He didn’t know. I asked lots of people. Then Monday night, my daughter-in-law, I love that girl, emailed a friend who knew a guy who might know. Tuesday I had my miracle. I had the right answer from a man who ran a tax office – and he had the software for the form. My taxes are done – and filed….and I didn’t have to pay anything. God is good.
Now, a year ago I might have said that my tax miracle ranked right up there with the miracle healing of the blind man in today’s Gospel. After nearly going blind in my right eye and having the “opportunity” to consider being blind, for real, I can tell you that blindness is several levels above taxes. But frankly, the blindness of the men called “Pharisees” in this Gospel scares me more than either taxes or loss of eyesight.
I’ve always wanted to think I was a child of Lake Woebegon. According to Garrison Keillor, all the children of Lake Woebegon were above average. (All the women there were beautiful, too.) But I have had some difficulty finding hard facts about being above average. So I worry about convincing myself that things are true, when they’re not true. These Pharisees have something very special and exciting right in front of them, but they vehemently deny it. They verbally assault the man formerly known as “Blind”, whose value was reduced solely to his visual acuity. They threw him out of temple, which is a very big deal, since the Jerusalem temple was the only place in the world, according to their rules at the time, where God lived & a Jew could make sacrifices to God and worship as required by the Hebrew Scriptures.
Usually I talk about Jesus being the light of the world, and what it means to be a light in this world. I talk about not assuming that bad things only happen to bad people. I talk about the symbolism and the culture that would have understood the clay and saliva thing. I talk about fearing Pharisees. I talk about how Jesus returned to tell “formerly Blind” that he was the Messiah, and that he believed and worshiped Jesus.
The Pharisees had powerful motivation for not acknowledging the miracle of the healing of blindness. They were the guys with the answers to all questions. Their job was the Hebrew Law, and they spent their days quibbling over fine points of the Law. Their job was to be right, to be smarter than others. It was their life. They were supposed to be walking, talking Mr. Right-all-the-Time. That meant they were in charge and got to make the decisions and call the shots. It felt good, like a lot of power, a place of authority, and a way to control little people like Mr. and Mrs. Who-Must-have-Sinned-Because-their-Son-is-Just-a-Blind-Beggar.
Jesus must have annoyed the Pharisees a lot. They wanted to nail him on the “working on the Sabbath” charge and shame him and put him out of the Temple too, and end that irritating habit he had of asking those questions they couldn’t answer. Equally was annoying was the fact that the uneducated, ragged, beggar “formerly Blind” said in front of everyone that they were wrong – and they hadn’t been able to respond to him.
But today I only want to focus on the last 3 sentences of our reading. “Then Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see – might see; and those who do see – might become blind.” Some of the Pharisees… said to him, “Surely we are not also blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you are saying, ‘We see’ so your sin remains.” I know, on every level, which side of that I want to be on.
Jesus offers forgiveness, but no one escapes judgment. At some point, in some way, we must face being wrong, of grasping power and authority which we have no right to. We have to confess our part in keeping this unjust society rolling along, and the times our wants win over someone else’s need. Our clothes are cheap because the people who made them live in cardboard huts. Our chocolate is good, because it’s harvested by children who are only paid with a meal for a hard, long day’s work. Our breakfast eggs are the result of chickens fed chemicals and raised in cages so crowded they cannot walk, and so on. We know this but take great pains not to see too much.
I learned one thing in 7th grade Social Studies, “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.” That day I understood that I was ignorant, and it could be my downfall, not my salvation. Now it’s almost impossible to be blind to the conditions in refugee camps and for Syrians trapped in the war there. Do these things lead us to choosing blindness, or do they open our eyes?
Jesus said, “I am the light of the world,” but he shines his light everywhere, even the places we don’t want to see. My experience volunteering in a sub-standard nursing home where abuse and neglect were rampant taught me that there are a lot of Pharisee-types around, well-funded and backed by heavy handed legal departments. Since I was barred from that Nursing home for filing complaints about patient care with the State Ombudsman office, the State of Maryland Attorney General has filed cases against some of the tactics used in that nursing home. He had eyes to see. There are forces working for good. But Jesus acted so purposefully that I think he meant us to act too, not just see, and our action, regardless of short-term success in bringing social change, frees us from our blindness.