Being Seen

Inspired by John 9:1-41

Another profound story from the Gospel of John. And just as a reminder, when we started these stories from John a few Sunday’s ago, and we still have another next week, I had highlighted for you just how fundamental these stories are to both our faith and the faith of newcomers to the church in the first century. And that these stories hold fundamental truths for all our journeys of faith, not just newcomers. So I wanted to remind you of that as we continue in John’s Gospel this Lent, as you allow these stories to work on you, to form your faith, wherever you may be on your journey. But before we get into today’s story, I want to point out some downright bad theology found at the beginning of this story.

It begins with Jesus’ disciples asking, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” Now they are working from the assumption that someone had indeed sinned for this guy to be born blind. In other words, he was born blind and it was someone’s fault. That was part of their theology. For them, that was how God worked.

When someone was born with a “defect,” and I put that in quotes because not all people born blind consider themselves to have anything “wrong” with them, but when someone was born with what we often call a defect, they believed that was God handing out a consequence, a judgement, a punishment for someone’s bad behavior. And apparently God would even hand out those punishments at birth for future bad behavior!

This is how God operated for them. It’s fascinating really. What a different relationship they had with God. So Jesus answers them and to tell you the truth, his answer leaves a lot to be desired. I have some serious issues with Jesus here. He starts out fine, he says, “Neither he nor his parents.” Period. He could have just ended there and it would have been fine! But no, he has to go on and say, “This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.” So, what, God won’t punish people in this way but if God wants to show off God’s power then yes, God will make you blind at birth? We don’t believe that! Or, maybe you do, I’ll stick to I statements, I don’t believe that for a second! That is not how I imagine our relationship with God works.

So the reasons why Jesus may have said this either belong in another sermon, or better yet a bible study or better still a conversation. I don’t want to take up any more sermon time with this I just wanted to acknowledge that if something about Jesus answer didn’t sit right with you, it’s for good reason, and that is more than OK. But let’s move on. Our story today was another long one. Though John was a profound writer, he was also a wordy one. And due to its length, there is so many directions we could go with this, so many things we could talk about. So let’s start with the obvious, and move to what may not be so obvious from this story.

Our sense of sight. This is front and center throughout this entire story. I didn’t count but it is referenced in almost every sentence of this story! Clearly, Jesus and John want us to be thinking about our sense of sight as the foundation of what Jesus is trying to teach here. So, let’s just talk about our sense of sight briefly. It’s a sense that we use all the time. Most of us probably take it for granted, until of course when we begin to lose it.

And, though I’m not a biologist, I have a hunch we use it in ways we don’t even realize. I won’t ask for a show of hands but I bet a great many of you were a bit unnerved by the fact that I stood behind you when I read the Gospel story and therefore couldn’t see me? Let’s just say there were some outward signs, some of you were squirming a bit in your seat, didn’t quite know what to do, some even tried to turn around!

Why? I mean, the reading of scripture in worship is a listening exercise, not a seeing exercise, right? Thanks to the technology of our wireless mics, no matter where I stand you can hear me just the same. And seeing me doesn’t make you hear any better. Now, of course this is assuming your hearing is good and you’re not also relying in lip reading to help you hear. If that is your situation then please accept my deepest apologies. But aside from that, why the discomfort in not being able to see me as I read? I’ll let you chew on that on your own, if it indeed had that effect on you. Let’s turn our attention to the beautiful image that I have displayed on the screen for you.

If not being able to see me read the Gospel story was annoying, I can only imagine how you’re reacting to this blurry image! With a show of hands, how many of you thought there was something wrong with the projector? Now raise your hand if you’d like to see the clear, in-focus version of this picture? OK. Then I’m just full of disappointment for you today then! There is no other version of this picture! Sorry to disappoint you! I’m sure it’s not the first time I’ve disappointed you and I guarantee it’s not the last! But why did this bother you so? Why the strong urge to see this image in focus? What is that about exactly? More for you to chew on, on your own this week.

Because now I want to turn the tables on you a bit and give you a different perspective. So far, our exploration of our sense of sight has been self-centered, has been “me” oriented. Which is natural for us humans, that’s our default perspective. How is this affecting me? What am I getting out of this? What am I not getting out of this. I, I, I, me, me, me.

Because when we first saw this photo, I’m guessing that none of us, thought to ask how it must have been for that person in the photo, to not be seen. Our focus, by nature, was on ourselves, “I can’t see this photo.” Rather than, “That person in the photo can’t be seen.” The man born blind from our story could now see! Which was wonderful and amazing! But before he could be healed, before he could see, he had to be seen.

And Jesus saw him. Now, the man had been seen his whole life, probably on the street as a beggar, as passersby had to walk around him as they went about their business. But Jesus saw him in a way that no one had before. Not only did Jesus see him as a fellow human being with needs, but also as a person of value and worth who belonged in community worth others, someone who, in spite of his need, also had a lot to offer. And in order to see all of that, Jesus had to look deeper than the exterior, deeper than the messy, dirty, blind beggar sitting on the side of the street. Jesus saw him, really saw him.

Which begs the question, how well is our own sight? Clearly, Jesus wants us to ask ourselves this. Clearly, by sharing this story John wants us to work on our own sight. But not just for our own sake or for our own good, but for the sake of the world. Our work, even when it involves improving ourselves, is always for the sake of the world. So, who in our world needs to be seen but isn’t? How deep are we looking when we look at people; those who are strangers as well as those who are strange to us; especially those who are very different than us on the exterior?

Now here’s the good news. No matter how bad our sight is, God’s sight is perfect. And not only is God’s sight perfect, God sees you. And I don’t mean in a “sees you when your sleeping and knows when your awake” Santa Claus kind of way. One of our prayers that we have been using on Wednesday evenings during Prayer Around the Cross begins, “God of mercy, you know us better than we know ourselves, and still you love us.” So much grace in that little statement. God sees you, God sees all of what makes you, you; all your beauty and all your imperfections, and still God loves you. Thanks be to God. Amen.

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