by Rev. Joan Kessler
John 9: 1 – 17
Our vision is perhaps one of the most precious gifts of being a human being. I watched a Ted Talk entitled Blindness Is Just Another Way of Seeing (https://youtu.be/B-xI3YxAPW4). It was an excellent presentation on what it is like to live with blindness and how the visually impaired perceive their environment. The speaker presented a survey that asked participants which of the following conditions would have the greatest impact on your quality of life and the choices were blindness, HIV/Aids, Stroke, and cancer. The overwhelming answer was blindness. We would rather live with a potentially life-threatening condition than consider life without sight. Vision is how we make sense of our world, how we interpret our surroundings. In the Ted Talk the presenter showed paintings of a blind man who captured landscapes and still life with vivid color and clarity. When asked how he could paint, he said he could see the image in his brain; he imagines what it looks like and then is able to paint.
In our story from John’s gospel, Jesus and the disciples encounter a man born blind. A discussion is launched about this visually impaired man. They talk about him as if he isn’t even there. Imagine for a moment how this must have felt. He is a beggar. He would have spent his days in the public square pleading with others for spare change or for food. And yet, he learned to adapt. He was an outsider, relegated to the margins of his society. And the burning question of the disciples is: Who is to blame here, this man or his parents? Whose sin caused this? In the ancient world, disability was viewed as a sin, a defect in one’s moral character and religious authorities ensured that this belief was upheld and was pointed out. But the Jesus of John’s gospel comes to overturn this indoctrinated way of thinking and viewing the world. Jesus vehemently denies such nonsense that blindness or any other impairment is “someone’s fault”. Jesus affirms the inherent gifts and value of this man as an instrument for the work of the Spirit. Jesus approaches the man, the one who doesn’t ask for healing. He gathers some mud from the earth, spits upon it, rubs it on the blind man’s eyes, and instructs him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. And by some miracle, according to John, the man returns able to see.
This story is part of John’s bigger agenda of establishing Jesus firmly as the light of the world, as the cosmic Christ, the Love and justice that stretches out to the moon and back again, over and over, there is no end. He picks up the mud, the wet earth of creation that grounds all humanity and spits upon it as a visceral sign, rubs it onto the blind man’s eyes in a most intimate act and then tells him to go and wash off the spit and dirt in water so a new beginning can commence for him. And herein lies the controversy. The neighbours start talking: ”Isn’t this the man who used to beg out front of the Save-On every day?” There is confusion over the identity of this man. Some recognize him and others do not. He says, “It’s me! Here I am!” But they are slow to see and take him to the Pharisees for a religious opinion. And because Jesus performed this sign on a Sabbath, suspicion turns from the man to Jesus. A whole community is in upheaval.
The man is questioned by the Pharisees over the events that have taken place, on a Sabbath no less. They turn their focus from the beggar to Jesus who now becomes the one labelled sinner and make Jesus the scapegoat. Religion demonizes that which it fears and does not understand and puts a label upon it. The Pharisees are very good at pointing fingers. Jesus’ actions that day left the community divided over who was right and who could really see what was going on. The actions of Jesus that day were not a comment on whether or not blindness was good or bad but rather a sign of God’s restorative and transformative love.
Jesus invites a shift of perspective this morning, to look outside the box, beyond our perceptions of ability and dis-ability. As we continue our Lenten journey, we remember this light of the world he spoke of; those things that are beyond limitation and comprehension and the cosmic nature of the Christ. He declares the presence of the Light of the World. A light that makes life visible and affirms all ability to see the world through the eyes of those with no sight. This light, this Jesus, is everywhere – in each one of us, in our neighbors, in the other for whom our fear and assumptions sometimes gets in the way of relationship.
Do we have eyes to see? Can we frame difficulties as opportunities to participate in the kin-dom of God that is right here, right now, among us? As we celebrate our year that was and our year that is to come in the second part of our Annual General Meeting this morning, I hope the question each one of us will ask is “How can I contribute to the beauty and joy that is this community?”. Let us work together to ensure that all gifts, all abilities and experiences are affirmed and valued. Because imagination is never helpless. May it be so. And Amen.