Seeing and Hearing

Scripture: John 9:1-10:21

Let us pray:

Almighty Healer of all: open our eyes that we may see, open our ears that we may hear; open our minds that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts guide us in your way of everlasting. Amen.

Reading this story, how easily we move to a spiritualized sense of blindness and sight! While this is all to the good, we cannot do so without first considering actual physical blindness and marking how different that is from seeing. But how can we do that if we have never known blindness?

Anna Carter Florence, one of our gifted Presbyterian professors, suggests we read the context for blindness in this story as a place to be[1] rather than a state of passing through. What would it be like to be born blind? The whole world would be experienced differently. Before we can spiritualize “blindness” and sing “Amazing Grace,” let us really examine the story and try to place ourselves in a similar state of being.

First of all, during the telling and recounting of this story, the general belief at the time meant anyone with a “less than whole” life was suffering because of some sort of sin – either their own or their parents. Without any research to back up my theory, I have often wondered if that belief was a Hebrew hold-over morphed from some far-eastern belief in reincarnation, paying for a past life’s mistakes, if you will. Recall that for many years the Hebrew people were held captive in Babylon’s empire and told to live and marry and bear children there because their health depended on the health of the cities they had been deported to. However, Jesus specifically does NOT ascribe to this belief pattern. He says, “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” (v. 3).

Secondly,

“God’s presence and activity in the healing of the blind man cannot be explained because it is not publicly accessible. It is not so much perceived as it is revealed, and it is revealed only to those who are given the gift of faith. The irony in John’s story, of course, is that the blind man receives his sight, but everyone else in the story loses theirs—not their physical vision, but their capacity to believe and understand what they have witnessed. Without exception, neighbors, Pharisees, and parents are unable to see in this event that “God does provide.” Not even the man who has been healed understands what has happened to him. Only after Jesus seeks him out and calls him to faith in the Son of Man, does he truly “see.” Only after he first believes does he worship the one who is truly from God (v. 38) and who has healed far more than just his blindness.”[2]

How do we put ourselves in this story and make it make sense to us in our contemporary setting?

The closest I can come is to recall when I was a middle school student; I had to get glasses for the first time. Then, I had no idea what I was missing. At some point in my childhood, details of the leaves of trees had faded out and all I was really conscious of was that trees were green and had lots of leaves; after all, I had collected leaves in autumn like any other student and made rubbings and done other interesting projects with them – including raking them up and jumping in them.

But to look out at the oak trees and actually see the individual leaves for the first time in memory was an amazing experience of “before and after.” I saw individual leaves and needles on trees – the beauty in the details of every vein and pattern. Perhaps some of you have similar stories of before and after experiences:

“Once I saw the world like this; now I see it like this. Once I believed this; now I believe this. Once I lived in a place that I now see was blind to certain things. Now my eyes are opened, and here is what I see and know!”[3]

Let me change gears just a little bit on you. Why does the writer of the Gospel of John include this long story about blindness and sight – which actually continues in chapter 10 to include hearing and faith? It is another story of a nameless lost sheep hearing the shepherd’s voice and following. “He goes from seeing “the man called Jesus” (v. 11), to calling Jesus a prophet (v. 17), to recognizing that he must be from God (v. 33), to addressing him as “Lord” and worshiping him (v. 38).”[4]

However, to interpret the meaning of the healing of the blind man, we must read on through the first 21 verses of chapter 10. Why?

“Jesus performs a sign, [someion in Greek] which is followed by dialogue and then commentary from Jesus that provides the theological framework through which to interpret the meaning of the sign. The actual healing itself is narrated very succinctly, because it is not the miracle that is the critical point. Rather, as [a] sign, it points to something beyond itself, to what an encounter with Jesus signifies.”[5]

Reading this passage in depth and taking the seeing and hearing signs together in chapters 9 and 10, we find they symbolize more than seeing and hearing, or even avenues for belief in Jesus. Like what every smart phone manufacturer wishes they could replicate, capture, and sell, seeing and hearing are actually expressions of relationship…in this case, relationship with Jesus; and as we learn in chapter 10, a relationship with Jesus is also relationship with God.

This is important because relationship is the avenue to believing faith, which leads to life; as the writer of the Gospel tells us: “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.” (20:30-31)

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Feasting on the Word, Feasting on the Word—Year A David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, General Editors. Copyright © 2010 Westminster John Knox Press; Louisville, Kentucky; All rights reserved. Used by permission. Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Stroup, George W. Feasting on the Word…

[3] Ibid.

[4] Lewis, Karoline M. Feasting on the Word…

[5] Ibid.

Questions for Reflection:

When reading through these two chapters of the Gospel of John, what words or phrases shimmer for you?  Do you connect specifically with any portion of the text?  Rest with that and let your imagination speak to you of images in your mind representing what it is Jesus is willing to heal in you.  How much richer would your life be in Christ with that healing?

Household Prayer: Morning

Good morning, Lord. The day has dawned with the gift of sunlight, and I awaken from sleep into the light and grace of Christ. Thank you for this new day. Stay with me, I pray, shepherding me through all that the day will hold. Lead me into pleasant places, and give me the provisions I will need if I find myself in difficulty or danger. Whenever the cup of gladness overflows, help me to recognize that it is filled with your goodness and mercy. In praise and anticipation I begin this day in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

Household Prayer: Evening

With the night, Good Lord, comes rest, and a chance for my soul to be restored. You are with me in this and every darkness, so I will not be afraid. For all I have seen with my own eyes today, for all others have helped me to see, I give you thanks. For those things that I did not notice: signs of beauty and kindness, evidences of your grace, I pray that you will improve the eyes of my faith so that I can see you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly tomorrow, and all my tomorrows. In the name of your Son, my Savior, I pray. Amen.

 

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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