“There is none so blind, as those who will not see.” Who said that? Ray Stevens in “Everything is Beautiful”?
Actually, it was Jonathon Swift (The “Gulliver’s Travels” guy). In 1738 it was used in his essay, ‘Polite Conversation.’ The full saying is: ‘There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know’.
Today’s passage, describing this event in Jesus’ life, contains what might have been the inspiration for the most famous line in Christian hymnody: “I once was blind, but now I see.” John Newton must have had this story in mind when he wrote “Amazing Grace.”
(I won’t print the whole story here. Go read it!
“I once was blind, but now I see.”
Remember a couple of sermons ago, the one about Nicodemus, when I said, “darkness isn’t just darkness for John”? It always has a connotation of faithlessness or lostness for John. This story is no different – a blind man, trapped in permanent darkness – must have some “sin” attached.
We, like the disciples, always have to find a reason for any suffering or chaos we encounter in this world. We have to find the justice inherent in any situation; we must make things make sense. We hold in to it with a “white-knuckled” grip. If something seems unfair, we will often concoct reasons that only make it seem unfair; that, if we really knew everything there is to know about the unfair situation, we’d find the cause.
In this case, the disciples decide that somebody must have sinned – otherwise this poor man wouldn’t have been born blind. Somewhere, at some time, some ancestor – father, mother, grandparents, whoever – must have sinned. This man’s blindness was the punishment for that sin.
I once had the mother of a drug-addicted adult child tell me that her child’s addiction was a “generational sin,” and she was sending this child to a special Christian rehab center to discover that sin.
“Who sinned, so that this child is hooked on OxyContin, her or her parents?”
The disciples, good Jews trained by the Pharisees, assume a connection between illness or disability and sin. This idea was commonly held, and supported by several bible verses. Most notable is Numbers 14:18
‘The Lord is very patient and absolutely loyal, forgiving wrongs and disloyalty. Yet he doesn’t forgo all punishment, disciplining the grandchildren and great-grandchildren for their ancestors’ wrongs.’
There are just as many verses that proclaim a different view – that God forgives all sin, even to the fourth of fifth generation. So, while the need to cast blame, or find a reason for all suffering, was common, it was not the consensus.
And we, like the disciples, often think that, when someone suffers, it must be someone’s fault.
It’s a variation of the “Vending Machine God” idea. If someone is suffering, they either:
- Failed to insert the “correct change” – they did something wrong
- Put in a “slug” – faked their faith, or were insincere
- The worst of all – skipped the quarter altogether and tried to steal it – no faith at all.
Like Jonathan Swift said, “There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know.” “What we already know” is that sometimes, chaos happens. Suffering happens.
“I once was blind, but now I see.”
Jesus has a different answer, of course. (We should know him well enough by now to know he always has a different answer) This man has been blind since birth, not because of sin, but because God will use his malady to show forth a “mighty work.”
New Testament scholar, N.T. Wright, in a commentary on the Gospel of John, says:
“The chaos and the misery of this present world is, it seems, the raw material out of which the loving, wise, and just God is making his new creation.”
That sounds a bit like Jesus’ answer. This man is not blind because his parents or grandparents sinned. This man is blind – with no blame attached – and God will use this blindness to show forth his mighty works.
God has always taken this attitude toward chaos. Genesis 1 tells us that, when “all was formless and void,” when “nothing existed but chaos,” God spoke. God ordered the chaos. He did not analyze (“What caused this chaos?”). He did not blame (“Who made this big mess?”). When God saw chaos, he got to work ordering the chaos. He separated light from dark, land from water and air. When God saw chaos, he created.
In an act very reminiscent of God’s actions at the beginning, when Jesus saw chaos, he acted. He didn’t analyze or blame, When Jesus saw chaos, he healed.
Making mud with his spit sounds a lot like God making Adam “from the dust of the ground.” Both acts brought forth life. God created life where there was no life; Jesus gave new life when all seemed lost. Jesus brought forth light – the light that shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it – and transformed the life of this man trapped in darkness.
No cause was found for the suffering. No blame was cast. When faced with the “chaos and misery of this world,” Jesus made it the “raw material” for a new creation.
What would this “now moment” look like for us? What kind of healing would Jesus bring to people who are well-behaved, well-respected, and well-off? Not subject to punishment for any secret sins, what would that now mean if it happened right now?
“I once was blind, but now I see.”
What would happen if our “blindness” became “sight”?
What is it that we are not seeing? Is it the true pain trapped beneath the chaos of our lives? Beneath the chaos of others’ lives?
It is entirely possible that we still look at those who are suffering and have to find reasons. It is still possible that we use those concocted reasons to withhold our help. Are we blind to the humanity trapped in the suffering of poverty? Of addiction? Of physical or mental illness? Are we blind to the “Child of God” trapped beneath the cover of pain?
Are we so intent on casting blame or finding reasons that we aren’t available to be used by the “loving, wise, and just” God to “make his new creation?” If we are, we’re blind, too.
True sight is hard to come by. The rest of this long passage is given to the aftermath of this man’s healing. There is confusion. People aren’t sure if this is the same man who used to sit by the gate and beg. He looks so different!
They add more suffering! In the need to find out what exactly happened, they accuse Jesus of being sinful for healing on the Sabbath, call in the healed man’s parents to question them, and expel the formerly blind man from the church because he now believes that Jesus is Lord.
The Jewish authorities, like us, are afraid to let go of the old to grasp the new. We are all afraid to let go of old reasons, old understandings – the old blindness – and grasp the new creation that Jesus offers. Our actions often make more suffering after the healing orders the chaos.
“When surrounded by fear and anger, the only way through is to glimpse whatever we can see of Jesus and follow him out of the dark and into the light.” (N.T. Wright)
This gives us some hint as to what we should be doing, if we hope to help God show forth his mighty works in the midst of suffering: be Jesus to those in need, bring them healing, bring them peace. Lead them through the hard times, the “blindness,” and into the light. Let our actions be the way Jesus reaches them.
If we’ve been “blind,” and through the grace of God we “now see,” then let us lead others into sight.