March 26, 2017
“What You See is What You Get”
A plane was flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles. There was a 45-minute delay and people were unhappy. The plane stopped unexpectedly in Sacramento and passengers were told there would be another 45-minute delay. They were allowed to exit the plane and reboard in 30 minutes.
Everyone got off the plane except one man who was blind. His seeing eye dog lay quietly underneath the seat. The man had flown this flight before and the pilot approached him and said, “Keith, we’re in Sacramento for almost an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?” Keith replied, “No thanks, but maybe my dog would like to stretch his legs.”
All the people in the gate area were shocked to see the pilot (who happened to be wearing sunglasses) exit the plane with the seeing eye dog! They quickly started scattering to try and change not only planes, but also airlines!
Seeing is important for lots of reasons. We think that if we see it we get it, but that isn’t always the case. On first glance, the reading from John appears to be about a man who was blind and now sees. But this is more than just a healing story. The healing happens in the first few verses. Then there are thirty plus verses of controversy. The more we read, the more it seems that those who think they can see are blind to what matters most.
This is a story of God who transforms people. In this story, blindness is the avenue for that to happen. Look at the people in this story and pay attention to who sees what:
Jesus is walking along and refuses to ignore the blind man in front of him. Even
when religious leaders get riled up, Jesus continues to appear and walk
with the man who grows in faith throughout the story.
The disciples see the blind man begging and ask who sinned to cause blindness.
Their question sets the rest of the story in motion as Jesus shows them
that God can do amazing things in situations that seem impossible.
The man was blind since birth. Jesus heals him and every time he tells the
story of being healed, his faith grows. He doesn’t know who Jesus is
at first, but by the end of the story he is worshiping him.
The neighbors see the man after he is healed and begin to argue about
whether he is the same man who used to be blind. It seems that they
only know him as a blind man and nothing else. When they aren’t
satisfied, they bring the…
Pharisees in to assess the situation. This story is an example of why the
Pharisees have a bad reputation. As Barbara Brown Taylor says, “they
are so sure about everything – that God did not work on Sunday, that
Moses was God’s only spokesperson, that anyone was born blind was a
sinner and ditto for anyone who healed on the Sabbath, that God didn’t
work through sinners, and that no one could teach them anything.”
(Home By Another Way, p. 77) The Pharisees are so convinced that this
can’t be true, that they call in the man’s…
Parents who throw him under the bus. This story was written in a time when
followers of Jesus were cast out of the church and the parents were
afraid of losing their place in the community. Rather than standing with
their son, they feign ignorance and say, “Ask our son. He can speak for
In case you got lost in the drama (it’s easy to do!), a miracle has happened! A man who was blind since birth can see. Did you notice that 1) No one expects miracles to happen, and 2) No one celebrates when they do?
Why isn’t anyone saying, “Wow! That is amazing! Look what God can do! I want to follow this man Jesus! He does things we didn’t realize were possible.” That is why the church exists. We are the ones who celebrate the impossible works of God. We gather here to worship a God who can do anything. We come to see and hear God transforming one person at a time.
It never entered their minds that the man could be healed. He was blind. Period. The church in this story is the very church that people today don’t want to be part of – the church that doesn’t allow change. This is the church that lives on the seven last words “we’ve never done it that way before.” Why bother having a church…why bother coming to church if you don’t expect God to do anything here?
In this story one man gains his sight and everyone else loses theirs. As John Shelby Spong says, “they make a virtue of closed minds.” (The Fourth Gospel, p. 150) It seems that we may not only be born blind, but we also have the capacity to become blind. I’m not talking about macular degeneration. I am talking about refusing to recognize what God is doing in our midst. It is strange but true that good news has enemies.
My seminary professor told us that the gospel exists to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. There are many uncomfortable people in this story. Things are happening that are out of their control. Things are not playing out as they intend. That is not good news for the religious leaders in this story!
There is a clear message here about seeing. It isn’t a physical thing at all. It is a spiritual practice that involves using the lens that God uses and seeing the world through the eyes of Jesus. It means we will allow the Spirit to work in ways we don’t expect and we will be astonished. It means we will celebrate God’s amazing power to transform people and situations. It means we will trust what we cannot see.
Let us be the people who believe in God’s power to do the impossible. Let us be the people who see what others say does not exist. One of my favorite poems is called “Monet Refuses the Operation”:
Doctor, you say there are no haloes
around the streetlights in Paris
and what I see is an aberration
caused by old age, an affliction.
I tell you it has taken me all my life
to arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels,
to soften and blur and finally banish
the edges you regret I don’t see,
to learn that the line I called the horizon
does not exist and sky and water,
so long apart, are the same state of being…
if only you could see
how heaven pulls earth into its arms
and infinitely the heart expands
to claim this world, blue vapor without end.”
- by Lisel Mueller
Seeing is a choice. Again, I am not talking about our physical condition. I am talking about the ability to see God at work in the world. I am talking about choosing to follow Jesus who does things we cannot even imagine. I am talking about celebrating the power of the Spirit to move among us and lead us into new ways of being God’s people in the world. It really is simple. What we see is what we get.