Sermons

Sun, Mar 26, 2017

Seeing things as we are

Series:Sermons

“Love is blind”––

it’s a much-repeated proverb.

We even find it at the core of, perhaps, the archetypal love story…

Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet––

a tragic tale of two young people who fall in love…

despite their respective families being mortal enemies…

and despite the fact that there was never any hope that they could be together.

From the very outset, you know that this can only turn out badly.

But their love was blind to their reality.

In our own ways, don’t we frequently repeat the same sort of thing?

Through love––

and perhaps the idealism of youth––

it’s not uncommon for lovers to blindly ignore each other’s faults and flaws…

their annoying habits…

their differences in upbringing and background…

in the naïve belief that love really does conquers all,

and that everything will be okay in the end.

I don’t know about you…

but that has certainly been my experience.

And it’s an experience that has been common in our history…

giving rise to a whole raft of quotes from thinkers and commentators.

For example, Shakespeare himself mused, in The Merchant of Venice, that…

“love is blind and lovers cannot see

the pretty follies that themselves commit”.

Rabbi Julius Gordon once suggested that,

“Love is not blind. It sees more, not less.

But because it sees more, it is willing to see less”.

Similarly, George Bernard Shaw observed that…

The moment we want to believe something,

“we suddenly see all the arguments for it,

and become blind to the arguments against it”.

If we accept what many of these suggest, love is blind…

but it’s a self-inflicted malady––

something that we choose, voluntarily.

But is it?

Do we really choose to be blind?

On the whole, I don’t think that it is a conscious choice.

Rather, it’s something that we seldom have any control over.

After all, what we see or don’t see…

is shaped and determined by a whole range of factors…

such as our upbringing––

the values, customs, beliefs, and traditions that we have inherited…

and in which we have been enculturated.

All of these shape what I see and how I see them…

and, conversely, what I don’t see.

So, perhaps, Anaïs Nin is closer to the truth when she observed that…

“We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are”.

 

And I think we have a wonderful example of that in this morning’s reading from John’s Gospel.

At first glance, it appears to be a healing story––

like those found in the other gospels––

but it isn’t really.

The recounting of the healing is only a very small part…

and it functions more as a narrative vehicle or a prop.

Rather, this story is about metaphorical blindness.

As I mentioned last week, the stories in John’s Gospel are seldom real or historical…

in the way that we understand it.

Rather, they’re symbolic.

And the characters that we meet are meant to be typical…

or representative…

characters with whom we’re meant to identify…

characters in whom we see ourselves and our experience.

And this story is no exception.

Here, we’re invited to consider our own blindness…

in the blindness of the various characters.

 

Take, first of all, Jesus’ disciples.

Upon seeing the man born blind, they asked…

“who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Bear in mind, the first-century worldview lacked a sense of impersonal causality.

Nothing “just happened”.

Someone was responsible for anything and everything that they experienced––

whether it was God or an evil spirit…

another person…

or me, personally.

The disciples see a man who had been blind from birth and—

based on their cultural background––

they assumed that someone must be responsible.

And, given the severity of his affliction––

which suggests that the man was cursed or being punished by God––

then someone must have done something pretty bad.

The disciples look at the man and––

rather than feel any compassion or sympathy for his plight…

or demonstrate any perception about what it would be like to live like that––

they’re quick to condemn.

He’s a dreadful sinner;

or, perhaps, his parents were––

which, within the collectivist worldview of the first century…

isn’t that much different.

Here, the disciples are us––

all of us––

in every mean-spirited thought that we have had…

or every careless word that we have ever spoken.

The disciples are us––

all of us––

in every example of our narrow-mindedness and our prejudice towards those who don’t fit in…

towards those who are different.

 

Secondly, then, consider the Pharisees.

Clearly, they also share the disciples’ view about the man’s sinfulness.

But, even more than that…

they can’t comprehend how the man who had been born blind could now see.

To their way of thinking, it’s the sort of thing that only God could do.

And yet, because it took place on a Sabbath––

because it contravened their fundamental beliefs about the world and about God…

because it flaunted their most deeply cherished religious traditions––

they couldn’t accept it…

they couldn’t believe it…

they quite literally couldn’t see it.

So they searched in vain for another explanation––

even trying to convince themselves that the man wasn’t who he said he was.

They couldn’t get past the fact that Jesus had done this on a Sabbath…

which meant that he had to be a godless sinner.

Here, the Pharisees are us––

all of us––

whenever we have looked self-righteously down our noses at others…

at those who don’t fit with our religious traditions and beliefs.

The Pharisees are us––

all of us––

whenever we have mindlessly regurgitated dogmatic beliefs…

or we have presumed to pass judgment on others…

because we have convinced ourselves that we know what God thinks…

or whom God loves and accepts.

The Pharisees are us––

all of us––

whenever, by action or inaction, we have barred people from full inclusion…

or tacitly denied them natural justice…

because their origin, their nature, or their way of life doesn’t fit with what we have always been taught.

 

All of which brings us to the man born blind.

Ironically, he’s the only character in the story who actually sees clearly.

He recognises who Jesus is, instinctively…

and he trusts him, implicitly.

In so doing, he gains even greater sight and insight.

And yet, in many ways, his context isn’t that different from the others.

He would have shared a similar family upbringing…

a similar culture…

similar beliefs…

and similar traditions.

He was even aware that no one who had been born blind had ever been healed before.

But, despite all of that, he was at least open to the possibility.

He imagined––

he dared to believe––

that the seemingly impossible might be possible…

and he was prepared to give it a go.

He dared to believe that God was bigger than his experience…

his beliefs…

his culture…

and his tradition;

and, in the end, he was right.

 

And maybe what this story is also suggesting to us…

is that we will only truly understand…

the healing, forgiving, welcoming love of God…

and the possibilities for wholeness and new life…

when we learn to look through the eyes of those who are excluded…

devalued…

marginalised…

and labelled as sinners––

 

whoever they may be for us, today.

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