None so blind……..
April 3, 2011
(John 9, 1-41)
We heard last week, in John’s story of the Samaritan Woman at the well, how our prejudices and preconceptions can get in the way of our being open to, and bringing others to receive God’s grace.
John’s Gospel gives us another story this week on a similar theme.
On the surface, the story is about the healing of a man who was blind from birth; but the accompanying dialogues make it very clear that what is really being discussed here (as so often in the New Testament) is spiritual blindness, and what can be done to cure it.
Spiritually, all of us are like the man in the story – born blind, because of the world we are born into. I don’t believe in the concept of original sin in the way it’s usually presented. I don’t think it has anything to do with the Fall, or the Garden of Eden, or sex. But I do believe in original sin as a description of the situation we all find ourselves in, born into an imperfect world, to imperfect people. A world where some societies and some people have more than their fair share of the world’s resources, and with a history of enmity between peoples which infects children from birth; with institutions which use power and violence to settle disputes and achieve dominance. It is extremely difficult to escape these influences and the blind spots they create in us; and it is almost impossible in our own strength to begin to live in a different way.
We may also be blinded to the humanity and the needs of others by our upbringing. However good our parents, however much they try, they are imperfect human beings like us, and all of us make mistakes which prevent our children growing into the complete human beings God meant them to be. All of us have blind spots which are a result of our upbringing.
Our blind spots are major road-blocks on our spiritual journey; but we have a choice about what we do about them.
First of all, we need to acknowledge that we are blind. Then we need to go and find a way to heal them, or at the very least, respond to offers of healing when they come our way. Healing may not come immediately – the man in the story went through several stages of belief in Jesus as a prophet, and as one sent from God, before he worshipped him as the Son of Man; but unless we know that we have blind spots the healing process won’t even start.
We also need to remove those things that get in the way of healing – our fear of coming into the light, being more comfortable in the dark, sticking to our prejudices and preconceptions. We also need to be ready to part company with those who don’t realise they have blind spots, or who are happy to remain with incomplete sight. The old proverb “There’s none so blind as those who do not wish to see” remains true.
The Pharisees in the story stand for such people. They were so committed to their spiritual blindness that they were prepared to call good evil – to pronounce that someone who was manifestly doing the work of God must be a sinner. That sort of blindness to the Holy Spirit at work continues today – in those sections of the church who maintain that no matter what good they do, some people will be condemned to eternal punishment because they don’t sign up to the right doctrinal formula. The leaders of the synagogue were happy to dismiss the views of those who were just ordinary members of their congregation, who were ignorant or who weren’t as holy as they thought themselves. Doesn’t that sort of thing still go in between some of the ordained leaders of the hierarchy of the church and the laity? Jesus warned us against ‘the blind leading the blind’; we still don’t always take notice of his warning.
Ultimately, the Pharisees in the story were so committed to their particular form of spiritual blindness that they threw anyone who challenged their view out of their fellowship. How often has that scenario been repeated in the history of the Christian church? How much is it still happening with the splits in the Church of England over the ordination of women as priests and bishops, and the attempts to enforce conformity in the Anglican Communion by the Anglican Covenant?
For those of us who have committed ourselves to the Christian faith, it is to Jesus that we must go to heal our blindness. We need to learn from him how to open our eyes to the Holy Spirit at work through other people, no matter who they are and what faith they profess. We need to learn from him about the real nature of the God we profess to believe in. Even the disciples, who had spent years in Jesus’ company, still thought of God as one who would strike a person blind because of their own sin, or their parents’ sin. People continue to ask “Why me?” when something bad happens to them, as though God sends illness or disability or natural disaster as a punishment for wrongdoing. Jesus points us to a world where sickness and disability and disaster, which happen because of the way the world is and has to be, become opportunities to show the love of God and give God glory by doing so. That is what it means to walk in the light, and to bring the light of God to others.
Helen Keller, who lost her sight at the age of 19 months, was once asked if blindness was the worst thing that could happen to a person. She say no; the worst thing was not to lose your sight but to lose your vision.
May the story of the healing of the man born blind inspire us today to go to Christ, and to allow his teaching to heal our blindness, so we may walk in the light and bring that vision to others.