Much like last week we have before us a story which is rich and powerful and full and lengthy. As a result there are a number of promising directions one might take as one digs into it including:
- Whether (or not) God punishes for sin — and specifically whether one’s physical ailments or challenges are the direct result of such punishment;
- How God uses even or especially the worst life hands us to show God’s power;
- The matter-of-fact courageous witness of the one so healed contrasted with the apparently strangling fear exhibited by his parents;
- Jesus’ transformation of sabbath laws;
- Contrasting light and darkness and its parallels to faith and unbelief;
- What it means to be blind — physically and/or otherwise;
- And what it is to be healed — truly healed.
And yet, even with all of these possibilities, I am opting to settle on just the opening verse, hoping that alone will give us a window into all the rest:
“As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth…”
This is why I am settling here: I believe the placement of words here is entirely intentional. For it does not, in fact, say that Jesus saw a ‘blind man.’ Instead it says he saw ‘a man blind from birth.’ But first he saw a man. A human being. As we hear the story we are led to understand that Jesus does not first see the limitation which surely shaped and restricted the possibilities for this man’s life — in a particular way in that time and place.
Now it is so that lately I have made it a habit to really notice the people in whose company I find myself. (I like to think of this as a kind of spiritual practice — for, in fact, in a real way I believe it is.) And this does not mean to say I stare at them in an intrusive way — or at least I hope I do not. Rather, I simply let my eyes rest on them gently for just a little longer than I normally might. Not that even then am I seeing beyond the most obvious markers of who they are (like age, physical condition, or who they may be with), but I hope it is a start. This is easy enough to do in the aisles of the grocery store or in line at the post office or out to lunch with a friend. On the other hand, it was not — no, it never is — quite as easy to do when I find myself walking the hallway of one of our local nursing homes where I frequently stop in on members and friends of our congregation.
Indeed, this last Thursday afternoon, I punched in the security code at the front door of ‘Pine Acres’ and mistakenly turned right instead of left. This meant that I found myself passing by twice as many people as I normally would on such an errand. Some of them stared vacantly from their wheelchairs as they waited to be rolled to dinner or back to their rooms. Others looked up pleadingly, perhaps hopeful that I was someone arriving just for them. Or maybe not really caring if I was ‘meant’ for them at all, but just hoping to be noticed. To be “seen.”
While I usually try to offer a pleasant ‘hello’ when I walk that hallway, I know that it is easy to rush by and only see wheelchairs. It is far too easy to not look long enough to see the human being sitting there with all of his or her complexity.
And yes, I do have the excuse that when on these errands I am often legitimately in a hurry having only allowed enough time for the particular visit on my calendar that day. However, if I am honest it is also so that perhaps my “need” to be in such a hurry is at least unconsciously intentional. For the sights and sounds and yes, the smells along that hallway surely do offer a window into a far too likely future that I, for one, would rather not imagine just yet.
Indeed, if one only sees wheelchairs and not the people who occupy them it is easier, I expect, to block out the rest. Especially the accompanying sense of my own vulnerability. In the same way if one sees a ‘blind man’ instead of first a man who happened to be blind, it is easier to separate oneself from him, his experience, his hopes and dreams, our common humanity. How much more so if, like the Pharisees, one allows oneself to get into a theological debate as to whether one somehow deserves the blindness, the wheelchair, the life alone at the end…
And so today, I am focusing on that first verse for it all begins with Jesus seeing him. Beyond or besides or in spite of his blindness. And in the end, isn’t that the point of all of this — to see? Not necessarily to ignore, but to truly see and to be seen beyond the label, beyond one’s most evident challenge or limitation or yes, even beyond one’s greatest gift and to simply see the human being as Jesus did? Your brother. My sister. Always God’s Own Beloved. And to live like this is so. Like we are all in this together. For so we are. So we are.
And yes, such ‘seeing’ would be the beginning of any kind of healing that matters wouldn’t it? For both the one so seen and the one called to see…
As for me, I’ll be doing my best now to carry this spiritual practice of truly ‘seeing’ into the nursing home this week. How about you?
- What do you think? Does it make a difference that Jesus sees the man before he sees the handicap?
- Are there people you do not ‘see’ whom you are called to ‘see’ more deeply? What difference would such ‘seeing’ make? What in you normally keeps you from ‘seeing’ them?
- What are the ways in which you want to be ‘seen’ beyond the labels or titles or most obvious characteristics which are normally first ‘seen?’ What difference would that make to you? And how might that be the beginning of healing for you?