Seeing and Believing

John 9:1-41

It is an amazing story we encounter this week — this one of the man who was born blind who gains his sight.  Indeed, as I read it I am tempted to take a number of side trips away from the main point for, in fact, there are many such opportunities.

For instance, it would certainly be worth spending some time refuting the suggestion that this man’s suffering was the result of sin — either his own or that of his parents.

One could certainly pause in the wonder of Jesus’ healing powers.

One could consider the fear that gripped the man’s parents when questioned about his miraculous healing — or the intricacies of the legal system regarding who was a credible witness and who was not.

In my meandering through this familiar and layered story I even took a side trip to the pool of Siloam, wondering if that place — largely unfamiliar to me — could hold a special window into this story.

And yet, for all those paths one could follow, I find myself coming back to what seems to be the main point of the story:  the experience of blindness and then miraculous sight and their parallels: unbelief and belief.  Indeed, this story explores the question of how faith and understanding take root in us.  In particular, I find myself wondering about the Pharisees in our story now whom Jesus points out are still blind at the end of the story.  For while I don’t like to admit that it is so, I rather understand those Pharisees, I do.  At least if I understand them to be those who first were not open to new ways of seeing things… Oh yes, I am much like them in those times when I have found myself unable or unwilling to consider new ways of thinking or being or doing.

It is an odd snippet of memory that returned to me while I was out walking a few mornings ago.  I was six years old and had just learned to read.  A whole new world had opened up to me then and I couldn’t get enough of it.  I read everything I could lay my hands on at home and everything I could lay my eyes on out in the world.  I can remember being in the back of the family station wagon one day and  looking out at a world whose written symbols suddenly held meaning for me.  I was literally soaking up the signage on the street as I practiced my new found skill.  Just south of the tracks on Main Street in my hometown stood a cinder block building with peeling white paint.  The large sign painted on its side read simply “Body Shop.”

Now at the age of six I knew no other ‘body’ than the one I was walking around in.  I can remember reading that sign for the first time and wondering at what kind of ‘hospital’ this was — for it certainly wasn’t one I thought I would ever care to need.  It goes without saying that language (and perhaps especially the one I know best) is nuanced.   What I wonder at in that memory, though, is that I never asked.  I never thought to wonder out loud beyond my first understanding.  Eventually, of course, I came to know that there were different kinds of ‘bodies’ which, when broken, got put back together in different places.  Only I could have come to that deeper understanding a whole lot sooner.  If only I had asked.  If only I had been a little more open to the truth that my first understanding might not be entirely complete or correct.

Of course, it may not be entirely fair to compare a six year old’s reasoning ability to that of the grown Pharisees and it would certainly not be fair to equate the ruthlessness of the Pharisees to the relative innocence of a six year old.  Even so, it is possible, isn’t it that perhaps the Pharisees we encounter now certainly could have started out like me?  For it is so that they saw the world in one way and were not open to other understandings.  Indeed, they had a sense of what healing was and where it came from and they certainly couldn’t figure out how it came from Jesus.  ‘What sort of ‘hospital’ was this, after all?’  More than that…they had no sense that there might be other kinds of healing needed — even by themselves — for they had no idea that they, too were, in fact, blind — not entirely unlike a certain six year old just learning to read and bringing the only understanding she held to a complex world.  Like me, perhaps like you, still today — when along with those Pharisees we don’t even recognize our own blindness then we also don’t begin to have a clue that we may just need something more.

And so my prayer today, and most every day, is that I might overcome the Pharisee in me — that I might be open to the surprise of what I do not yet know or even think I need to know.

And so I wonder as I live in this amazing story once again:

  • How much richer would my understanding be if I didn’t always try to figure out why things happened — especially the hard things — but instead kept my eyes and ears and heart open to how God is working in and through it?
  • How much broader and deeper would my world be if when I encountered healing I approached it not with skepticism, but with hope?
  • How much surer would my faith be if I was only a little more open to the possibility that Jesus might be able to bring wholeness in places the world can’t touch?
  • And most of all, I wonder how much more might I be able to ‘see’ if only I would acknowledge that often I can’t see at all?  That there is so very much I simply do not know?

For without a doubt, there is still some of that six year old in me — who think she knows and doesn’t even need to ask.  For just think of it. If I had never learned that there was another kind of hospital, what would have become of me?  And if I had never learned there was another sort of healing altogether, just imagine how broken my world would still be.  

Indeed, may I know and recognize my own blindness so that I might, in fact, begin to see.

  • What do you think?  Are there places in your life where like the Pharisees, you are blind and don’t even know it?
  • How do you understand the parallel between belief and sight? 
  • In my reflection here I have only explored one way of thinking about the meaning of this story.  What am I blind to here?  Would another understanding, another avenue, another entry point make more sense?

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