March 26, 2017

Blindman

 

Lent 4 - Year A

 

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger


In the story of the Man Born Blind, we see that there are 3 characters. There’s the victim (the Blindman), there are the perpetrators (the Villagers and the Pharisees), and there is the Savior (Jesus Christ). As I often like to do, I am inviting you to reflect on who you are in the story, or reflect on when you have been in the different roles in the story. It’s healthy to know that one is not always the victim or not always the Savior. We need to remind ourselves when we have been the perpetrator.

 

We know that healing on the Sabbath was one of Jesus’ bad habits, and here He does it again. The man born blind is presented as a theological issue rather than a medical or social on. These types of maladies and diseases were assumed to be caused by personal and corporate sin.

 

This was the problem for the Disciples: was this man born blind because of what his parents did or what the man himself did, presumably while in the womb. Jesus is not interested with assigning blame or wasting energy on trying to figure out that which cannot be determined. Instead, Jesus wants to reflect on where God is in this situation. We, as the readers, know that God is in the situation through Jesus, but the characters in the story do not!

 

We find similar reasoning in our reading from 1 Samuel:

 

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”

 

Let’s look at the cast of characters, and where we find ourselves in this story.

 

The actions of the Villagers and the Pharisees after the Blindman’s eyesight is restored is astonishing in its disbelief that the conditions of this man can be improved. Of course it’s the same man; he is going to look the same and sound the same. They have known him all his life and his family. Yet, they say, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” His parents distanced themselves from him by saying, “Ask him; he is of age.” That way, they would not be personally liable for their son’s sins.

 

The telling of the healing occurs 4 times in this passage. So, either the story was so incredible that it had to be told in this way, or the Gospel writer needed to emphasize the importance of this story, or both. The repeating of the healing also clearly put the Villagers and the Pharisees in the role of perpetrator. For our modern application, there is more to this than breaking Sabbath rules or in confessing Jesus to be the Messiah and risking being put out of the synagogue. For us, we should reflect on when we have refused to see the potential in others.

 

In what ways do we keep others down, refuse to recognize the achievement in others because of our inner insecurities that arise when our own power and authority are challenged? It could be with another sibling, someone at work or “those people” who are lumped together through political or economic views. When have you been, or are you now, threatened by the achievements of others, and how do you express that? Do you avoid interaction, express your disbelief, or go to great lengths to devise crafty plans that undermine not only the other’s achievements, but also the recognition that they might receive?

 

“Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them.” This statement from our reading in Ephesians takes on a new, contemporary meaning. The unfruitful works of darkness are the times when we actively deny the potential of others to come through because of our own interests or insecurities.

 

We also must reflect on when we have been the Blindman, when good fortune has come upon you and others, whether family, friends or colleagues refuse to affirm you. I’m sure each of you have been in that position. How did you feel, and how did you handle it? Did you grow from the experience? Who was Jesus for you in that situation?

 

It happened to me in my Curacy. I won’t go into painful detail except to say that it took me 2½ years of a 3-year Curacy (like a Medical Residency for priests) to figure out that my boss was a bully. Because of the way social dynamics work, I also was not aware that other people knew that my boss was a bully.

 

I did all the right things that my Silicon Valley workplace background told me to do. I framed the situation in neutral terms. I expressed how actions, not explicitly assigned to him, made me feel, rather than blaming him for his actions. I initiated dialog on how we can best work together. And I finally asked for mediation, which went catastrophically wrong, and during which the mediators were repeatedly asking me if I had ever reflected on how all this could be my fault. It was all classic workplace bullying, but being blind to that, and trying to make a bad situation better, I was the Blindman. I was trying in vain to defend myself against those who refused to see the potential in me. I was not the only one who was blind.

 

The 3rd character in this story, as we all know, is Jesus and His work. God is at work in the Blindman, through Jesus Christ. We are called to both recognize and to do Christ’s work in the world. We must always be looking for the work of Jesus, even in and among the poor and oppressed. The Villagers and the Pharisees actively refused to recognize that good work. Four times in this story Jesus has been referred to directly or indirectly as a sinner. Yet, Jesus is the only one who is willing to recognize that the Man Born Blind has a God-given potential, and is deserving of dignity as a Child of God.

 

Last week, I was given passes to the SLO Film Fest Opening Night Party. The film that premiered was a documentary about Ella Brennan, long-time proprietor of the world famous Commander’s Palace Restaurant in New Orleans. Despite it being world famous, I knew nothing about it, but that’s nothing new. About 2/3 of the way through the film, I was in awe of this person who was not a chef, and who was a woman in The South, who spent almost 45 years making the best restaurant she could.

 

And then, someone I do know of was interviewed. America’s first true celebrity chef, Emeril Lagasse, started at Commander’s Palace when he was just 24yo. In his interview for the documentary, he said that Ella came to him one day and said, “You need a place of your own.” Like Jesus did with the Blindman, Ella recognized the potential in Emeril. There is something profound in the wisdom of those who help other overcome their blindness so that they can thrive.

 

Hopefully, each of you have had that awesome position to be the one who selflessly helps another. But the Blindman wasn’t the only challenge for Jesus. Jesus has two roles in this story. He opened the eyes of the Blindman so that he could reach his potential. He also attempted to open the eyes of those who refused to see the potential in the Blindman, that curing the Blindman was good for the whole community, and that they themselves were blind to the wonder and works of God.

 

The Jesus character was in my own story, too. One day, while at a Diocesan Workshop at Manchester Cathedral, I found myself next to a neighboring priest in the standing-room-only section just outside the doors of the room. She was the boss of someone I was ordained with, and she was also fairly chummy with my boss. In the hustle-and-bustle of a break in the agenda, and on her way to leave, she grabbed my arm and said, “I know it’s been really tough for you. If there is anything I can do for you, let me know.” And she walked away. She was my Jesus. She opened my eyes to see that I could find my way out. She didn’t betray her friend, my boss; she did try to open his eyes; and she used her compassionate insight to help someone in need.

 

This story illustrates the blindness of our personal character. Again, it’s healthy to reflect on times when we have been the victim, when we have been the Savior and when we have been the perpetrator. As we strive to do the work of the Savior, we give thanks for when we were rescued as the victim, and offer penance for the times that we have been the perpetrator.

 

In parallel to that, the story illustrates that spiritual blindness is the real sin. Jesus has given sight to a man born blind, but this is a sign of the more significant spiritual light that he provides for those who are spiritually blind. In the story, the Blindman is the only one who overcomes his spiritual blindness and recognizes Jesus for who He is. The blindness of our character, whichever character we are playing at that moment, causes us to be spiritually blind, as well. Today, we come to Jesus in the Eucharist to open our eyes.

 

As my Sacraments teacher repeatedly drilled into us, “Our participation in the Eucharist is our call to mission.” This story gives us instruction on parts of our mission. We will continue to be thrust into situations where we are the Blindman. We will be the Villagers, despite our best intentions. But we are called to open the eyes of the blind, to be the eyes of the blind. To help people see their potential, and to help people see when their actions harm others. Does that make us Holy Optometrists? Or maybe Holy Medical Marijuana, alleviating the pain of social glaucoma? Whatever terminology helps; Churchy analogies are always fun.

 

Jesus is the Light of the World, and His Light, which is the neverending love of God, illuminates all that is good. We realize that in our partaking of the Eucharist, which is our call to mission. If we are to do the work of the Light of the World, as the Holy Optometrist or the Holy Medical Marijuana, when we open our own eyes and the eyes of those who are blind, in whatever way, we share the Love of God through Jesus Christ. And that is our mission.

© 2017 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
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