Seeing is believing

RCL Year A, 4 Lent

Now, if you were paying attention during the reading of the gospel, you might have noticed that the story the kids just acted out is a different one. They gave us a story found in Luke’s gospel of a man who is blind and who is healed by Jesus – a whole different kind of story than the one we heard in our reading from John’s gospel. What we heard first is a long story of how a healing caused upset and upheaval; while the skit was about a healing that caused rejoicing and celebration. One thing you can say about these two stories – and the other stories we’ve been hearing in the last few weeks – is that you never know which way it’s going to go when Jesus is on the scene. People might get what he’s talking about, and they might not. They might be joyful at what he does, and they might not like it one bit.

You could say what we heard today is a story of how the world is; what we saw is a story of how the world should be. A man is blind. He desperately wants healing. He makes his way to the one who can save him and he is healed, able to see. And in the skit, he is thrilled, his whole life made new, and all who see him are thrilled along with him. Healing and sight, new life and hope – something everyone can rejoice in! That’s the way it should be.

But the first story is different. A man is blind, born blind – he has never known what sight is. Jesus heals him. He can see, something completely new for him. And nobody is happy about it. Not the neighbors, not his parents, not the religious leaders. They throw him out. Get out! We don’t want the new you. We all liked the old you better. All too often, that’s how the world is.

Because the man’s healing isn’t just something that happens to him. His healing throws the whole system around him out of whack. He was a beggar, dependent on other people to care for him – all of a sudden he can make his own way, he is well, he doesn’t need their help anymore. He used to need them and they could look down on him for it. Now it’s all different. No one adjusts to that kind of change easily.

And the man was healed on the Sabbath, when no work is supposed to be done – therefore, the Pharisees argue, the one who healed him must be a bad man. But the man is healed, he can see! How can that be bad? The rules of behavior, the way people are supposed to worship God, have been broken. These are rules that matter, because they help define who God’s people are. But Jesus has just tossed them out the window. No one responds well to people who kill sacred cows – who throw out things that other people think are important and holy.

And furthermore, the man was born blind, and that means he is full of sin, according to the theology of the Pharisees. But after he’s healed he’s proclaiming and witnessing to who Jesus is, saying that Jesus is from God. No one wants to be preached to by someone they don’t approve of.

So it is easier for all of them if they just toss him out. But can you imagine? Your own child, your neighbor, a member of your community, and you’re so upset about the change in them that you just want them gone?

But that’s how we can get when sudden and total transformation happens. It seems like in the story the kids shared with us, it was easier on everyone. The blind man’s healing didn’t rock any boats. Maybe he was just a stranger to all those crowds who rejoiced when he was healed. His family wasn’t around, his neighbors weren’t there to see. It’s the people who know and love us who have a hard time when we change – anyone in recovery can tell you that. It’s the things that are most dear to us that we want to stay the same – the house we grew up in, or our church, or the town we’ve known for so long. We shake our heads and complain that nothing stays the same.

But the weird thing, the thing that must make God just shake her head sometimes, is that even good change drives us bananas. Change is hard, it takes work on our part to adjust to it, and we don’t like that. We’re naturally nostalgic. And this is not just people of a certain age. When Jim and I took over leadership of a family camp last year and tried to change some things, it was the kids who had the hardest time letting go of ‘traditions.’ There’s a whole lot of shifting and regrouping we have to do when people around us change, or when places we love change, and even when we ourselves change. And so there’s always something in us that wants to go back to how it was before, even when we consciously know and understand that things are better now.

I think it’s all in where we find our safety and support. If we are holding on to how things are, we have a hard time living into how things could be. It’s one of the ways we practice idolatry, worshiping other gods instead of the true God – in this case, the god of what we can grasp and understand, instead of the God of new and unknown life. Just imagine, seeing when you had never ever seen before. How terrifying. How incredible.

But that’s what Jesus does – he opens our eyes and makes us see. And then we choose how to respond. Will we respond with joy and happiness when he does that for us? And when he does that for others too? Or will we want to shrink back into the shadows and the way things were before? I’m hoping we’ll want to celebrate and praise God, like our kids showed us. May God give us the courage to do it. Amen.