“Spiritual Blind Spots”

Lent 4

March 26, 2017


Text:  John 9:1-41; 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Ephesians 5:8-14


    “I see.”  That is such a deceptively simple phrase.  When I use this phrase, it is usually as a response after someone has said something pretty significant about themselves or their life situation that may give me some insight into their life or situation.

    Early in my ministry I was involved in a program called Clinical Pastoral Education, which is a supervised group ministry practice program that is usually done in a hospital or similar setting and often includes doing some chaplaincy work.  It is a program all pastors in the Iowa Annual Conference are required to successfully complete before they can be ordained.  I remember that in the course of taking this program, in our group times I would sometimes say “I see” in response to something someone else said.  When I did, the chaplain supervising our group would immediately say to me, “What do you see?”  I would be left struggling to explain what I meant, and often failing.  I think he was trying to get me to realize that I was using “I see” as sort of a stock response even though I wasn’t really seeing anything.

    When I was in high school, I had a classmate whose favorite line seemed to be “I see, said the blind man.”  I guess he thought it was funny.  In retrospect, there are some ways this statement is actually rather profound.

    Today’s Gospel lesson is the story of Jesus healing a blind beggar, and the controversy that surrounded it.  At the end of the story, Jesus says, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.”  Some Pharisees heard this and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”  Jesus replied, “If you were blind, that would not be a sin, but since you say ‘We see’, your sin remains.”  It appears Jesus is suggesting that when we think we see clearly what God wants, we may in fact not be seeing what God wants at all, and thus may be heading in the wrong direction without realizing it, let alone admitting it.

    Now I don’t know that we are totally blind to the things of God.  But I also believe we all have spiritual blind spots.

    Those of us who drive an automobile know something about blind spots.  There are certain locations in the vicinity of any car or truck one cannot see because the structure of the vehicle itself gets in the way.  A large vehicle, such as a truck or bus, has much larger blind spots than a car does.  A person driving one of these vehicles has to be especially careful and aware of one’s surroundings to avoid hitting something or someone located in a blind spot.  And drivers also need to be vigilant about staying out of the blind spots of other vehicles.  I have seen signs on the back end of some semi trailers that say:  “If you can’t see my mirrors, I can’t see you.”  In other words, stay out of other people’s blind spots.

    What might be some of our spiritual blind spots?  I find that both our Gospel lesson and our Old Testament lesson offer us some possibilities.

    The first blind spot is displayed at the very beginning of our Gospel reading.  Jesus and his disciples were walking along, and they saw a blind man begging.  The disciples asked Jesus, “Who sinned to cause this man to be born blind?  Was it him, or his parents?”  They immediately assumed that because this bad thing had happened, someone had to be blamed.

    Jesus responded,  “Neither.  This happened so God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.  We must do the works of the one who sent me while it’s daytime, because night is coming when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  In saying this, Jesus indicated that the disciples were asking the wrong question.  It’s not a question of blame or fault, but one of how God’s work can be done in the life of such a person.  Jesus did God’s work in this story by giving the blind man his sight.  

    I observe that some people have a spiritual blind spot related to this.  Some people seem to assume that if something bad happens to someone else, it is somehow the victim’s fault.  If someone is poor, they are thought to be lazy.  If someone is sexually abused, it is often suggested that they (usually she) acted or dressed too provocatively or was drinking too much.  But the truth is that bad things do not discriminate.  Hard work and prudent behavior do not prevent them from happening.  Sometimes random things happen to people that are beyond anyone’s control, such as weather, disease, and accidents.  Sometimes innocent people are victimized by others who mistreat them.  And even in those cases where the person who has bad things happen to them made mistakes that may have made them more susceptible to misfortune, is it our job to sit around blaming them, or is it our job to show the love and  compassion of God to them?  I believe it is the latter.  That is what Jesus did in healing the blind beggar.  Jesus saw his misfortune as an opportunity to do God’s work by making his life better.  Surely Jesus would have us “go and do likewise.”

    We all have spiritual blind spots.

    Another blind spot some people have is “the rules”.  In our Gospel, many of the religious leaders had a hard time accepting that the blind man was healed because Jesus healed him on the Sabbath.  Jews are not supposed to do any “work” on the Sabbath, and these leaders considered healing to be “work”.  Thus Jesus was judged to be a “sinner” for violating this rule, which incredibly made this man’s healing an evil act in their eyes.  Their hardline adherence to “the rules” spiritually blinded them, preventing them from seeing what God was doing right in front of them through the ministry of Jesus.  Elsewhere in the Gospels Jesus is quoted as saying, “People were not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for people.”  In other words, people are more important than the Sabbath.  Caring for humans in their need is more important than perfect adherence to “the rules”.

    It appears to me that much of the conflict happening in the larger church has to do with “the rules”.  In particular, what’s the church to do when people come into a relationship with God through Jesus Christ because of ministry by people who are in violation of “the rules” around the subject of human sexuality?  While some people likely deny that this is even possible, others have no difficulty testifying about situations where this has happened and is happening.  I don’t pretend to have any easy answers, but I do think the question ought to be raised:  At what point do “the rules” create in us a spiritual blind spot that prevents us from seeing what God is doing in our world?

    We all have spiritual blind spots.

    Still another spiritual blind spot has to do with status.  The religious leaders did not take the blind man Jesus healed seriously because he had been blind and, like most blind people in those days, survived by begging for handouts on the street.  The religious leaders surely saw him as nothing more than an object of charity.  He lacked their education, and they judged him less worthy because he was not one of them.  They could not handle it when he started to question what they were saying.  First they could not even believe that he had been born blind until they questioned his parents, who confirmed the information.  Then they questioned the man himself, and the more they grilled him, the more he began defending Jesus, at last saying, “This is incredible!  You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes!  We know that God does not listen to sinners.  God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will.  No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind.  If this man was not from God, he could not do this.”  The religious leaders promptly expelled the man born blind for having the nerve to try to teach them.  Their status was a blind spot keeping them from listening to his testimony and seeing what God was doing through the ministry of Jesus.

    Another example of status as a blind spot can be seen in our reading from 1 Samuel.  The prophet Samuel had been sent to Bethlehem to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to eventually replace Saul as king of Israel because of Saul’s disobedience to God.

    At the sacrifice where this was to take place, Jesse’s eldest son, Eliab, was brought before Samuel, and Samuel thought, “This must be the one God has chosen.”  In those days, the eldest son was considered the favored child in a family, and the other offspring were considered less deserving.  But God told Samuel, “No.  Just because he’s the oldest, and tall and handsome at that, does not mean he is the one I have chosen.  God doesn’t look at things like humans do.  Humans see only the outward appearance, but the Lord sees into the heart.”  

    As it turned out, the son of Jesse whom God chose to be the new king was not the oldest, but the youngest, the runt of the litter, the one whose status in the family was so low that he had not even been invited to be present at the sacrifice because he was needed out in the field to take care of the sheep.  Only when Samuel found out about David and insisted he be present did David come to the sacrifice.  Then God told Samuel to anoint David as the next king of Israel, and he did.  God had shown Samuel his spiritual blind spot, and Samuel listened to God and followed his leading.

    Status is a spiritual blind spot.  For those in leadership roles in church and society alike, it is too easy to forget that God’s best work is often done in and through the lives of common, ordinary people rather than people with degrees, titles, positions, and authority--and I plead guilty of sometimes forgetting that myself.  Another source of status in our world is wealth, and sometimes those with wealth forget that people with little wealth are valuable and contribute meaningfully to life in the world.  Still another source of status is fame.  But fame is only as good as the way it was gotten and the way it is used.  There are famous people who do a lot of good in the world.  There are also plenty of famous people who contribute little or nothing toward making this a kinder, fairer, more humane world, the kind of world that God wants.  Much good in our world is done with little or no fanfare or recognition by people who are not well known.   Often this is done by people who take seriously Jesus’ advice in Matthew 6 not to make your good works or your piety something you do for show to get human praise, but rather to do them in secret where our Father in heaven will give the appropriate reward.

    We all have spiritual blind spots.  

    The remedy for our spiritual blind spots is Jesus Christ.  He is the one who is light, who brings light into our lives, who makes us children of light.  As Paul wrote in Ephesians:  “Light produces fruit that consists of every sort of goodness, justice, and truth.  Therefore test everything to see what is pleasing to the Lord, and don’t participate in the unfruitful actions of darkness.  Instead you should reveal the truth about them.”  The true measure of what is the work of God in the world is not based on blaming people for what happens to them; it is not based on how well one keeps “the rules”; and it is not based on worldly status.  The true measure of the work of God is that it bears the fruit of goodness, justice, and truth in human lives and in the whole creation.  The disciple of Jesus Christ is called to live the ways of goodness, justice, and truth with and for all--which also means exposing things in our world that do not meet this standard.

We all have spiritual blind spots.  Let us turn to the teaching and example of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit to help us to recognize our spiritual blind spots, so that we may be enabled to see what God wants of us and where God seeks to lead us in ministry in the world, so we may faithfully follow.  Amen.

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