Healing Our Spiritual Blindness
October 28, 2007
Now as Jesus passed by, he saw a man who was blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, saying, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. I must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
When he had said these things, he spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and he anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And he said to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing. . . .
Jesus heard that the Pharisees had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said to him, "Do you believe in the Son of God?"
He answered and said, "Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?"
And Jesus said to him, "You have both seen him and it is he who is talking with you."
Then he said, "Lord, I believe!" And he worshiped him.
And Jesus said, "For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may be made blind."
Then some of the Pharisees who were with him heard these words, and said to him, "Are we blind also?"
Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, 'We see.' Therefore your sin remains."
(John 9:1-9, 35-41)
Jesus said, "For judgment I can into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." Does that sentence make any sense?
What is this story about? About a blind man being healed--given sight. Or is this is a story about those with sight going blind? Jesus lives a story that is a parable. A parable with paradox. Just when we think it is one thing, he flips our perspective and we see something else.
This is a story about blindness. And to get into the story I'm going to ask that you all close your eyes for a minute right now. With your eyes closed, imagine for a minute that I told you that you would never see again. What would you miss? Your loved ones? Whose smile? The growth of which child? The blue sky? What in this church? Thinking about going blind is frightening. Imagine how you'd navigate around the streets, your home, your job. Your whole life would be impacted by your blindness; there would be much you couldn't do.
Yet, for all of that sense of loss, this parabolic story isn't about physical blindness. It is a story about spiritual blindness. Jesus forces us to think in paradox. He flips the way we think. Because as the blind man receives physical sight, the observers and the Pharisees go blind.
The story about the blind man is the story of our own spiritual growth. We are the blind man as we grapple in our lives for God's guidance. We ask God to lead us. We ask God to show us the way. First, we can't see anything spiritually, but God offers us sight. Remember the blind man refers to Jesus originally as "a man." Then we listen to God, we are cleansed in God's truth--which is the water in this story. And we see, but our spiritual evolution isn't over. To grow more spiritually we, like this man, have to be challenged. We must face opposition. We see things completely differently, and yet the world still either wants to see us as we were, or not even recognize us.
The blind man in the story can be our story. Note that Jesus never changes in the story, but the man's perspective of him does. First we see Jesus the man as we grow up. We read stories, but it is childlike and not real. Next, we see Jesus the prophet: the one who has given us life-changing experience. Finally, after we are tested and challenged, we develop spiritually. Then we call Jesus messiah, regardless of the opposition we face. The blind man's story is our story of spiritual evolution.
But we know we're different; we've had an experience. I think this is so crucial. When intellectual theologians belittle religions of experience like the Pentecostal church, their criticism falls on deaf ears, because these people have an experience with Christ, and no one can take it away. When each of us here today has doubts about our lives, our faith, and our God, we fall back on real experience. Our faith is grounded in experience, but not stuck there.
The father of this church, Swedenborg, was renowned as the son of a noble bishop, and maybe the greatest scientist in the world in his day. When he explained that God came to him directly and showed him heaven and hell, they laughed at him, and they still do today. They called him a heretic and a nut. They burned his books and shunned him from society. How did he deal with these taunts? He was rock solid in his belief because no intellectual argument could replace his experience of God.
Each of us needs to find ways to experience God. One way is to pray more. Another is to read the Scriptures and spiritual literature. And another is to go out and do something unselfish for another person. Remember those times in your life when you where spiritually connected? How God felt real? How your vision for the future seemed clearer? What is different between those moments and now is that you usually had some experience--a spiritual one. What do you need to do to get back to your experience with God? We can't ask God to do tricks for us, as that takes away our precious free will. However, we can ask for God to take away our current spiritual blindness. Experience plus action equals faith.
But we can also be the Pharisees in the story. As the man gains physical sight, they lose spiritual sight. The Pharisees represents the part of us that doesn't accept spiritual experience. It is our "wiser" arrogant, intellectual side that insists that spiritual development fit into our rules. Under its influence we resist transformation, even when we witness it. We dismiss what we don't control that is threatening. We rationalize away God's will.
Given the comparison of the man's physical blindness and the Pharisee's spiritual blindness, the message is very clear. The spiritual blindness is much worse. When I asked you to imagine physical blindness, your physical self feared it. But if I asked blind people to close their eyes, they wouldn't be afraid. In the same way, if I ask you now to imagine for a minute that you are spiritually blind, it is much harder for us to imagine or be worried about . . . because we are so spiritually blind.
Only when a sighted person tells a blind person there is a world out there that they are missing is there regret. Helen Keller tells us she was an animal that responded at base impulses until water was connected in her head and hand. Only when someone speaks of their spiritual experience do we realize that we've been fooled.
We must look to our greatest scholars. Are we, as Madonna says, "a material girl in a material world"? Or are we, as Sting said, "spiritual beings in the material world." Madonna was spiritually blind, and Sting had it right.
But it is hard for us to believe. Because we are blind. Plato described it as being in cave and seeing images on a wall from the shadow of a fire. St. Paul described it as looking through clouded glass. Occasionally we have moments of sight. We experience God; yet often in our busy material worlds we revert back to the illusion that this world is it. This world is about getting ahead, making more money, looking attractive, and fearing death, because these are reinforced every day thousands of times.
Being aware of our spiritual blindness, like being aware of our alcoholism, is taking the first step to spiritual recovery. The gospel calls it repentance. This story happens when the man asks this stranger to heal him. Our greatest danger is that we listen to our voice of the Pharisees; that we ignore Jesus and his love even as he stands right in front of us. We might think it takes a lot of work to find Jesus and gain that experience, but the truth is it actually takes a lot of work to ignore him.
Are you the blind man gaining spiritual sight, or the Pharisee denying what you know is spiritually true? All of us are a mix of both.
Any yet, ultimately that will be our judgment. It will not be standing before the throne and making a pitch for our heavenly worthiness after our death. Judgment takes place when we have Jesus standing in front of us, leading us, and we refuse to see him. We rationalize it away. We listen to the voices of evil within, and call that religious. Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." The man in the story was blind so that two thousand years later we can learn about spiritual sight. Those who see never really did. Now it all makes sense.
In this church we spend a great deal of time countering the material world through prayer. And isn't it ironic that we go physically blind as we close our eyes to become spiritual sighted? Let us all pray to God that he opens our spiritual eyes, and we see our true spiritual selves in his material world. And let us each ask God's guidance and courage to follow the path that sight offers us.
O God, open our eyes to your presence in our lives. Give our lives meaning as we follow where you lead us. Let us silence the voices of spiritual arrogance and rationalization within us. We humbly ask this in Jesus' holy name.
Rev. Rich Tafel