Say, Can You See?
based on John 9:1-41
by Rev. Thomas Hall
Paradigms describe patterns. Paradigms are
the ways we look at life and think about life. And with each new
paradigm we face a choice, futurist Joel Barker says. We can either
accept the new paradigm, that new way of doing things, or we can
resist it. He calls it paradigm paralysis, that is, the inability to
view life from any other way. Even scientists have been caught
altering the data when it conflicted with what they had expected to
see. Even churches can suffer from paradigm paralysis.
That’s a good way to understand this morning’s gospel lesson.
Paradigms and paradigm paralysis. A truly extraordinary thing occurs
in a neighborhood in Jerusalem. A man who suffers from blindness is
healed instantly by a passerby. More extraordinary is the unorthodox
sort of way the healing occurs. Not your typical American
televangelist way to heal with lots of music and emotion and hands
draped all over a suffering person. The healing didn't come by
someone blowing on someone else and knocking them flat or with a
giggle of holy laughter that leads to healing. No lengthening of
limbs, laying on of hands, shouts, or speaking in tongues. No this
healing is even wilder! A mysterious passerby makes a spit wad and
rolls it into a glob of mud the size of ping pong balls and then
sticks them in this poor man’s eyes. If he was only partially
blind, he's completely blind when this passerby gets finished
with him. “Go to the pool of Siloam on the other side of town and
wash your face,” the stranger says. The poor beggar does is
healed. He washes the muck off his eyes and sees everything.
Well, that's the story. A bit messy, maybe, but still, this seems
to be a clear-cut story of healing. Jesus approaches a suffering
man, offers healing and the man takes him up on his extraordinary
offer of kindness. The story should end here with the man living
happily ever after. (Maybe writing an autobiography or appearing on
Letterman's or Jay Leno's show, or even sharing a seat in Oprah's
studio with the guy who says he's married to an alien. Bu t John
doesn't let us off so easy. This strange healing is the least
remarkable part of the whole story. What is extraordinary is the
paradigm paralysis that runs through the entire plot--the inability
to accept a new way of seeing--and living. So John brings us to the
other side of the healing and lets us peek at what happens when God
So we're back in the story-the part where the poor blind guy gets
healed. Now that he discovers his newly received eyesight, what do
you think he does? He immediately high tails it back to his own
quiet neighborhood with the startling news: “ I can see, I can
see! Wow, so that's what a tree looks like, and that's the color of
grass; so there's my house, and you must be my parents.” You get
the picture. The old neighborhood is shaken to its foundations. So
you can imagine the excitement when worship service rolls around on
the next Sabbath. This guy wants to celebrate his good turn of
events. So he hires a band to come and play some marches during
church service. But right in the middle of Colonel Bogey March,
the pastor, flanked by his associates strides right up the aisle and
stops the music.
“What's all the commotion? This is a Sabbath day, we don't
do Philip Sousa on the Sabbath”
“But you see,” says the healed man, “I want to
celebrate because I was blind but now I see.”
“Cute. Who told you that you were healed? How do you know that
you were healed?” the pastor demanded, putting on his glasses.
“Well, I was blind and this man came along and he put some
spitballs in my eyes and then he sent me out and . . . and I
discovered that I can really see. Isn't that great? I can see! Now
can we get on with the concert?”
“Not so fast, buster,” said the pastor. “We have
some serious problems with people who go around healing on the
Sabbath. Whoever violates the Sabbath must be a sinner. Healing is
work, and no one works on the Sabbath. That's the rules. You can
read it right here in our statement of beliefs. Plain as day. The
man's a sinner.”
“Oh, I thought that he was a good man. A prophet, a real
“You 're so gullible.” But the pastor huddled with his
staff right in front of the offering plates.
“I don't think this guy is for real,” said the music
“Yeah, maybe this guy is just blowing off steam. Maybe he
just wants to show off, to get our congregation worked up about
healing. You know how controversial healing is. The next thing you
know, there will be clapping on the Sabbath. And then some will want
to raise their hands. It's just awful.
“Worse than that,” the pastor cautioned, “if this
guy has really been healed, then we've got Messiah on our hands and
you know what that means. When Messiah strolls into the neighborhood
it means that we've got to change in a big way. Like move over and
change big time. If he is the Messiah, then we're really in a mess.
And it's such bad timing too. I mean, look at our church
attendance, it's on the rise. And what about our youth program? And
what about our sacrifice committee--do you have any idea how much
money selling animals for sacrifice brings to our congregation? All
of that will change if this mystery man turns out to be Messiah.
Besides, everyone will look at us and wonder why we didn't invite
the Messiah our neighborhood before now. This is definitely not a
good time for Messiah to come into our neighborhood.”
“Well, the first thing we need to do is to verify if this guy
was really blind,” said the main usher. “Right,” the pastor
said, replacing his glasses with his bifocal glasses. “Call his
parents to verify this guy's former blindness. And remember--if they
even suggest that this healer is Messiah, they're history . We've
got to squelch this Messiah rumor once and for all.” By now the
pastor's vein was bunched out on his forehead like if he had weight
“Yes, we are his parents. And yes, our son has been blind for
at 42 years. But our attorney has advised us to say no more. You'll
have to ask our son about this Messiah business.”
A strange response indeed! Seeing after four decades of blindness
only to be ignored by his parents. Well, it's true enough, the
healing, the parents think. But after all, why should they
jeopardize their standing in church, risk getting labeled a fanatic,
or worse, get kicked out of the congregation just because their son
claims to see? God will understand, they think. The parents
sigh and wonder why it seems so dark out in the afternoon.
They take their glasses off to wipe them.
“We've reached a decision, friend,” the pastor said at
last. “This is indeed a momentous occasion to celebrate . .
.” (the director smiled and raised the baton for the
downbeat,) “. . . for we have determined that your healer
friend is a sinner. So bring on Colonel Bogey.” But just as
the trombones were about to pick up the solo, the healed man grabbed
the baton and stopped the piece.
“Wait just a minute. What do you mean, 'sinner?’ ” the
healed man retorted. “How can a 'sinner' open my eyes? How can
anyone but Messiah do such a wonderful, beautiful thing?”
“You 've got a point there kid,” the usher said,
scratching his beard. “You sure he really healed you? How'd he
do it? What did it feel like? How has it changed your life?”
“Well, all I can say is that once I walked around blind and
unable to see anything, but since I've met this man--Messiah--l've
been able to see, to really see. And it's wonderful. It's beautiful.
Perhaps you'd like to meet this man too? Like become one of his
disciples or something--and see if maybe he could help you to see a
little bit better too?
“That's it, that's it” the pastor broke in. Although no
one said anything, maybe because no one noticed, but the pastor
seemed uneasy moving around the church. Unsure of his steps. The
healed man noticed a most extraordinary thing--that the pastor's
eyes looked huge behind his glasses. His eyes were now magnified
three times their size. “That's it,” the pastor repeated.
“We'll have none of this Messiah business. Just who do you
think you are? Some blind man who claims to see telling us about
Scripture and Messiah.”
“We're the ones who see around here. And we don't see any
Messiah. Ushers, throw this man out.”
“You OK?” a voice said from behind his crumpled body. The
healed man turned to see who was speaking. “Yeah, I'm
OK. I can see after all. Did you hear about this guy who made some
“I'm the one who made them. Do you see enough of me to
“Lord, I believe in you.” But instead of looking at
Jesus, the man who had never seen in forty years closed his eyes and
worshipped the Messiah. That's when he heard the band playing best
triumphant march he had ever heard.
Who can tell who Jesus directs his final words of this story to?
The Pharisees? The Church? Me? You? But I suspect that he looks
right into our face and says, “I came into this world for judgment
so that those who do not see may see, and those who do
see may become blind.” And in that same scene I can see the
church service ending. And after everyone has left, the pastor
leaves slowly, cautiously, flailing a stick in front of him with
You 'II have to fill in your own conclusions and meaning for
yourself, but I think that John has been wanting to ask his readers
a simple question right from the very start. It's this. Are we
willing to see? To really see? Are we willing to step out of our own
blindness and to look at life in the blinding light that God gives
us in Jesus? Or will we lose ourselves in our own busyness so that
we won't even notice the new sight that God seeks to give us? Are we
stuck in a paradigm that resists change, resists looking at life
from fresh, new perspectives? Then hear the good news! In Jesus
Christ, God invites us to receive the miracle of healing. To wash
the muck from our eyes and to really see. To see the world with new
eyes. To see the possibilities that life can hold to those who
choose to risk seeing through new paradigms.
Let us during this Lenten season risk our blindness, give it up
and receive our sight through the light that God grants us in Jesus
Christ--the Light of the World. Amen.