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Oh 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 heals someone.

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 spiritual man.”

“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 director.

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 lifting.

“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 spitba-”

“I'm the one who made them. Do you see enough of me to believe?”

“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 each step.

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.