Toorak Uniting Church

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The Responsibility of Seeing

Rev. Mark Pierson
John 9: 1 – 41
3 April 2011

True Blindness

1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?" 3-5 Jesus said, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world's Light."
6-7 He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man's eyes, and said, "Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam" (Siloam means "Sent"). The man went and washed — and saw.
8 Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, "Why, isn't this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?"
9 Others said, "It's him all right!" But others objected, "It's not the same man at all. It just looks like him." He said, "It's me, the very one."
10 They said, "How did your eyes get opened?"
11 "A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' I did what he said. When I washed, I saw."
12 "So where is he?" "I don't know."
13-15 They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, "He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see."
16 Some of the Pharisees said, "Obviously, this man can't be from God. He doesn't keep the Sabbath." Others countered, "How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?" There was a split in their ranks.
17 They came back at the blind man, "You're the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?" He said, "He is a prophet."
18-19 The Jews didn't believe it, didn't believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, "Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?"
20-23 His parents said, "We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don't know how he came to see — haven't a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don't you ask him? He's a grown man and can speak for himself." (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That's why his parents said, "Ask him. He's a grown man.")
24 They called the man back a second time — the man who had been blind — and told him, "Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor."
25 He replied, "I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see."
26 They said, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"
27 "I've told you over and over and you haven't listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?"
28-29 With that they jumped all over him. "You might be a disciple of that man, but we're disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from."
30-33 The man replied, "This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It's well known that God isn't at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of — ever. If this man didn't come from God, he wouldn't be able to do anything."
34 They said, "You're nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!" Then they threw him out in the street.
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"
36 The man said, "Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him."
37 Jesus said, "You're looking right at him. Don't you recognize my voice?"
38 "Master, I believe," the man said, and worshiped him.
39 Jesus then said, "I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind."
40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, "Does that mean you're calling us blind?"
41 Jesus said, "If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you're accountable for every fault and failure."

Response:
Lord may your Word live in us
And bear much fruit to your glory.

Introduction
Good morning and than you very much for inviting me to worship with you this morning.

In fact you didn’t invite me. At the very most Andrew and Ken did. The rest of you have had me imposed on you.

Perhaps the man who was born blind in our story felt a bit like you do. Here he is minding his own business, begging from his usual spot down Swanston Street and some guy he can’t see and has never heard of before, suddenly assaults him by pushing stuff in his eye sockets.
Apparently no conversation; no asking for permission.

He didn’t ask for this. Maybe he was quite happy being blind?
He didn’t know anything else. He’d always been blind. It was familiar territory for him.
He’d got into a routine. Quite liked it in fact. At very least got used to it.

When along comes Jesus and upsets his settled world.

And the hassles only began there.

Next thing he knows his friends and relatives aren’t sure what’s going on or even if its really the same person they knew before, he’s in trouble with the authorities and his parents are ducking for cover; they’re not supporting him.

The actual miracle takes two verses to report. The arguments take 39, and the story actually continues for most of the next chapter, but that’s outside today’s lectionary reading. You’ll get more of it after Easter and have to wait until next year for the rest.

There are a number of interesting things going on here. Two groups of people, divideable into two more groups.

The first group gathers around issues of authority:
1. There are people who fear the authorities;
and there are authorities who fear losing their authority.

The second group gathers around the issue of seeing:
2. There are people who know they can’t see;
and there are people who think they can when they can’t.

But at its heart it’s a story about who Jesus is, its demonstrating the he is God’s son, and showing he is more powerful than the local deities – Asklepius, the Greek god of healing was purported to be able to heal a person who became blind, but not someone born blind. Jesus was more powerful.

I’d like to suggest that beyond that, this is a story about the responsibility of seeing.

The responsibility that comes with seeing.

Stories like that of the Good Samaritan remind us that with seeing comes responsibility. The two people who passed the robbery victim and saw him but did nothing were rebuked by Jesus. The person who saw and did something about it was praised and recommended as our model.

Today’s story starts, as so many do, with Jesus seeing,
"Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth…."

So he responded with compassion and did what he could.

Others:
Others also see what has happened. And they are confused and unsure. They discuss among themselves – "what’s going on?"

"8 Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, "Why, isn't this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?"
9 Others said, "It's him all right!"
But others objected, "It's not the same man at all. It just looks like him."
He said, "It's me, the very one.""

It sounds as if they are talking about him rather than to him to start with.
Eventually they decide it is the bloke they used to know, but they can’t figure out how something good could come from someone breaking the Law by doing this on the Sabbath. The Jewish Holy day. So they pass the responsibility on.

The Pharisees:
The Pharisees don’t want to see what they have seen. It creates too many issues for them. They want it to go away. Jesus has broken the law.
The law listed 39 tasks that were forbidden on the Sabbath.
Kneading – like with flour and water to make bread, or in this case dirt and spit to make a poultice – was one of the 39 forbidden tasks.
A law-breaker is a sinner. Jesus is a sinner so he can’t be as good as they are, and he certainly can’t be closer to God than they are.

The suggestion he might be a law-breaking Son of God takes them so far out of their comfort zone that they simply don’t want to know. They don’t want to see.
The responsibility of that knowledge is more than they can contemplate.
A lot more.

The parents:
The parents know what they have seen but they are scared of what will happen to them if they admit it, so they avoid the issue, put the responsibility back on their son. We might have expected them to be pretty excited about him getting his sight after all those years. Now he could finally be independent and look after himself.

But maybe they had something to lose that we don’t know about. Maybe their son was a nice little earner for them. Now that income stream was gone.
They are concerned about themselves more than they are about their son.

The Man:
And the man who was born blind? He just sees! And he keeps telling that to anyone who will listen. In the telling and re-telling he gains deeper and deeper insight and understanding.

10 They said, "How did your eyes get opened?"
11 "A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' I did what he said. When I washed, I saw."

A little later…

17 They came back at the blind man, "You're the expert. He opened your eyes.
What do you say about him?"
He said, "He is a prophet."

Then later still…

30-33 The man replied, "…. If this man didn't come from God, he wouldn't be able to do anything."

Seeing isn’t all its cracked up to be. Sometimes it’s much safer to not see.
With seeing comes responsibility.

When we say we follow Jesus, or the God from whom Jesus comes, from then on we become responsible for what we see.
If you don’t follow Jesus then you don’t have this responsibility. But those who do are those who have committed themselves to seeing like Jesus sees. To seeing through the eyes of Jesus.
A bit like the prayer of Bob Pierce the founder of World Vision, " Let my heart be broken by what breaks the heart of God."

If we read the next part of this story which continues in the next chapter of John’s Gospel, we would discover that seeing and hearing are rated similarly.
We are held responsible for what we see and for what we hear.

"There are none so blind as those who will not see"
and
"There are none so deaf as those who will not hear."

Seeing and hearing are how God speaks to us.
We read the newspaper, we look at a piece of art, we hear a neighbours story, we watch TV, and we immediately become responsible for what we have seen or heard.

Our first responsibility is to decide what God is saying to us, if anything.
We all have many experiences of seeing and hearing every day. We can’t possibly act on them all or even most of them. That would be debilitating.
Our responsibility is to be open to God, open to God’s spirit in our lives, so we know what to act on and what to move on from.

You may look at Janine Mackintosh’s "Above and Beyond" and see leaves on a board, someone else may look and be profoundly moved.

Or look at Charles Butcher’s "Beyond the Object" and hear God speaking to you about the need for dialogue between Christianity and Islam, while another simply sees the beauty of a form.

In the same way you may see a news item about children being trafficked in Melbourne and be moved to do something about it, and someone else will see it as an interesting story and move on.

The inspiring and important conference that you buildings and infrastructure have hosted over the last three days; a conference inspired by and based around the works of art you are also hosting, this conference has reminded us again and again that no work of art speaks from a casual encounter.

To have a work speak deeply into your life, to be drawn in and affected; to be moved by it, to encounter God in and through it, you must engage with it.
Commit to it. Look and listen carefully. Take time. Ask questions.

My first encounter with "Transubstantiation of an Illegal Fishing Boat: after Ducco", by Evangelos Sakaris, was fleeting. It looked to me like a drawing my 12 year old grandson might copy out of a Children’s Bible. I wondered why it was in such a prestigious exhibition. It was that wondering that brought me back to it.

When I came back I discovered it was drawn with charcoal from the burnt remains of a confiscated fishing trawler.
Suddenly the depths of its layers of meaning began speaking to me.
God was reminding me about the plight of boat people, and the mix of fear and hope that must drive them to make the perilous journey that they do. I was thinking about fishermen and immigrants – illegal and legal, and then I found myself wondering about the single mum and her children who have moved in over the road from me, and the Indian guy at the 7-11 in my street. What were their stories? I was reminded of God’s great love for me, and that the same love was extended to each of these people too.

Had I passed by quickly, I would have missed the opportunity to hear God speak to me.

Artists help us to see what we would otherwise not see. As Rod Pattenden wrote,

The role of the artist in the community is not to provide cottonwool comfort but to peel the grime from our eyes, to unplug our ears, to help us move stiff limbs so as to see, hear and move in and through life.
Artists are needed to help us see life in vigorous images that engender our passions and commitment as well as to see the injustice and fragility of life that engender our compassion and love.

Every day you and I will be faced with stories, with people, with situations that will require a response from us.
As with works of art, we can choose to pass by on the other side and avoid any risk of engagement, or we can take the risk and linger, and look and listen longer and more carefully.

Sometimes we will be called to act. Other times God will be reminding us of how much we are loved, or reminding us of the depth of grace or forgiveness offered to us.

We can act like the crowd, or the Pharisees, or the parents. To do so is to miss what God is up to in your life and what God is doing in your part of the world.

My encouragement to you this morning is to cultivate the attitude of the man who was born blind but suddenly could see. Take it when it comes to you.
You may not understand it all at first look; it may even be uncomfortable and disconcerting and disruptive at first; and you may not be able to explain it all clearly,
but as you reflect and talk and question and wonder about what you are suddenly seeing in a new way, it will become clearer and you will understand how you are to act and react.

Let the art that surrounds you as part of the Blake Prize Touring Exhibition, speak to you, reveal to you, remind you of how you need to approach the whole of your life. As you interact with it and some works speak more loudly than others, be reminded that your looking at the world is how God will speak to you.
Your listening to the world is how God will form and re-form, and transform you.

A commitment to that openness is all God asks of us.
41 Jesus said, "If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you're accountable for every fault and failure."

Let us pray:

© Rev. Mark Pierson, 2011


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