Signs of Lent: Blindness

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For the audio version of this sermon, click here.

This week as I was preparing for the sermon I ran across this story and I thought it was a good fit for this morning. It’s about a young lady, named Kate Katulak, a math and technology teacher who went through a rather traumatic experience as a teenager. In her own words,

When I was in high school, I caught a virus that attacks the nervous system. I went from having perfect vision to being totally blind in a matter of days. It was a frightening, traumatic experience – I had to relearn how to smell, how to taste, how to walk.

Other than a few years where I was really struggling, I’ve been happy. It sounds so strange, but I think it’s like anything in life – things come at you that you’re not expecting. You just have to roll with it.

I teach math at Perkins, which encompasses a lot. It’s functional skills like money management and timekeeping all the way up through algebra and statistics. I also teach some assistive technology and a study skills class as well. I wear a lot of different hats.

The most rewarding thing about being a teacher is the ability I have to connect with students and their disability. I see myself in some of the struggles they have that I’ve now overcome. I’m able to say, “It sucks, there’s no question about that, but you’re going to get through it.” It’s been as fulfilling as I hoped it would be.

When I moved to Boston I found an organization that connected me with a guide runner. He met me at my house and we went for a run. A half mile in, I fell in love with running. It wasn’t just an activity; it became part of who I am. Now I run four or five times a week and cross-train on the other days. I did my first half marathon in December and my first marathon is May 3.

When it comes to blindness, people need to realize that yes, it’s hard. Any type of impairment you have is hard. But with the right attitude and the right effort you can be totally independent and totally content with life. It is challenging being blind, but it is a lot less challenging than a lot of other things. It’s not only doable, it’s doable with happiness.

In Kate’s case, blindness came as a result of something beyond her control. She was going about her teenage life one minute and the next, a tiny little organism crept into her body and took away her vision. Through the course of our lives, we too will deal with tiny organisms that creep into our lives but more specifically they will creep into our minds. Some of these will be positive and lead us to a better view of the world and our purpose and reason for being here. Others will rob us of our vision and limit our capacity to live life and live it abundantly. These organisms are ideas.

From the beginning of humankind, ideas have been the fuel behind how we choose to live with one another, be they the simple, survival based impulses that keep us functioning or the more nuanced thoughts that lead us to grapple with life’s great existential problems. Much like the virus that took Kate’s sight, ideas burrow into our minds and begin to reshape the fabric of our interior being. If the old adage, “you are what you eat” has any credence to it, we are the embodiment of the ideas that we gravitate toward and embrace.

In the text this morning from Luke eighteen and nineteen, there is an idea that runs as an undercurrent through the verses.  Each section offers a different glimpse of it and a different understanding of a potential human condition.

Blindness is the ancient world was far worse than in our day and age. The most common type in the Bible was something called trachoma, an infection within the eyeball that is transmitted by poor hygiene and flies (King and Stager 2001, 75). But blindness was most often used as a metaphor for something else, something we will discuss as we go along in the sermon.

Sometimes blindness is not so much blindness as not being able to see. Almost sounds like a pithy saying from someone like Will Rogers but there is a truth in it that I think makes sense with Jesus’ comments about an impending day of death and resurrection. As I was reading this passage from verses 31-34, I was struck by two words that show up in this phrase, “The meaning of this message was hidden from them and they didn’t grasp what he was saying.” The words ‘hidden’ and ‘grasp’, or more accurately their Greek equivalents, began to sink in and I began to wonder about the purpose of this idea that the words helped to hold up. I began to wonder why would God or Jesus want to hide something from the disciples? What was so complicated that they could not grasp it?

The phrase ‘not being able to see the forest for the trees’ comes to mind. It has to do with the expectations we bring with us when we engage something or someone. In this case, the disciples have walked with Jesus for the better part of three years with a growing expectation: that Jesus is the messianic figure that will deliver them from their situation in the earthly sense. What they have been hoping for, seeing, believing in is a messiah who would lead a great revolution and restore the House of David to Israel?

As for why Jesus would hide the idea of his crucifixion and resurrection from them: I think they simply are not ready to hear it. An example, when I was a kid I was fairly bullheaded. I grew out of it as an adult and became persistent instead but only because adults need more sophisticated terms for their personal issues. In any case, I have always been the kind of person who has to experience something to believe it. I cannot be told something is this way or that, I have to have experienced it personally or I can’t believe it. I’m one of those really bright people who step on ice after someone says it’s slick just to see if my shoes are better or their definition of slick is less than accurate. Let’s say I’ve fallen down a few times because of it. The disciples seem to be this kind of crew as well. Even having seen the miracles of Jesus and having heard his teaching, they are still by and large, a group of existentialist or even empiricists, believing only what can be shown to them. I think this is the reason things have to be hidden from them, they won’t really believe it until they see it for themselves.

I don’t feel like the disciples and I are the only ones to look at life this way. Many of us, I think, have a ‘show me’ kind of attitude. We would probably have been among those who wanted to see Jesus perform miracles before we would hear what he had to say just so we could know, not believe, but know that he was what he said he was.

Damon Rose lost his vision thirty-three years ago, because of an ill-advised surgery.[1] He writes,

“How do I even begin to describe it? Let me have a go. Right now, I’ve got a dark brown background, with a turquoise luminescence front and centre. Actually, it’s just changed to green… now it’s bright blue with flecks of yellow, and there’s some orange threatening to break through and cover the whole lot.

The rest of my field of vision is taken up by squashed geometric shapes, squiggles and clouds I couldn’t hope to describe – and not before they all change again anyway. Give it an hour, and it’ll all be different.”

I wonder if the man on the road in Jericho saw the world that way in strange geometric shapes and random colors that were beyond his ability to control. Perhaps, he was what is termed NLP or No Light Perception meaning he simply experienced a visual blackness, a void.[2] Regardless, the man was at the mercy of others to help and care for him, much the same as Lazarus whom we discussed last week (Luke 16:19-31). He was probably led to the roadside and left there to cry out to passersby in the hope that they would have mercy and give him food or money. As Jesus and the disciples enter the city, they find the blind man, sitting by the road, waiting for someone to offer him mercy. He hears the crowds and the noise and asks someone what is going on and they reply that Jesus has come to Jericho.

An interesting thing about people who lose one of their senses, the other senses seem to take up the slack. One of the things that happens often with people who are blind is that they develop a very keen sense of hearing and touch. Sitting by the road I would have to believe that he has heard stories of Jesus and his miracles and teachings. Perhaps the man has even spoken with friends about them and wished for himself that Jesus could cure him. I think that in his heart, the blind man believed before Jesus even passed him but simply needed to hear the voice of Jesus to make it real. His moment came and Luke records,

The blind man shouted, “Jesus, Son of David, show me mercy.” Those leading the procession scolded him, telling him to be quiet, but he shouted even louder, “Son of David, show me mercy.” Jesus stopped and called for the man to be brought to him. When he was present Jesus asked, “What do you want me to do for you?” He said, “Lord, I want to see.” Jesus said to him, “Receive your sight! Your faith has healed you.” At once he was able to see, and he began to follow Jesus, praising God. When all the people saw it, they praised God too. (Luke 18:38-43)

It’s interesting to me that the question Jesus asks is “What do you want me to do for you?” He appears not to assume what the man wants but lets the man speak for himself. Notice too, the catalyst for the restoration of his sight, Jesus says, “Your faith has healed you.” This story has the metaphorical implication of saying that if you want to see clearly the world around you, let faith be the guide to your vision and restoration will be brought about by that faith.

Ultimately, the blind beggar had to have help, something we all need, in order to overcome his blindness. Without people leading him to road for him to hear the stories of Jesus he would have lost hope. Without someone to point out Jesus when he arrived in Jericho, the blind man would have missed him. We need one another to help in our more difficult times as we attempt to navigate the roads of life and point out the dangers and struggles we might face on the road.

Finally, we come to chapter nineteen and the very familiar story of Zacchaeus, the tree climbing tax collector. On the opposite end of the spectrum from the beggar in the previous section (and implying that blindness knows no social, economic, or other boundaries) we find Jesus continuing to make his way through Jericho. As he walks along, Jesus is being followed, sought out, by a little tax collector, one so short, he can’t see Jesus for the crowds of people in the way. One thing you can bet on though is that a man who makes his living trying to figure out how to tax/extort money out of people can be creative when he has to be. Zacchaeus runs ahead, climbs a tree, and waits for Jesus to walk by.

Most of us are familiar with the rest of the story, Jesus sees him and invites himself to dinner in Zacchaeus’ house and by the end of the evening, the greedy little tax collector has seen the error of his ways and has promised to, “give half of my possessions to the poor. And if I have cheated anyone, I repay them four times as much” (19.8). To this Jesus responds, “Today, salvation has come to this household because he too is a son of Abraham. The Human One came to seek and save the lost.” Oddly enough, Zacchaeus name means ‘pure’ in Greek. Whatever his blindness to the gospel message before Jesus, the acceptance and love shown to the little tax collector by Jesus helped Zacchaeus to see with new eyes, eyes that now recognized the world from the right perspective, one of charity for others and mercy for those in need.

In each of these stories, we see an element of blindness. In the first, the disciples cannot overcome their blindness to the real mission and purpose of the gospel for the distraction of understanding what a real messiah is. In the second story, the blind beggar is given his sight and we see restoration by means of faith. In the third story, we see a man’s inner eyes opened to the error of his ways and repentance as the vehicle for the restoration of sight.

What do these stories tell us? One, that blindness comes in a variety of forms and is not limited to the physical variety. We can be blind and never know because we think we are seeing by virtue of our eyes being open. We can also know we are blind but in order to find help, we have to rely on others to lead us to one who can give us sight. And finally, we must recognize the need to repent or change direction in order to see more clearly sometimes.

Unlike Kate or Damon at the moment (perhaps the future will bring medical advancements that can reverse their conditions), our blindness is curable. We can see again. It requires only the humility to admit that our vision is suspect, the courage to seek Jesus’ aid, and the willingness to accept his cure for what ails us, amen.


References

Craddock, Fred. Luke: Interpretation – A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Lousiville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1990.

King, Philip J., and Lawrence E. Stager. Life in Biblical Israel. Lousiville, KY: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2001.


[1] http://www.bbc.com/news/blogs-ouch-31487662

[2] ibid

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