At the City Council meeting last Thursday night the members of the Council simulated physical handicaps during the first part of their meeting. It was the idea of a coalition of groups here in Denton that have been calling attention to the special needs of disabled persons for barrier free access to public places, transportation and the like. It is part also of the observance of the International Year of the Disabled. Here in our own church we have a task force that is working to make out facilities and our programs hospitable to disabled persons. The mayor read a proclamation, or had it read for him, because he had on dark glasses that simulated blindness, that called on all the city to move toward a barrier free access in public places and to observe this month as a special time to recognize the problems of disabilities, I am sure it was a good exercise for those councilmen. When it was over the breathed a sigh of relief that they could throw away their crutches or park their wheelchairs against the wall, take the cotton of of their ears or remove the opaque glasses.
But it was a good exercise for the rest of us as well, only observers. We could see how difficult it was for those people to cope. We could imagine for ourselves what it would be like. I was a little late and did not see the difficulty that those who tried to move wheelchairs up the steps encountered. As I watched, however, the most dramatic part of the simulation was for those who were blind. Normally eager, leaning forward in their chairs, to be full participants in whatever the discussion, withdrawn from what was happening around them. It occurred to me what courage it must take to refuse to be handicapped when you are disabled.
Imagine if you will for a minute, what it would be like to be blind. Close your eyes, or better still, put your hands over your eyes. Imagine what it would be like if you had been blinded by accident and all you had left was the memory of what faces look like, the color of the tulips in the garden in the springtime. Or worse still, imagine that you had been born blind and you had no way to know what people were talking about when they said that the sky was blue. What’s blue? You can’t touch blue or feel it on your cheek. Or worst of all, that you spent the rest of your life with your hands over your eyes like that, refusing to see. That’s the story of the man born blind.
John 9:1-41 1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7“Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. 11He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” 12 “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. 17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” 18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” 20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” 25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” 26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” 28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.39 Jesus said,[a] “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” 40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” 41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
It is the story of Jesus who is the light of the world. so that even a blind man can see, but as for the others, neighbors, parents, religious leaders, they have their hands over their eyes, and they will remain blind. And though this story often reads like a comedy, it is a tragedy. I want to talk with you about the blind man who saw the light of the world, but even more I want to talk to you about those folks who are willfully blind, and why.
There were neighbors, for example, who refused to see what they saw because it didn’t fit with what they had always known. When the blind man came back from the pool at Siloam some of the neighbors said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?” Others said, “No, it looks like him but it isn’t. It can’t be. That man was blind. This one is not.” They had to figure out some way to fit this new experience into their ways of thinking about truth. Most of us are pretty good at doing that. If we have a fairly fixed notion of what truth is we can whittle and carve and shape what we see until it will fit into our fixed pattern of truth and it it won’t fit then we can always deny the whole thing. That’s not the blind man, it only looks like him. Copernicus said that the earth revolves around the sun and everybody said not, it is not true. Galileo came along and said the same thing and added, “Here, see for yourself, look through this telescope.” And they put their hands over their eyes and said, “What telescope?”
Somebody said the other day that status quo is a Latin phrase that means ‘the mess we are in.’ The problem with a mess is that you get used to it and it doesn’t look like a mess after awhile. Doesn’t it worry you that our society is being systematically devalued before our very eyes? Bishop Tschoepe, the Roman Catholic Bishop of Dallas sent a letter to Catholics (it could have been to all Christians) the other day. It called for a recognition of the Christian martyrs in Latin America. It noted the first anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero in El Salvador came last Tuesday. It noted that four American missionaries died in the same country last December. It pointed out that these are only four. Hundreds, even thousands of Christians have been killed and their deaths have gone unnoticed. He called attention to the fact that in Latin America the church has abandoned its traditional alliance with the rich and the powerful and has thrown in its lot with the poor and the oppressed. There was not a political phrase in the statement but it has tremendous political implications. If the American revolution was not the first, it was among the first to hold up the ideal of freedom from tyranny and oppression. The Monroe Doctrine was aimed at warning against the reintroduction of oppression into the Western Hemisphere from Europe. Those are our ideals and our values. We cannot let them be devalued.
Doesn’t it worry you that our whole society is being devalued before our very eyes.
Eartha Kitt, the entertainer, was asked the other day why she was moving from the West Coast back to the East Coast. She said, “The use of cocaine and marijuana is so widespread out there, I have no one to play with.” Now I am sure that there are people in California who abhor the wide spread use of drugs as much as you and I do, but there is a notion abroad that the mess we are in isn’t so bad after all. I am not an alarmist about the widespread use of drugs as much as I am about the wide spread acceptance of drugs, that our society, is being systemically devalued.
Lies are told by people in high places when the truth would do much better. Criminals are applauded, even counted as heroic, for their cleverness, while police are assumed to be the enemy. In fact, it may be that one of the important contributing factors to crime is that we make folk heroes out of our great criminals, Jesse James, Bonnie and Clyde, D.B. Cooper who jumped out of the airplane over,what was it?..the mountains of Utah, after hijacking an airliner and extorting a million dollars or so.
Television, the impact of which is almost inestimable, and which has the capacity to soar to such great heights, or plunge to such depths. Newton Minow once called it the great wasteland. The great wasteland has been converted into the great garbage dump. I think I agree with Ellen Goodman who said the other day that the name of the game in television is still the ratings, and the best device for affecting television programming is the off button on your set.
The problem, of course, is that when they keep hauling garbage into your living room night after night you may think you live in a garbage dump, and if you live in a garbage dump long enough it may dull your olfactory nerves.
If I may come back to the other metaphor, Jesus is the light of the world , even a blind man can see, unless he puts his hands over his eyes and willfully remains blind. And though this story often reads like a comedy it is a tragedy, neighbors who wouldn’t see what they saw.
Or his parents. Now, you may excuse his parents, because they were afraid, but that’s the problem, isn’t it? It takes a lot of courage to see what you see. The neighbors brought this man to the Pharisees and they couldn’t believe that he was the man born blind so they called his parents in and they said, “Is this your so that you say was born blind? How does he now see?” My guess is that all the lawyers in the congregation this morning would applaud their answer. They told only what they know, no more, no less. “Yes this is our son, Yes he was born blind. How he sees we do not know. Ask him, he can speak for himself, don’t get us involved.” And it is duly noted that they said what they said because they were afraid.
Contrast that with the sort of fearlessness of the blind man. He was willing to let Jesus do with him what he wanted, the clay, the washing at Siloam. He had a certain boldness about him toward these rather powerful people, In fact, you can almost see his courage growing. What do you say about him? He seems like an extraordinary person to me, maybe a prophet. “Tell us again what happened? I have told you. Do you want to be one of his disciples? Haw dare you suggest such a thing. We are disciples of Moses. We don’t even know where this man comes from.” And suddenly the blind man really sees, and his courage overcomes all his fears and he said, “You don’t know where he comes from? He opened my eyes and you don’t know where he comes from! He comes from God, that’s where he comes from. And they excommunicated him on the spot.
It may read like a comedy but it is really a tragedy. It takes courage for a little boy to see that the emperor has no clothes. Whether in the relationships of nations or neighbors it takes courage to take our hands down from our eyes and see what we see.
Or the Pharisees, most of all the Pharisees refused to see. If you can see the blind man’s growing courage you can see their growing consternation. They said he cannot be from God because he violates the Sabbath, and anyone from God would not violate the Sabbath, but that doesn’t work. So they try to deny that he had even been blind and they check it our with his parents, but that doesn’t work. So a third time they ask the blind man and when that doesn’t work they stop up their ears and put their hands over their eyes and say no more of this. And Jesus says about them they have got the whole world upside down. They think sight is blindness and blindness is sight, light is darkness and darkness is light. And I am reminded of Joseph Conrad’s “The Heart of Darkness” and Francis Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now” and the words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount when he said, “If your eye is single your whole body is full of light, but if your eye is not single your whole body is full of darkness. And if the light that is in you be darkness, how great is the darkness.” It is the prescription for tragedy. Jesus is the light of the world, that even a blind man can see, but as for these they stand with their hands over their eyes and call sight blindness and blindness sight.
Tradition has it that this story was often read on the occasion of baptism and that at the words, “Lord, I believe”, the catechumens were baptised. And that brings us back to David. Things were a mess in Israel. Saul was the king but he had gone mad. So the Lord sent Samuel out to find another king. It was such a dangerous mission that he told nobody where he was going or what he was doing. He simply showed up at the house of Jesse and he said, “Bring all your sons here.” And the Lord said, not that one, no not this one. Until Samuel said, “Is that all?” There is one more, said Jesse, but he is just a boy, out watching the sheep. But they brought him in anyway, and Samuel pulled the oil out from beneath his cloak and poured it over David’s head, and took off running for Ramah, and nobody knew what had happened, not Jesse, not even David. There stood David with the oil dripping off his hair and running into his ears.
Was he king? You bet he was, for the power and purpose of God are undeniable. Even a blind man could see that. And so can you, unless you stand with your hands over your eyes and refuse to see what you see.
1 Samuel 16:1b,6-7,10-13 1 The LORD said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”
6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the LORD’s anointed stands here before the LORD.”7 But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The LORD has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?” “There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.” Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.” 12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features. Then the LORD said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” 13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.
This sermon was preached by Bill Crouch on March 29, 1981 at First United Methodist Church in Denton, Texas. It was part of a Lenten sermon series each titled “Like as we are”.