Sermon: Lent 4: March 19, 2023

A man who was born blind in a world in which there is little space for him, sits day by day in the public square begging for others’ leftovers so that he can survive. When others see him all they can see is his unseeing eyes and they feel afraid, for they know in their world to have a disability is to live on the edges with little to no means for survival. As they feel afraid, they have to find a way to assure themselves that they will never be like this man, so they search for reasons for this man’s blindness. “His parents must have been bad people. Maybe they weren’t faithful synagogue attenders. Maybe they did something bad like murder, or adultery, or theft. God is paying them back for their sinfulness,” some say. Others say, “No, God wouldn’t make an innocent person suffer for his parents’ sins. There must be another reason. Maybe it isn’t his fault that he was born blind, but surely if he was a better person God would have healed him. He must be the sinner. He deserves his blindness.” They are afraid and their fear prevents them from seeing the full humanity of the man born blind. They are afraid, so they seek to lessen their fear by judging and seeing him as less than human. They are blind to the humanity of the man sitting at their feet.

Jesus and his disciples are walking along one Sabbath day and they come across this man born blind. The disciples too can only see the man’s blindness, but Jesus, who has the view of God, sees so much more. Jesus sees a human being who simply wants to have enough—enough food, enough clothing, enough shelter, enough love, enough health, enough dignity, enough purpose, enough acceptance—to be the human being God has made him to be. And Jesus knows that this is what God wants for this man too, because this is what God wants for all of God’s creation. And so, Jesus gives the man his sight. He heals the man’s eyes. For Jesus it doesn’t matter what caused the man’s blindness, because indeed in this world there is no answer to the question of what caused his blindness. And who really cares anyway? Shouldn’t we simply be rejoicing because he can now see? Shouldn’t we simply be glad that this man will now be considered a full human being in his community? Shouldn’t we be happy that he will now have enough of what he needs to live a healthy and whole life? Shouldn’t we be seeking out the one who healed him so that we might better understand what new thing he is doing in our midst?

Well, apparently not. The healing of the man born blind upsets the expected order of the world. The religious leaders’ and the neighbors of the man born blind are so caught up in how they are accustomed to seeing the world that they can’t see the new work that God is doing right in front of them. All they can see is physical blindness and human rules about the Sabbath. All they can see is a threat to the little power they have in their world. Putting people into categories has helped them deal with their own survival fears. Jesus’ healing of the man born blind on the Sabbath has upset all their categories and they are afraid. If they let go of how they are accustomed to understanding the world, won’t everything fall apart? If they open their eyes and allow themselves to take in new information and see things in a new way, maybe their greatest fears will come true. Maybe they will end up like the man born blind, on the edges of their community, begging on the street for their very survival. No, better to cling stubbornly and desperately to the way they have always understood things. After all, it has worked for them thus far. They are doing ok. Better to shut their eyes and not see.

And, it is easy from our 21st century perspective, to look down upon the religious leaders and neighbors of the man born blind for their narrow minded vision. How could they possibly blame someone born blind for their blindness? How could they think that Jesus was a sinner for healing on the Sabbath? Even ultra-orthodox Jewish people today would say that it is ok to heal on the Sabbath. How judgmental and narrow-minded of them. Surely we are not blind like they are.

And I would say, oh if only it were so. Every culture creates insiders and outsiders. Every culture seeks to assuage its primal survival fears by putting some people on the inside of the acceptance categories and some people on the outside. Every culture has some categories of people that are seen as being more human and some categories of people who are seen as being less than human. And every culture gives permission to those who are seen as being fully human to neglect, mistreat and sometimes even actively harm those who are seen as less than human. But the thing is this, God does not put any person into a less than human category. God sees every human being as their child. God wants health, wholeness, and enough for every person. And those who follow Jesus, are expected to see the world with the eyes of God.

Isn’t that why we are having the so called “culture wars” that we are having right now in our country? Throughout the history of our nation, we have defined certain groups of people as being human and other groups of people as being less than human. I am sure you can think of some of these groups immediately. People of African descent would be the most prominent group that has been considered less than human by people of European descent. This is why our ancestors were able to capture and force into slavery millions of black people over the centuries. It is why our ancestors were able to create laws to keep black people in a sort of legal slavery even after official slavery ended. It is why, even today, when a black person is pulled over for a routine traffic stop by a police officer, they are twice as likely to be searched as a white person, while they are also less likely to be carry illegal contraband as compared to their white peers.[1] It is why racism continues, even though more and more people want it to end, because it is embedded in the very laws and systems that make up our society, and until we are all willing to have our eyes opened and our blindness ended will continue to perpetuate itself again and again.

But there are other categories of less than human that exist in our culture. Sexual identity and gender identity come to mind. You only have to read a newspaper or turn on the news to understand that there are many in our country who see sexual identity and gender identity as categories that make those who differ from the mainstream less than human. Fit into the mainstream or get kicked to the curb. Conform or lose the full protection of the law. Fit in and make your children fit in or we will take your children away from you. And don’t spread your ideas to our children. You are less than human and diseased if you can’t conform. You don’t deserve to live if you can’t squeeze yourself into my definition of sexuality or gender.

Or how about those who are addicted? We actually know how to treat addiction. There are countries in this world who are successfully doing so, Portugal being the most well-known one. In the 1990s Portugal was in the grip of an opioid epidemic so intense that Lisbon was known as the “heroin capital” of Europe. In the early 2000’s Portugal made a decision to focus on public health instead of incarceration and punishment and now has the lowest rate of drug use and death in western Europe. In other words, Portugal chose to change the way it viewed those who are addicted in their country. Instead of seeing them as less than, criminal and flawed, they see them as fully human people in need of help and healing. I would say they began to see those who are addicted through the eyes of God.

And there are other categories I could name: those who struggle with weight, women, immigrants, the differently abled, the neuro-diverse, older people, those who live in poverty and on and on the list could go. We humans are very good at creating categories of those who are on the inside and those who are on the outside. We are very good at seeing those we put on the outside as less than human, and when we do we give ourselves permission to neglect, mistreat, and even harm and kill them, because after all they aren’t really human beings you know. And when we do this we feel a little less afraid for ourselves, for own survival needs, at least for a little while. Of course, the fear returns, as it always does, because this isn’t really the path to health and wholeness for anybody. This way of living and moving and having our being will never lead to God’s dream for our world. As long as we continue to create categories of people who are less than human, there will be a risk that we could land in one of those categories ourselves. And as long as there is that risk, we will have to continue to create more categories to exclude others. And there will be a risk that we will end up in an excluded category. It is truly a vicious, soul-sucking, and death giving spiral. True life and wholeness can never be found in this downward spiral.

The Good News is that God in Jesus has given us a new way to see the world. God in Jesus is seeking to cure our blindness too. God in Jesus is seeking to help us to see with the eyes of God. This living thing is not always easy, and it certainly is messy. All of us will struggle at some point in our lives, and often at several points. Bad things will happen to us that are of our making and not of our making. Many of us will discover that we just don’t fit into the categories that the world says are “normal” in one way or another. Some of us will become addicted. And God loves us all in our messiness, our struggles, our imperfections, and our differences. And God is calling us to love each other in the same way. In Christ there is no “Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female (Gal 3:28)” and I would add: there is no rich or poor, black, or white, heterosexual and homosexual, transgendered, nonbinary and cisgendered, addict and nonaddict, skinny and fat, abled and disabled, immigrant and native-born, young and old, neuro-typical and neuro-diverse. Through God’s eyes we are all simply children of the Divine in need of love, in need of food, in need, of clothing, in need of shelter, in need of acceptance, in need of purpose, in need of healing, in need of forgiveness. May we too be healed of our blindness and see as God sees, with love.