"Surely we aren't blind ...are we?"

Scripture  |   John 9:1-41

I was thumbing through the website of Jean Vanier’s Organization L’arche International recently when I read a quote that resonated with me almost immediately, and has been on my mind ever since.

“People with disabilities
are often more disabled
by the societies they live in
than by their bodies or diagnosis.”

Isn’t that right? 

As difficult as we might image life with a disability to be, as much as you’d have to adapt and change to function people with disabilities are often fully able they find ways to live full lives, and with the right support and technology, they are rarely hindered.

Ultimately the thing that ends up dis-abling a person is the society around them. The fact that they live in a world that wasn’t designed for them to function as efficiently as everyone else does. And, the fact that almost every day they have to face the assumptions and stigmas that everyone else puts on them. The dis-abling piece is how others view you, How others treat you, and all of the hurdles you have to jump over in order to be seen as normal.  

And, so often, the biggest hurdle faced by people who are disabled are all of those assumptions other people put on them.

The ignorance we have about their diagnosis… 
The questions we have of what caused this condition...
The fear we have, wondering what it would be like to live in their shoes… 
The pity we feel because they appear to be so different from ourselves.

So, It begs the question… 

Who is it that really is disabled? 

The people with the diagnosis who have already learned to live, adapt, and even thrive with the diagnosis that they were born with? 

Or is it the surrounding society that chooses the closed off path… That doesn’t take the time to form a relationship with these children of God. That instead of learning and welcoming them …ignores them, refusing to see potential in them, and ending up pushing them further and further to the margins.

This question is very present in today’s scripture reading, from the first words to the last words.

The first words of this story are the disciples asking Jesus a question
“Rabbi, who sinned so that this man was born blind, this man or his parents?”

Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents have sinned to cause this. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him."

Right from the get go, we see a contrast between the way society sees this man and how Jesus sees him.

Society see this man’s condition as something that makes him less than everyone else. 

They blame his sin or someone else’s as the cause of his blindness, and because they see him as sinful, he’s rejected because he is less than everyone else.Jesus sees this man fully and completely. He recognizes him as God sees him, and sees his blindness not as a detriment but something that would enable God’s mighty works to be shown through him.

Jesus heals the man,  Allowing him to see and become just like everyone else. But, its not enough to change the way he’s treated by the world. It doesn’t help him escape the stigma his community placed on him from birth. Jesus heals him but people struggle to accept this change.

His neighbors are confused and fearful about what has happened, so they bring him to the religious authorities, 

The Pharisees interrogate him trying to get to the truth of all that has happened, and all the while they are out to disprove Jesus’ authority. Proving once and for all that he is a sinner too that breaks God’s laws and could never be considered the messiah.

They doubt the blind man’s testimony, so, they ask his parents to speak, but even they won’t vouch in him, in fear of being rejected from the temple and their community. Ultimately the man, who has received sight, who is now undistinguishable from everyone else, is rejected from the community, cast out even further than he was when he was blind.

I don’t think the man born blind is the only blind person being healed in this story. But the other healing.. the healing of the blindness of the society at large… is a longer road, a road that we don’t see completed in this story, and a road that maybe we still have not seen completed today.

Society was blind to this man. They assumed he was a sinner… not seeing any value or worth in his life. They pushed him to the margins, forcing him to beg to survive. His neighbors, His family, the people in power, even Jesus’ own disciples are unable to see this man’s worth and value through God’s eyes. 

They are blind to his humanity, they are blind to his potential, 

and they are blind to his ability show them God

You hear this in the last words of the reading. Jesus comes back after hearing that the man he healed was rejected once again, But this time he doesn’t just help him to see, he helps him to believe, and see that Jesus as the Son of God.

Some Pharisees are there seeing this man recognize Jesus and they ask, 

“Surely we aren’t blind  …are we?”

Acknowledging our own blindness is a difficult thing to do, especially when it is an entire group of people who have been blind. Its the first and possibly the hardest step of “Opening Up.” In the case of today’s story it took Jesus calling out the blindness of the community.  It took Jesus advocating for a person and raising awareness… to let us know how we’ve been blind.

But without this this advocate making us aware of our blindness, it takes work. It takes self examination, and the intentional decisions to let down your protective barriers, and your fear of the unknown, and take the step of placing yourself among those who have been rejected, to confess your own blindness.

But I believe, if there is one Christ is calling us to in this passage, this is it!
to humble ourselves and acknowledge and maybe even confess all of the ways
we’ve been blind to God’s children in the world.

We need to check our blind spots

Because it is in the blind spots, 
among the people society overlooks and marginalizes that according to Jesus… 
God’s mighty works are shown.
Because it is in the blind spots where Christ’s love is needed
and it is there, in the blind spots, where Christ calls us to be
to fully see God’s beloved children, and to show them Christ’s love.

I want to share a story with you about someone in a blind spot. Not because her story is particularly unique, but because I really think it shows the healing and change that occurs when we are able to confess our blindness and see the people on the margins.

It comes from Jean Vanier’s book “Becoming Human”, and its a story about a young girl named Claudia who came to a L’arche community in Honduras. 

He writes:

“[Claudia] was seven years old and had spent practically her whole life in a dismal, overcrowded asylum. Claudia was blind, fearful of relationships, filled with inner pain and anguish. Technically speaking she was autistic. 

Her anguish seemed to increase terrible when she arrive in the Community, probably because in leaving the asylum she lost her reference points, as well as the structured existence that had given her security. Everything and everyone frightened her; She screamed day and night… She seemed totally mad; overwhelmed by insecurity, her personality appear to be disintegrating. 

Twenty years after she first arrived at L’arche I visited the community and met Claudia again; I found her quite well. She was by then a twenty-eight year old woman, still blind and autistic but at peace and able to do many things in the community. She still liked being alone but she was clearly not a lonely person. She would often sing to her self and there was a constant smile on her face…

One day I was sitting opposite to her at lunch and said, “Claudia, can I ask you a question?” she replied “Si, Juan” “Claudia, why are you so happy?” Her answer was simple and direct: “Dios.” God.

It was loneliness and insecurity that had brought Claudia to the point of Chaos and madness. It was community, love, belonging, and friendship that finally brought her inner peace. This movement from chaos to inner peace, from self-hate to self-trust, began when Claudia realized that she was loved.”
— Jean Vanier, "Becoming Human," pg. 21-22.

Claudia was in a blind spot. She was lost in fear and anguish, pushed out of society to live on the margins where she could be forgotten. Her life changed when someone saw her. Her life changed when someone welcomed her. She was able to heal once she realized she was loved.

This first step towards opening up to others is a hard one. But in Christ this is our Calling. 

May God open our eyes to our blindness.
May God heal our sight, so that we can clearly see Jesus…
Moving among the weak, the outcast, and rejected,
Callling to us to bring his love.

Amen.

"In the Kingdom of the Blind" is copyright © 2002 by James G.

"In the Kingdom of the Blind" is copyright © 2002 by James G.