BLIND MAN, BLIND MAN
preached at St.Bartholomew’s Brighton 18th February 2007 (Text: Luke 18 verses 36-42)
I suspect that, one time or another, when we were children, all of us who have the gift of sight wanted to know what it would be like to be blind and we shut our eyes tight and stumbled around for a few experimental minutes crashing into the furniture.
For a few minutes, mind. Not for a few hours or days or months or years. If I am one of those who can see, I cannot possibly know what it really feels like to be permanently blind.
But what we can do instead is to learn from someone we know who is blind how they cope and what difference it makes to their lives.
Let me tell you briefly about two friends from the jazz scene.
One, called Chris, was blinded in early adulthood in an industrial accident and had to adjust to being without a sense which he acutely remembered possessing. After losing his sight, Chris took up the drums and for a time he was a pupil of mine. He came over from Littlehampton by train and taxi with his faithful guidedog Ewan for lessons at my house and, when he played in public, Ewan followed him on to the stage and curled up next to the drum kit. I hope he took the precaution of wearing his canine ear-plugs - his master gave the drums quite a thwack!
My other blind musician friend, Pete Jacobson, was one of the most accomplished and respected jazz pianists in the country and I had the privilege of playing in the same group with him for several years in the 1980s. Unlike Chris the drum student, Peter had been blind since birth. He had an extraordinary ear for music, for all sound in fact, coupled with an awesome capacity for pints of beer and a wicked sense of humour. Self-reliant? He used to cart an electric piano keyboard on the train virtually single-handed (with only the help of the odd passer-by) from Southend to Fenchurch St. and back!
Obviously the common denominators between these two musicians, and between so many thousands of people with disabilities, are firstly a great courage to overcome the handicap by developing other faculties beyond normal limits and secondly a positive attitude to life.
Jesus told us that He had come down from heaven to earth so that we might have life and have it more abundantly. And to demonstrate this promise as dramatically as possible, He performed a number of miracle physical healings on the deaf, the dumb, the lame and the blind.
And yet, if my musical colleagues Chris and Peter are anything to go by, we could honestly say, without being in any way patronizing, that people with cruel physical disabilities are just as capable, if not more so, as other people of living life more abundantly.
So we need to look a bit more carefully at the purpose of Christ’s healing ministry. After all, there were plenty of other miracle workers around in His day and, for every disabled person to whom Christ did offer an instant cure, they were hundreds to whom He did not. So He was not primarily in the business of physical health care. The truth is rather that, just as in His teaching where He challenges us with parables which we have to work out for ourselves, so in His healing He uses physical disabilities as a metaphor for spiritual deficiencies. He is showing us indirectly by giving eyesight back to the blind beggar how He can cure us of our spiritual blindness.
There is so much hidden treasure for us to find in those few lines of the Gospel this morning. The blind man says “Son of David, have mercy on me.” And Christ’s reaction is: “What do you want me to do for you?” In other words, He can do nothing for us unless and until we approach Him in prayer. Get down on our knees and pour out our troubles to Him.
If we will only trust in Him! How many times do we hear Him say in the pages of the Gospel, as on this occasion, “Your faith has saved you”. If only we will trust in Him, He can do anything for us.
“What do you want me to do for you?” How much more beautiful, gracious and generous an invitation could we get from God?
Ok, so, what do we want Jesus to do for us? I’m sure each of us has his or her own priorities.
The blind beggar of the gospel wanted his eyesight restored and I imagine that most handicapped people would put physical healing high on their list.
But the whole point of this bible passage is deeply ironic. It is painfully clear that the man who is crying out for healing could already – even without the use of his eyes - see better than anyone else around who Jesus was, what He stood for and what His powers were. Your faith has saved you.
Even the disciples themselves were more blind than him in this respect: they couldn’t get their heads round the idea that the Saviour of Mankind must suffer and die.
They couldn’t understand it. They didn’t get it. They couldn’t “see” it. Ah, there you are. We use the verb “see” in this sense as well. And that is the key to the gospel.
“What do you want me to do for you?” asks our generous Lord.
Well, for starters, and it’ll do very well for the moment, let’s just ask Him two things.
First, let’s ask Him to lift our spiritual vision a little so that we can get a better sense of perspective when reading the bible.
You know the expression: “Can’t see the wood for the trees.” Get so bogged down with the detail that you’ve lost sight of the bigger picture, of the really important things. A form of spiritual blindness.
Lord, please remind us that the bible is a ragbag collection of assorted books composed over a period of hundreds of years and gradually lumped together by a fairly hit-and-miss process of debate and selection.
So, Lord, how should we use sacred scripture most profitably for the deepening of our faith?
Do we take in its broad sweep, skip over the wacky dietary laws and the blood-and-guts military history, drink deep of the insights of the old prophets, pick up the pointers to Your coming as Messiah and then let ourselves be transported by the beauty and the passion of Your life, death and resurrection?
Or did You want us to hunker down and squint in our strongest reading glasses over two odd verses of Leviticus in order to reinforce our prejudices, purse our lips and pronounce a mean and narrow judgement on our neighbour for his sexual orientation? No, I didn’t think you did.
Lord, take away our blindness, that we might see the wood and not just the trees, that we might rise above pettiness and judgmentalism and catch a little of the spirit of Your life.
And, Lord, there is one other thing you can do for us this morning. Please give us, in the words of the Collect, that most excellent gift of charity.
Because otherwise we will find ourselves slipping effortlessly into uncharitableness. It’s so easy. The odd sharp word spoken in haste. The odd delicious opportunity to gossip, sneer or scoff behind someone’s back. The odd piece of offence too easily taken out of wounded pride. All good, run-of-the-mill human soap-opera stuff. Even, or perhaps particularly, to be found in a church congregation.
But, from God’s vantage point, I should think our daily nastiness is a fairly depressing spectacle and, in the context of eternity and infinity in which God dwells, really rather silly.
The tragedy is that these little weaknesses and vices we are so comfortable with keep us in our spiritual blindness. And all the while, Our sweet Lord is patiently waiting in the wings with His lovely invitation: “What do you want me to do for you?”
Lord, that we might see with eyes of faith as strong as that blind beggar in the story; and that our spiritual horizons could be lifted a bit; and above all that we might start at last to live the more abundant life of love and charity.
These things we humbly ask in Your own sweet name.