I was watching a video recently of amazing young people who were doing amazing things with very little. Missing a limb or two they skied the wild slopes, rap danced with a precision many with all their limbs could not, played competition basketball and scored goals or produced tricks on a skateboard at the skateboard park. The last young man was born bind and started skate boarding at 7 and skates everyday. I can’t even stand up on a skateboard yet this young man does stunning tricks and manoeuvres with out the ability to see. When he falls off he spends time feeling the floor of the skate park and familiarising himself with the space. He then goes and attempts the trick again.
On a recent episode of the Landscape Painter of the Year a finalist painted stunning landscapes with his feet. Born without hands he has develop a particular practice which allows him to create art many of us who have all our limbs would be jealous of.
On another level I am amazed at the number of pets born with legs or sight go on to live amazing lives. We may say they are not aware of their situation but a long look will tell you they are, but they have learnt to run, jump, play and love with out the need for their full complement of limbs and faculties and bring joy and love into the world.
Today we meet a man born bind who has been begging all his life. He encounters Jesus and Jesus responds and heals him, giving him something he has never had at any point in his life. This raises many questions and we could spend time unpacking the impact on the young man now he can see. What does he do? How does he live? All he has ever done is beg. He has no work skills, no ability to earn a living yet he has lost the only capacity he had to earn a living, his blindness.
We could spend time unpacking the impact of forcing people off disability pensions and into the work force with out them ever being given the necessary skills to actually engage. We could explore the impact of forcing a western materialist consumer culture on people who have for many thousands of years lived a completely different life in tune and in touch with the world they occupy, taking only what they need when they needed it. Instead we force our way of being blind on others with the certainty that we see everything.
The little ditty, there are None so Blind as they who do not see, is the point of Jesus and the young man’s reaction from his neighbours, his family and the religious elites. These are people who know, who see and are certain that how they see is the only way to see. They have a body of knowledge, of learning that is proven, factual and definable. The have a body of knowledge for which there are proof texts, case studies, evidence and they are not to be deterred by an actual event which defies any of these.
They are certain of their truth and try and convince the young man he is deluded, or that he has been faking it all these years, or that he is just making it up. According to the tomes on their shelves and the traditions they have inherited what he says simply couldn’t have happened.
Thic Nat Hanh, the Budhist teacher refers to this as the mind of discrimination. We discriminate on what we think and we make others experiences, lives or faith less than ours because that is simply not how we see it. It is this mind of discrimination, of this not that, of this over that, that causes the pain we experience in this world because we are unable to hold ourselves open to the incredible range of possibilities yet unexperienced by us or others.
In this story, Jesus reminds us bluntly that those who are certain they see do not. You can not see if you do not hold with in you at the same time the possibility that there is more, that what you see isn’t all there is and that you can and will be surprised by happenings and events you never imagined. Those who are certain have constructed, not a temple of wisdom and knowledge, but a stone tomb in which they are trapped and where they will suffocate for the lack of seeing.
An encounter with Jesus only comes to those who are willing to see, to be surprised enough to catch a glimpse of God scurrying between the trees of knowledge, information and certainty; of God slipping in out of chaos, violence and tragedy; of God plugging away in the ordinary tasks of being human. It is the seeing of God striding across the desert, floating on the breeze or plunging into the deeps of the oceans. We limit God if we only look for God in what others or we say we know, no matter how enlightened or wise they or we may be. We miss God at work in the smile of the broken hearted, the cheeky eyes of the children in refugee camps or in the playfulness of adults who are fighting addiction. We miss God when we have already decided how God works. That is the mind of discrimination and it is the mind John’s Jesus confronts in this story.
The blind man suffers the type of stereotyping any one who suffers from any kind of debilitating illness experiences. If you have a longterm chronic physical or mental illness you are discarded to begging on the side of the road of life. You are overlooked for jobs and promotions, excluded from social activities and events even by friends and family, you are presumed to be malingering or at least playing the victim. We see that in the policies of successive governments toward welfare in this country. It is seen not as a means to improve the life of those who are unable to do so for themselves but as something of begrudging necessity we shouldn’t have to do. This is the mind of discrimination.
Jesus seeks out the young man and asks him clearly what does he now see – what is his world view? Does he see within the restricted worldview of all who seek to discriminate against him or others, or has he seen the darkness piercing light of God in the midst of the world’s blindness. He answers in the affirmative – he has seen God.
It is time for the church and for us to stand with all those who do not fit into the body of knowledge possessed by those who believe they see but are blind. It is time to look to catch a glimpse of God in the midst of the issues we face individually and as an institution. It is time to let go of certainty, the mind of discrimination and face the damage from the past by such as the treatment of indigenous peoples, of child abuse by members of the church, of the treatment of women, the exclusion of the LGBTI community and more, and begin to see the beauty of uncertainty and surprise, of God loitering with intent in our midst.
Unless we do we will continue to exclude just as the elite did in this story.