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Lent 4 Sermon 2011
Rev. Bonnie Campbell

Seeing is believing.  Well, except when the photograph is doctored or if we see or read it on the internet or it’s a TV commercial.  Why do we deride these Pharisees for seeing and not believing?  Would we believe it if we knew a blind person and suddenly they could see again?

Seeing is believing.  I’m thinking most of us here remember Oral Roberts.  I don’t remember much but I saw him on TV once or twice--laying hands on people and apparently healing them.  I remember my mom saying it wasn’t real.  Faith healers are sometimes debunked but I believe a person can be healed by laying hands on them.  Did Oral Roberts heal anyone this way?  I don’t know.

Seeing is believing.  I knew a family with a little girl--I’ll call her Judy.  I used to go over to their house and play with Judy sometimes.  Judy had Downs Syndrome. My mom told me when Judy was really small and even into her third year of life, her parents searched and searched for a cure for her.  One time they took her to Oral Roberts and he couldn’t heal her.  Now, personally, I find most people afflicted with Downs to be wonderful and I’m not sure they need to be cured. They have medical issues around speech and heart problems and a tendency to be overweight and healing from these ills would be good.  But, I liked Judy and she was able to get special training that I hope prepared her for life.  When we saw Oral heal someone, did we believe what we saw?

Seeing is believing.  Samuel is told by God to go out and anoint a replacement for Saul. When he had Jesse’s sons lined up, of course he went for the oldest. As soon as he saw him, he was sure he was the one--but God told him no.  God could see the hearts of Jesse’s sons and God had something else in mind.  At the very last David is brought in and God tells Samuel to anoint him.  David is described as handsome with a ruddy complexion and beautiful eyes.  So, for Samuel, seeing wasn’t believing--he was listening, instead, for God’s voice.

Seeing is believing.  Paul tells us to bring things into the light of Christ so they are visible-so they can become light.  I have a sense that the Pharisees in the Gospel story wanted to shove this formerly blind man into the darkness again.  I even imagine them surrounding him and casting their shadows over him to try to snuff out the light he had become.  And, they didn’t want him coming back to the synagogue.  Maybe the Pharisees were afraid of what the light might reveal.  If they were exposed to the light, if people could really see them, what unseemly practices might be revealed?

Seeing is believing.  The disciples see a blind man and ask a theological question: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Karma was a heavy burden for those who had sinned.  All kinds of horrible things happened to them.  They or their children were afflicted with horrible disabilities or illness, calamities befell their animals and their land.  This was what Jesus’ followers and the people of his time had seen and believed.  It meant you could drop a small coin in the man’s hand and walk on without feeling any need to do more.  This belief caused them to feel self-righteous.  Everyone in my family can see so I’m okay--it isn’t my fault this man is blind so I bear no responsibility for his care or his education or his spiritual well being.  Those who sinned can bear this burden.

Seeing is believing.  Jesus tells his followers that neither this man nor his parents sinned and God’s works will be revealed in this blind man because Jesus is the light of the world and he came to shed that light on the world.  

Seeing is believing.  Jesus makes and places mud on the man’s eyes and tells him to go and wash them in the pool of Siloam.  The man does as he is told and finds that he can see. Now this man believes what he is seeing and heads back to his neighborhood.  I imagine him counting his footsteps and smelling the air while he listens for familiar sounds to orient himself.  Yet, he is also taking in the world with his newfound sight--I wonder how long the trip took from the pool to his usual begging spot.  I wonder if he was identifying the sources of smells and sounds as he walked along.

Seeing is believing.  People who know the healed man begin to recognize him. They see him but can’t believe it.  No, it can’t be him--it’s someone who looks like him.  Some do believe it is him.  He keeps saying, “It’s me, it’s me--I am the man who used to sit here and beg”.  It must have been very irritating to have people continue to talk about him like he wasn’t there just like they did when he was blind.  He must have started wondering if his hearing was off.  Of course, just like when you see someone who has obviously lost weight the question is, “How did you do it?”  What happened?  He answered, “this man called Jesus did it”, and they wanted to know where Jesus was but the man didn’t know.

Seeing is believing.  I said before that I see the Pharisees surrounding this man such that he is cast in their shadows.  The Pharisees can’t see beyond the rules of the Sabbath and beyond their own sense of worth and value.  Somehow they believe that Jesus’ power will take from their own power and it scares them.  They insist that the man tell his story again. They ask him his opinion of Jesus. The man is obviously schooled in the Jewish religion--he knows the beliefs.  He tells them he thinks Jesus is a prophet.

Seeing is believing.  The Pharisees didn’t believe him so they had his parents brought in. They verified his identity but refused to say anything about how he was healed.  They, too, were in the shadow of the encircling Pharisees and they were afraid.  They told the Pharisees to ask the healed man himself how he was healed.

Seeing is believing.  The man is brought back once again.  The Pharisees want him to declare that Jesus is a sinner for healing on the Sabbath.  The man says he doesn’t know about the status of Jesus’ soul; he just knows that he was blind and now he can see.  The Pharisees want him to tell them again how he was healed.  This is beyond irritating.  I’m sure this man can think of all kinds of things he would rather be doing--looking at the people he loves would be good.  He could learn his colors, how to read, watch laundry flap in the breeze--anything, really.  I told you already and you wouldn’t listen--why tell it again?  Do you want to follow him?  No, they tell him, you are one of his followers--we follow Moses and we know God talked to him.  If seeing is believing, I don’t know how they can say that; they weren’t even alive when God talked to Moses--they didn’t see it.  I think they are getting a dig in when they mention they don’t know where Jesus is from; you know they have heard reports of Jesus’ early birth.  Jesus is the product of sinners and he himself is a sinner.

Seeing is believing.  The healed man is astonished.  You don’t know where he comes from and yet he has healed me.  Only God could allow him to do that. “God doesn’t listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.”  When has anyone heard of someone born blind being healed?  “If this man was not from God, he could do nothing.”

Seeing is believing.  The Pharisees tell the man he has no right as a sinner to teach them--well, what they already know.  So they drive him out of the synagogue.  They can’t have a former beggar talking to people about what that life is like--they might stop listening to the synagogue leaders.  They might start helping the other beggars in town or give them more money or actually develop some sympathy for them or or…

Seeing is believing.  The story doesn’t stop there.  Jesus hears about the man’s ordeal and he seeks him out.  He asks him if he believes in the Son of Man and the healed man asks Jesus to tell him who this Son of Man is so he can believe in him.  Jesus says, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” The healed man sees and believes.

Jesus reminds us and the Pharisees that seeing isn’t believing--not always.  We may think we know something: like blindness is the result of sin.  But knowing something may keep us from really seeing.  No one can be discounted or ignored because we think they deserve what they have or don’t have in life.  We cannot hang on to self-righteousness because we seem to have it all.  We are blessed but it has nothing to do with our being better than those who do not appear to be blessed.  We are skeptics and we don’t believe what we see but we believe what we know.  We sometimes need to set aside what we know and experience the world through new eyes.  Then seeing IS believing.