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There is an old story called, "The Blind Men and the Elephant." It goes like this: Once there was a village where all the inhabitants were blind. When a man passed one day riding an elephant, a group of the village men cried out asking the rider to let them touch the great beast, for though they heard about elephants, they had never been close to one.
About six of them were allowed to approach the animal, each being led to touch a different part of the body. After a time the rider left, and the blind men hurried back to their people to share the experience. "With what can you compare an elephant" the people in the crowd asked their six friends.
"I know all about elephants," cried the man who had touched the animal's side. "He is long and narrow, built like a thick wall."
"Nonsense!" shouted the man who had touched the elephant's tusk. "He is rather short, round, and smooth, but very sharp. I would compare an elephant to a spear."
A third, who had touched the ear, joined in. "It is nothing like a wall or a spear. An elephant is like a gigantic leaf, made of thick wool carpet. It moves when you touch it."
"I disagree," said the man who had handled the trunk. "An elephant is much like a large snake."
The fifth man shouted his disapproval. He had touched a leg of the great beast. "It is plain to me that none of you have described the animal accurately. It is round and reaches toward the heavens like a tree." The sixth man, who had been placed on the elephant's back, cried out, "Can none of you accurately describe an elephant? He is like a gigantic mountain."
To this day the argument has not been resolved, and the people of that village have no idea what an elephant looks like. And so, in their blindness, each of the six were sure that they knew all about elephants. Each had the real image, the correct picture of the great beast! And in their blindness, the village still had no idea of what an elephant looked like!
Friends, our story today from the ninth chapter of John's Gospel is a story about true blindness! And a story about true sightedness. It is a story of a man born blind who moves from one level of sight to another. It is also a story, in contrast, of the Pharisees, who, though they can physically see, move from one level of blindness to another.
The story begins with the miraculous healing of a man blind from birth. Jesus reaches out for the man, uses his saliva to make mud from the ground, rubs it on the man's eyes, and tells him to go wash in the pool called Siloam. He does and comes back able to see, for the first time in his life! The reaction of the crowd is disbelief and confusion. How did this happen? Who healed you? "The man called Jesus healed me," is his answer. "He is a prophet."
Now the man is brought, like a circus exhibition, to the Pharisees. Again he has to explain how he was healed. Their reaction: Jesus is not from God because healed the man on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees then go to the parents of the man, trying to discount the healing. The man really was not blind at all. Out of fear the parents reply, "Our son is of legal age, go ask him."
So a second time the man is dragged before the Pharisees, and a shouting match ensues. They want him to say Jesus is a sinner and not from God. Instead he says, "One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. If Jesus were not from God he could do nothing." And he is driven away.
Near the end of the drama, Jesus learns the man was driven out of the synagogue. Jesus finds him and asks: "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" "Who is he? Tell me so that I may believe in him," is his response. Jesus says, "You have seen Him and the one speaking to you is He." And the man says, "Lord, I believe," and he worshipped Jesus.
In the end we see the sharp contrast between those left in darkness and the one who has new vision. The man who receives his sight for the first time sees Jesus. He sees him as a man, then as a prophet, then as the Son of Man, the Lord. What joy! The Pharisees see Jesus, but they see him only as a Sabbath breaker, a sinner, a threat to deal with. What a pity!
The story reminds me of our Lord's reading of the scripture in the synagogue, in those first days in Nazareth. He unrolled the scroll and read from Isaiah. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind."
The power of the Gospel is that Jesus comes to bring me new eyes every day. New vision every day! In Christ my spiritual blindness is lifted.
Yes, as Christ touched the blind man's eyes and gave him a new vision of himself and his world, so also does he give me new vision.
In Christ I see myself: I am a sinner, self-centered, lost in the darkness without hope.
2. In Christ I see myself: Saved from the darkness of sin, death and the power of the devil.
In Christ I see myself: as a child of God, gifted, valued, special.
In Christ I see myself: as a person with a destiny! Redeemed to be responsible, blessed to be a blessing, saved to serve!
In Christ I see those around me, for the first time: the lonely, the despairing, the hungry, the grieving, the homeless. Christ has touched my eyes. I see and I will never be the same.
There is a story of a beggar who was sitting across the street from an artist's studio. the artist saw him and thought he would make an interesting portrait study. So from a distance he painted the defeated man. Shoulders drooping, eyes downcast and sad. When he was finished, he took the portrait over to the beggar so he could look at it. "Who is that/" the beggar questioned. He saw the painting a slight resemblance of himself, but in the painting before him he saw a person of dignity, with squared shoulders and bright uplifted eyes, almost handsome! He asked the artist, "Is that me? I don't look like that." But the artist replied, "but that is the person I see in you."
Through the eyes of Christ, as my savior and Lord, I do see myself and others differently. The risen Lord comes to me and you and says: "Look, this is the person I see in you, and look, this is the person I see in her, and in him" In our Gospel story, the man born blind moves from one level of sight to another. He confesses Jesus as the man who healed him. He confesses Jesus as a prophet, and finally he defends Jesus before the Pharisees. "He is of God, He is the Son of Man," and worships him as Lord.
The Pharisees however, move from one level of blindness to another. They doubt the miracle. They seek to prove it never happened at all. They condemn Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. They claim Jesus is not from God.
At the dramatic end of the story, Jesus responds to both the confession of the now sighted man who has said, "Jesus is Lord," and to the Pharisees who have confessed Jesus is not from God. Jesus states his mission to the world: "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind."
We are left with these words of mission from Jesus himself. And with the parting question of the Pharisees, almost pitiable. "Surely we are not blind, are we?" We are left with the contrasting refrain of the man given sight for the first time, "One thing I do know that though I was blind, now I see."
As Charles Scott prays in his familiar song, so do I: "Open my eyes that I may see glimpses of truth thou hast for me. Place in my hands the wonderful key, that shall unclasp and set me free. Silently now I wait for thee, ready my God thy will to see. Open my eyes illumine me, spirit divine."
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