Saturday, March 28, 2009

Voila! Claro! Bleito! I See!!!

Lent 4.2008.St. Matthew’s, Las Vegas
The blind man in today’s Gospel lesson
is one of my favorite characters in the Bible.
If the American Academy of Religion gave out Oscars,
I’d nominate him for best supporting actor.

I am grateful to him for giving us the immortal line
in the hymn, Amazing Grace,
“I once was . . . blind but now I see.”

But before we get on to the important things
about this story,
I want to just dig beneath the English translation
to recover some of the color
in the way our blind man talks.

We translate his words as “I once was blind but now I see”
or in the more recent translations,
“I once was blind but now I can see.”
But in the Greek, that last clause is just one word – bleito.
I once was blind. Now: bleito.

It’s a word with sharpness of insight,
like the French Voila’ or the Spanish Claro.
The blind man’s word doesn’t mean quite the same thing
as Voila or Claro – but it has that feeling.

I once was helpless. Now voila.
I once didn’t have a clue. Now claro.
I once was blind. Now bleito.

It’s a pithy statement shot out in the middle of an argument.
The religious authorities didn’t like it one little bit
that Jesus had restored the man’s sight.
They were smart theologians and scholars.
And they thought charismatic healing was just hocus pocus
done by charlatans to fool the hicks in Galilee.

Now Jesus had apparently healed someone in the city.
Something had to be wrong with this picture.
So they interrogated the man’s parents
to find out if he had really been blind at all.

Then they interrogated the man himself,
and when they didn’t like his answers on the facts,
they challenged him with undeniable religious truths.
“We know this Jesus is a sinner,
so how can you claim he has restored your sight?
Just answer us that.”

And the man replied.
“You say he is a sinner.
I don’t know whether he is a sinner or not.
All I know is I was blind. Now bleito.”

Do you see what I like about this guy?
He is so Zen. So simple. No interpretation. No fuss.
He has spent his entire life in darkness,
so he is used to not knowing things.
He knows what he knows, and beyond that
he doesn’t speculate.
He doesn’t argue that Jesus must be the son of God,
or the Incarnation of the 2nd person of the Trinity.
He is no theologian.
He is just someone who was blind and now he sees.

The first thing we see here is that grace is just that.
It’s grace. It isn’t something we have to earn
by believing anything in particular,
not even believing in Jesus.
The blind man didn’t believe any special doctrines.
Grace just happens.
And if we have to grace to see the facts,
we will see grace.

We may not be able to explain it,
but we will see it.
We will see that there is beauty and goodness
happening all around us,
and that we didn’t make it happen.
We didn’t conjure the sun to rise with our positive thinking.
We didn’t make the flowers bloom with our sound doctrines.
We didn’t make the river flow with our moral living.

Creation is gift. Life is gift.
Healing, beauty, and goodness are all gift.
We can’t explain it, but we can acknowledge it.
When we acknowledge that so much is just gift,
we can relax and open our hands to receive more of it.

The second thing we see in this story
is that faith doesn’t begin with doctrines.
They come later and sometimes they can help,
but they can get in the way too.
The religious authorities in our Gospel lesson had doctrines
that made what they were seeing impossible.
So they could not believe what they saw.

There is a Sufi story about a joker sage named Mullah Nazradin.
One day a neighbor came to borrow Mullah Nazradin’s donkey
to haul some goods across the village.
Nazradin said, “I am sorry friend,
I but I have already loaned my donkey
to my cousin in the next village.”

“Ok,” the neighbor said, but as he walked away
he heard braying in the back yard.
Curious, he went around to the back and voila, bleito, claro,
there was the donkey.
So he went back to the door and said,
“Mullah Nazradin, what is this?
You said you had loaned your donkey
to your cousin in the next village.
But I hear your donkey braying in the back yard.”

Nazradin answered indignantly,
Well then who are you going to believe?
me or a stupid donkey?”

In our tradition, there are many virtues,
but the mother of all virtues is the simple honesty
of seeing things as they are
unfiltered through fixed concepts.
Faith and wisdom both begin
In the courage to see things as they are
and speak the truth about what we see.

The final thing we need to see in our story
is that seeing the truth, especially telling the truth,
can stir things up.
In our families, in our jobs, in our churches,
wherever we organize ourselves into groups,
the groups adopt certain ways of seeing things.
This person is just a hot head; that person is a saint.
Worship must always go exactly according to this pattern.
A certain hymn must be sung on this Sunday each year.
People of this race are always a certain way.
People of one religion are always greedy
while people of another religion are always violent.

We have accepted beliefs about ourselves
and about each other that we dare not question.
We dare not question them because loyalty to the group
means living in the group think box.

But living in a group think box of fixed concepts
is a form of blindness.
We cannot see the simple truth of things as they are
because we are wearing blinders of prejudice
and unquestioned beliefs.

In this story, Jesus takes the man’s blinders off.
He gives him sight, simple sight.
And he accepts it. “Bleito,” he says. No interpretation.

In the 15th Century, church leaders refused to look
through Galileo’s telescope for fear
they would see something contrary to the accepted beliefs
of the time.
They had not gotten the point of today’s story.
Nothing that is true is foreign to Christ.

Jesus invites us to look at things as they are.
Look first. Interpret later if you must.
But don’t let anyone’s prior interpretation stop you
from looking life in the face.

So what do we see today in this story?
First we see that life is a gift.
We don’t conjure it up with the right actions or thoughts.
It’s just there to be accepted and usually enjoyed.

Second, we see that living the truth begins
with daring to see things as they are.

Finally, we see that facing the truth isn’t easy
because the social system around us
pressures us to see things their way,
not to see things as they are.

It takes courage and determination to see the truth,
to speak the truth, and to live the truth.
Living in the group think box is safer.
It’s easier.
But the joy and spender of reality
are always outside the box,
like the stars the men of old refused to see
through Galileo’s telescope.