Monday, March 23, 2020


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.

He gave us the immortal line in Amazing Grace,
     “I once was . . . blind but now I see.”
But that doesn’t quite catch the feel 
         of what he actually said.

We translate his words as 
       “I once was blind but now I can see.”
But in the Greek, that last clause is just one word – Vlepo.
I once was blind. Now: vlepo.
It’s a word with sharpness of insight,
like the French Voila’ or the Spanish Claro. 

Vlepo 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 vlepo.

It’s a pithy rejoinder 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.
They knew charismatic healing was just hocus pocus
     by charlatans to fool the hicks in Galilee.

Now Jesus had gone and 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 blind man himself,
and when they didn’t like his answers,
they confronted 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.”

He 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 vlepo.”
Do you see what I like about this guy?
He is so Zen. So simple. No interpretation. No fuss.
Having spent his entire life in darkness,
     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’s no theologian.
He’s just someone who was blind and now he sees.

The first point 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 doctrines.

Grace just happens.
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.
When we acknowledge that so much is just gift,
  we can relax and open our hands 
  to receive more of it.

The second point 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, a sort of holy fool,
 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,
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, claro, vlepo!
There was the donkey.

So he went back to the door and said,
“Mullah, 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 snapped back indignantly,
“Well who are you going to believe --
     me or a stupid donkey?” 

The first cardinal virtue, the mother of all virtues
     is the just seeing things as they are
                 unfiltered through fixed concepts.
Faith and wisdom both begin
     with looking life in the face
     and telling the truth about what we see.

The final point 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 agreed upon ways 
     of looking at things and people.
This person is a hot head; that person is a saint.
People of this race are a certain way.
People of one religion are greedy
     while people of another religion are  violent.

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

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.
The blind man accepts it. “Vlepo,” 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.

Ironically, some scientists like Richard Dawkins
are blinded by their group think box.
They are unwilling to look at the truths we see
     through our telescopes of ancient stories, poetry,
     rituals, songs, and prayers.
They are even unwilling to look at the interpretations
     of other scientists, 
       like physicist Robert Russell who explains 
that time is a construct restricting our possibilities,
       that eternity plays by completely different rules
       and that sometimes the threshold 
      between time and eternity opens.

Jesus invites us to look at things as they are.
He invites us outside our group think box.
He does that for the same reason now that he did then
He’s lonely out there. 
Jesus doesn’t fit in our group think box
     so we can’t see him. 
It’s a kind of blindness.

But if we dare to look through our spiritual telescopes,
     if we dare to read the old stories,
     perform the sacred rituals and sing the songs,
     if we dare to pray,
                 we might just see Jesus.
I have seen him in those forbidden ways
     and he has blessed my life beyond measure.

In this time of pandemic, 
     many mostly well-meaning people,
     are saying a lot of scary stuff.
There are a few basic points of science 
     and common sense in what they say.
We need to listen to those points.
But after that, the constant reports become like 
     a plague of locusts blotting out the sun. 
And those locusts consume our spirits
     until we are just exhausted and blind.

When we feel that way, it’s a good time 
     to follow the advice of an old renewal song, 
     “Turn your eyes upon Jesus.”
Be still and know that God is still God
     which means there is still Beauty, still Goodness, 
     still Truth, still Love. 
These things are the joy and splendor of reality.
They are always outside the box, 
          like the stars the men of old refused to see
                through Galileo’s telescope.
They are in the hand of the same Jesus who opened
the blind man’s eyes. 
And the price is still the same. 
It’s a gift.