The blind man in today’s Gospel is one of my favorite Bible characters. I’d give him the Oscar for best supporting actor in a New Testament role. He gave us the hymn verse, “I once was . . . blind but now I see.”That isn’t quite what he said though. Not wrong -- but the feeling’s not right.We translate his words as “I see.” But in the original Greek, it’s just one word – Vlepo. “I once was blind. Now: vlepo.”
It’s emphatic like the French Voila, the Spanish Claro, or the Italian Presto. Once I couldn’t find it. Now voila. Once I didn’t have a clue. Now claro. Once I was stuck. Now presto.Once I was blind. Now vlepo. It’s a crisp, emphatic rejoinder.
The Pharisees didn’t like it one bit that Jesus restored this man’s sight. They knew such healing was just hocus pocus to fool rural hicks in Galilee. Now Jesus had healed someone in the city. To add insult to injury, he did it on the Sabbath. Well that wasn’t right. So they confronted the man with an undeniable religious truth. “We know this Jesus is a sinner, so how can he have restored your sight? Just answer us that.”He replied. “You say he is a sinner. I don’t know whether he’s a sinner or not. All I know is I was blind. Now vlepo.”
You see what I like about this guy? It’s such a Zen thing to say, He physically sees while the Pharisees remain spiritually blind. So, how is it that this man could see but they couldn’t? There’s a clue in the singular and plural subjects of the sentences in our Gospel. The Pharisees (plural) speak 10 times – always, every time -- in one voice. I hear their voices in unison like the chorus in a Greek drama. Whether or not they literally spoke in unison, they all said the same thing always in lockstep because they thought in lockstep. They say, “We know . . ..” They’re stuck in group think mentality.
As John Heywood said in 1546 and Ray Stevens sang in 1970, “There is none so blind as he who will not see.” Like the churchmen who refused to look through Galileo’s telescope for fear they might see something different from Church teachings, our Pharisees are afraid to look outside the box of what “we know” – “how we do things.” The only people in this story who speak for themselves (first person singular) are Jesus and the man he healed.
Group think is a cataract obscuring insight into ourselves, each other, and the world. We all live in groups and every group -- political parties, churches, families, poker clubs – all of them have their dogmas and their heresies.They all try to think alike.
We need community. We become ourselves through relationships. We need to sing together, pray together, serve the world together.Community is good. But it can easily slip into group think conformity. Unless we keep enough self to think our own thoughts, feel our own feelings, pray our own prayers, we have nothing to bring to the community table-- be it church, family, friends, whatever. Without individual identity, we melt into a human glob.
The difference between community and group think conformity is just this: Community is built on love; group think is built on anxiety. Anxiety wants to control life, pin it down with certainties and rules. Then we want a group to assure us we’re right.The group think veil hangs from a rod of anxiety.
Our secular critics accuse Christianity of religious group think.There’s some truth in that. Christians are fallible human beings. The Church is a fallible community. Anxiety distorts religion into everyone sticking to the same opinions, rituals, and customs. That’s religious group think. No argument.
But group think isn’t faith. In fact it’s the opposite of faith. It’s fear. It’s anxiously trying to tie life down with rigid rules. Faith on the other hand rachets down our anxiety by trusting Reality with an open heart.
When the disciples were afraid during a storm at sea,Jesus said, “Why are you afraid? O ye of little faith?” His most repeated commandment was “Do not be afraid.” The Bible says, “Do not be afraid” 365 times – once for each day of the year. John writes, “God is love,” and, “There is no room for fear in love.”
Faith isn’t afraid because it knows that so much is just gift. Jesus said, “Have no fear little flock.It is the Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom” -- not reward you with the Kingdom – “give you the Kingdom.” We don’t make the sun rise, the flowers bloom, or the rivers flow. We don’t paint the shadows of bare branches on the winter snow. We don’t have to control things by what we think and what we do. Mary Oliver wrote:
I don’t know . . . what . . . prayer is.
I do know . . . how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed . . ..
Faith relaxes our minds and opens our hearts to receive these gifts.
We don’t get free from group think by some heroic act of defiance. We don’t rebel against our communities. We need them. It’s faith that sets us free from group think. We get free by exercising faith.
One faith exercise is to notice situations we are trying to control -- then just step back and make space for the gift.We might give up fretting for Lent. We might “kneel down in the grass to be idle and blessed.” Then look around and see.
Post-Script. Quite a few people told me how much they apperciated this sermon.
They cited specific points that struck them. They asked me how to spell words I had used. But I got more people saying they could not hear it. We had tried multiple sound amplification technique and I used the best. Sound checks proved that it was working perfectly. Nonetheless, I asked people siting in different parts of the building if they could hear. They said they heard the sound check perfectly clearly. But many people could not hear the sermon. I was completely perplexed. I then reread the text and came to a suspicion the problem might not be acoustic but spiritual.