Believing is Seeing

One myth people believed in Jesus’ day was that illness and physical suffering resulted directly from someone sinning. They didn’t know about genetics, bacteria and viruses. If a baby was born with a defect, then the parents must have sinned. Hence the question from the disciples about the man who was blind from birth. “Who sinned?”
The Pharisees were a law-abiding and law-enforcing bunch. They wanted to be sure there would never be some unwitting offense to God, so over the years they wrote 603 additional rules for following the original commandments. One of these rules was that no one was allowed to heal someone on the Sabbath unless that person’s life was in immediate danger. Never mind that such a healing could only have come from God.
Along came Jesus, ready to heal a man who’d been blind from birth and do it on the Sabbath. His response to the disciples showed the urgency he felt about helping someone in need. “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” He even made mud to put on the man’s eyes as part of the healing, which also could have been considered work. It reminds me of the paralytic man whom Jesus healed on the Sabbath by the pool at Siloam and then told him to take up his mat and go. The Pharisees didn’t believe that Jesus was from God, couldn’t see the beauty of the miracle, only the offense. How dare He command that man to carry away his mat on the Sabbath! That was work! But Jesus wanted the cured man to realize that he no longer needed to sit by the pool on his mat, that his healing was complete and permanent. It was time to go home and live his new life.
In addition to making the Sabbath a reminder of who God is and what God does for us, God made the Sabbath as a way to keep people from working themselves to death. The original Ten Commandments were designed to keep us out of trouble, to make our lives and our relationships better. But the Pharisees took this rule to an extreme. Instead of the Sabbath being a blessing and a mercy from God, a day to worship and recover from work that was physically exhausting for most people, the Pharisees turned the rule about working on the Sabbath into a way to have power and control over the people in their synagogues.
In today’s story, the blind man didn’t have a dialogue with Jesus as Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman did, but immediately went to wash the mud away and returned with eyes that were miraculously healed, clear and shining with wonder and joy. No one could explain it. It was God showing grace, mercy, and love through Jesus.
Before his healing, the man born blind had adapted to life in a world where everyone else could see without knowing what he was missing. He was a second class citizen with no idea why. Suddenly, he had to adapt to having a new way to perceive the world, something he’d never expected to have. Then people noticed the change in him and started asking questions. They didn’t understand what they saw as impossible.  Did they think he’d been faking his blindness all his life? Because they couldn’t believe it, refused to believe it, they couldn’t see it.
Theologian Ann Carter Florence wrote,  “One person’s ecstatic moment with mud usually looks to the rest of us like a classic case of self-delusion. Try to describe it, as the man born blind did, and others will question your sanity, doubt your word, and write you off. The muddy details of John 9 remind us of how carefully we have to tune our ears (and possibly our stomachs) before we can listen to one another’s stories. Obsessing about our own discomfort ruins our ability to hear.”
The more questions the healed man answered, the more he realized the nature of the man who had healed him. He couldn’t explain it, but he knew the results. He obeyed Jesus when Jesus told him to go wash off the mud. He believed, then he saw. When we come across a reality that doesn’t match our past experiences or our sense of logic, we need to be open to the idea that God is at work. Believing is seeing.
I went to college the first time at Rochester Institute of Technology for photography. The National Technical Institute for the Deaf is on the same campus. I decided to learn sign language and became an interpreter for the deaf students who took RIT classes as a part time job. It was very challenging, but also fun.
Some of the deaf and hard-of-hearing students had learned to speak and lipread. This was somewhat easier for those who lost their hearing after acquiring some language skills. Even so, it’s like learning a foreign language from a teacher who is on the other side of a glass window. It can take many years. They learn how to move their lips and tongues and how to make sounds, but they have a hard time with tone of voice and how loud to be. I’m amazed that they can learn to speak at all. A deaf man who helped teach us sign language told the story of interacting with a woman who heard something different about his speech and asked if he was from a foreign country. He replied with a grin, “No, lady, I’m deaf.”
This is kind of like what becoming a Christian was like for a gentile in the first century. They had little or no background in Jewish culture. They weren’t familiar with the Bible or the Ten Commandments. They had different perceptions of right and wrong based on how they were raised. They were dealing with a new reality. No wonder there was conflict between them and the Jewish Christians. The gentiles had so much to learn about the God Jesus knew, the God who was Jesus’ Father!
God calls us through Christ to renounce our previous existence in order to make our way into the new territory of following Jesus. We all have different perceptions of the world and how God works in it. Those of us who’ve grown up in church can still learn a lot about what is pleasing to the Lord, as the author of Ephesians suggested. To do that we need Jesus, the light of the world, and the Holy Spirit to within us to guide us.
Making decisions in the dark can lead to some regrettable consequences. Back in the days before electricity, a tightfisted old farmer was taking his hired man to task for carrying a lighted lantern when he went to call on his best girl. "Why," he exclaimed, "when I went a-courtin' I never carried one of them things. I always went in the dark." "Yes," the hired man said wryly," and look what you got!”  
Let’s talk about light for a bit. You can’t touch light, but you can feel its effect when it warms or even burns your skin. Light is a form of power that we often take for granted. You can see how it provides the energy for plants to grow, making life possible on our planet. It lets us see danger coming, making day safer than night. We know how to stop light using objects that cast shadows. We’ve recently learned how to turn it into electric power. It’s been an analogy for good throughout the history of human cultures.
I learned photography using black and white film that was developed in a darkroom. The light that entered the camera through the lens would hit the film, a roll of plastic coated with silver salt particles. The light would change some of the silver salts into metallic silver. When the film was developed, the unexposed areas, the shadows, were cleaned of their remaining salts. The image was reversed, with the thickest area being where there was the most light, and the thinnest being where the shadows were. (See slide.) After development, the negative was placed in an enlarger and the image was projected onto photographic paper, which was also coated with silver salts. This was processed in a similar way, creating a bigger, positive print. (See slide.) The biggest single mistake one could make during the exposure in the camera was underexposure- not allowing enough light into the camera to create an image. Overexposure, using more light than was strictly necessary, made the negative thicker, but that could be overcome when one exposed the paper by giving it more time.
The perceptions of the person using the camera affects photography, too. What the image looks like depends on where you choose to position your camera, what time of day it is, when you press the shutter, and what you choose to include or leave out of the image. Photographs can lie by omission, or more recently by reworking them on a computer.
What I love about photography is that it can be a beautiful reflection of God’s astonishing creation. Believing that allows me to see images that some others miss. Here’s one of my photos.(See slide.) Believing is seeing.
If you want to live in the image of Christ, you must open yourself for long enough, give yourself enough light from the Holy Spirit, to create an image in your heart that you can then share with the hearts of those around you, making sure to give the whole process enough time. You must believe that God’s light will have an impact on the soul. Your timing must be right to catch the attention of the other person in a way that will affect them spiritually. And you must be transparent enough to let the light of Christ, the enlarger, shine through you. “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine.”
The image we carry in our hearts is also constantly changing as we learn more and more about what is pleasing to God. My perception is that God is love and wants us to love one another with grace and mercy, just as God loves us. We can’t do it perfectly. We make mistakes and have misunderstandings on a regular basis. That’s why we need grace. Your perception may be different, and that’s okay as long as it’s created by allowing Jesus, the Light of the World, into your heart. Believing is seeing. And believing is sharing God’s light with the world around us.

No Comments




no categories


no tags