Sermon: A Matter of Focus
The story contained in the ninth chapter of the Gospel of John is one of the first stories I ever preached. It’s not a story that can be simplified down to a little phrase, such as “Jesus heals a blind man.” It’s more like, “Jesus healed a blind man, the religious leaders questioned everybody involved, and it all turned into a strange mess.” It can’t really be broken up and preached over several weeks, because the story is a single story. Without the healing, there’s no need for the discussion, without the context of the discussion, the healing is just another healing. Taken together, in the entirety of the chapter, we get a cool glimpse into how Jesus saw the world, what he did, what opposition he faced, and how he handled that opposition during his ministry. So it’s a story I’ve preached several times in my career, and each time, I’ve seen a different insight into this less-than-simple story of Jesus healing a man born blind.
This week, it was my great pleasure to get to meet an artist of incredible caliber and just pick their brain for a few hours. This artist is primarily a photographer, and the pictures they’ve taken left me in wonder. Most of the pictures were taken in locations I have seen, walked by, or been inside. But none of the pictures showed anything I have ever seen before. This artist has a gift of capturing what people like you and I never see but is all around us. The amazing thing is that the photographer does not intend to capture things no one else notices. It’s simply what they see when they look around them.
You know those rorschach tests? Those ink blots we see in psych or other exams? If you’ve never taken the test, you’ve probably seen it on television or in a movie. The tester shows you a white card with an inkblot on it and then asks you what you see. You and I would probably be like everyone else and tell the tester what we saw in the inkblot. This artist I met would either tell the tester what they saw in the white around the inkblot or the mustache on the tester’s lip. This photographer’s perspective is just that unusual, that unique, that different. This artist approaches life with a perspective that is completely different from everyone around them.
And that’s just how Jesus was. It starts with the disciples. “Who sinned that this man was born blind — him or his parents?” This was a popular idea in the ancient world, that the sins of the parents were visited on their children. Of course, it couldn’t be that the man sinned and caused his blindness because he was born blind. The disciples look at the man and sees the start a theological argument about sin. Jesus sees a blind man and gives him sight.
Then we run into the townspeople. “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” They see the healed man and see the beggar who asked them for money. Jesus saw a blind man and gave him sight.
Then the Pharisees, the keepers of the law, come on the scene. They immediately get worked up because Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath, when no work was to be done. They see the healed man and see a sin. Jesus saw a blind man and gave him sight.
Then the Pharisees go to the parents and inquire about the healing. The parents shake in their shoes over this and are afraid they will be cast out of the community so they pass the Pharisees back to their son. They see their healed son, and see a future killed by the religious authorities. Jesus saw a blind man and gave him sight.
The Pharisees go to the healed man, and they get into a deep discussion about discipleship and sin. They see the man, call Jesus a sinner, call the healed man a sinner, and threw him out! Jesus saw a blind man and gave him sight.
Do you see the difference in perspective here? All the people involved in have myriad issues with religious authority, law, sin, money…. Jesus had no issues. He saw a blind man. He treated him. There’s the difference in perspective. While all the others were dealing with all the fluff around the incident, Jesus dealt with the person, even coming to find him after he found out the Pharisees had tossed him out and offering him a chance at discipleship. The man believes and worship Jesus. Jesus says, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” And the Pharisees hear it and get indignant. “‘What? Are we blind too?’
Jesus said, ‘If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.’”
So I’m sitting with this photographer, and I’m looking at their pictures when I realize that many of them are just ever so slightly out of focus. They’re still absolutely amazing photos with the same unique perspective that made me feel like my eyes had been opened to the things around me, but they were making my eyes hurt a little because they were trying to adjust to the picture, to put it into focus. It was like I had the wrong lenses in my glasses. And so many people do.
When we become Christians, we do so because we look at Jesus: the stories, communion, the worship of him, and we fall in love with him a little. We love his kindness, his mercy, his forgiveness, his sacrifice, his strength, and we know our lives would be better with him in them. But we’re looking at Jesus with the lenses of our own worldview, our own world. We look at him through the perspective we’ve grown up with and developed over our years. Sometimes, looking at Jesus pushes us to make better decisions, to sin less, to give more of ourselves. We try to turn to Jesus, to look to Jesus more and more. But what we’re doing is looking at Jesus, like the Pharisees, like the man born blind, like his parents.
There’s a point in our path of faith when we change from being a Christian who tries to look at Jesus to being a Disciple who tries to look like Jesus. Not to appear like him, but to see like him. It’s the change between looking at Jesus through the lenses of the world and looking at the world with the lenses of Jesus. It seems like word play, but it actually means a huge difference in our lives. Instead of looking at the world as someone who loves the Jesus I look at through the world, I’m looking at the world like the Jesus I love does. Instead of applying judgment and condemnation, I’m offering what Jesus offered: sight and help.
Let’s walk through an example. Let’s say we’re driving down Commercial Street, and we see a homeless man. There are many, many thoughts that could go through our heads, although I propose that most people that pass him by won’t even notice him or think about him. But those of us who look to Jesus might wonder about him. I wonder if he was one of the guys that asked me for money this week on my drive home. I wonder if he’s cold. I wonder where he sleeps. I wonder if he’s mentally ill. I wonder what made him homeless. I wonder if its nature or nurture that makes people end up homeless, which is really just another way of wondering who sinned, this man or his parents… I wonder if he is a criminal. I wonder if he is a drug addict. I wonder if he ever goes to any of the churches that exist for the homeless people downtown. Most likely, we would think to ourselves, “You know… someone should really do something about this homeless problem” or “The church should be doing something about this.” We wonder because we know we should wonder. We should care. The Jesus I see would care about this guy, so I should care about this guy. No. Jesus would slam on his brakes and treat this man. If he was hungry, he’d feed him. If he was sick, he’d heal him. If he was lonely, he’d befriend him. If he was sad, he’d comfort him. He would give the man what he needed, but most of all… he would see him and treat him like a person. There’s the difference. That’s the difference in perspective and focus.
Jesus offered the world a new perspective on life. He saw people. He saw people like us. And now, people see him. They come to church or watch a TV preacher or whatever it is they do… they like being seen by Jesus and seeing Jesus, but stop short of seeing like Jesus. That’s just going too far! But that’s the next step. To see others that aren’t necessarily like us. To stop seeing the fluff and start seeing the heart. To stop doing what we’re “supposed to do” as people who have seen Jesus and start being people who are working to see like Jesus. It’s not easy. Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” It means the sins you ask forgiveness for become painfully real. You no longer get to check off, “Well, no murder or adultery this week. I’m good” and have to face things like, “I didn’t even see that guy. I didn’t listen when she tried to tell me… I didn’t pay attention.”
When we stop thinking we can see and start actually seeing the world through the eyes of Jesus, we’ll find ourselves risking more, trying more, seeing more, but we’ll no longer be Pharisees: the guilty who claim they can see. We’ll stop being folks who see the inkblot and start seeing the person holding the inkblot. We’ll be the forgiven that knew they were once blind, put on the lenses of Jesus Christ through the grace of God, and started picking up the pieces of the broken world one seen person at a time. Amen.