"Through Another's Eyes"#86-28
Presented on The Lutheran Hour on March 10, 2019
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: John 9:1-41
I was listening to the program, This American Life. Ira Glass, the host, was interviewing a man named Ryan Knighton, and I was intrigued by what Ryan was saying. His words brought me to see life through his eyes—through the eyes of a man who happens to be blind.
Ryan started going blind when he was 18 years old and now, he has completely lost his sight. And he was explaining how one time he was traveling on his own and his wife had asked him to give her a call when he got to the hotel. Now this is a simple task for those of us who are sighted. But it's a little bit tricky for Ryan.
He gets into the room and feels for the bed. And then works his way up the bed and probes the nightstand looking for the phone, but there's no phone. So he crawls over the bed and gropes about for the other nightstand, expecting the phone would be there, but no phone. He crawls off the bed and shuffles over to where he would expect there is a table, grazes it with his shins and looks around the table with his hands. Still, no phone. And he starts to circle the room, patting down every square foot of the room, the couch, and the desk.
He says this experience is like living inside a first-person video game, but everything's dark, everything's black. You can't see a thing until you touch it. And then when you touch it, the object lights up for a moment, but then when you let go and move on, it recedes into a low-resolution dark mental image of the room he's trying to construct, pixel by pixel, in his mind's eye. And he searches and searches, and he can't find the phone.
So he gives up, goes to bed and figures he'll just try again in the morning. In the morning, he is awakened by a familiar sound, a phone is ringing. He crawls out of bed and homes in on the direction of where the sound is coming. He finds it, fumbles with the receiver, picks it up and it's his wife, Tracy. She's worried about where is; why didn't he call last night. And Ryan says, "I checked for the phone, there was no phone in this room last night. I searched the whole place." And she, you know, she doesn't believe me, he's blind. So he hangs up the phone, decides he's going to get a little bit more sleep. And he turns to go back to the bed, but he runs into a wall. And the wall was not there last night. He panics a little bit and he says, "It's kind of funny in some ways, but it's also terrifying. I'm a grown man, lost in my hotel room." And so he starts feeling his way down the wall, expecting it to end, but then there's another wall that wasn't there last night. And as he's narrating this, I'm thinking, did they pick him up and move him to a different room while he was sleeping? And he says he feels his way down that wall, and he comes to a corner that he wasn't expecting. And then it hits him that he was in a part of the room that he hadn't discovered last night. He hadn't had on his mental map of the room; he was in an alcove with a little table and a phone.
Ryan says that the problem is, when you're blind, you cannot assume anything. You get a picture in your mind and if you get it wrong, you live inside the mistake. Ryan said that people often ask him and his wife, Tracy, how they cope as a couple with his blindness. And Ryan wrote that it's mostly in the small things. He says, "I reach for a glass, and I can't find it. And I continue talking to you over the table while my hand continues to look. Just when I give up, Tracy nudges the glass to my fingers. It's so casual, the allowances she gives me to try and to fail. And it's so reflexive, her help when I need it." That last part is from Ryan Knighton's memoir, Cockeyed. In it he narrates how he came to grips with this decade-long loss of his vision. It's a powerful memoir. It brought me to see life through another person's eyes. A person who happened to be going blind.
Once I was giving a message in a church, and I like to make eye contact with people when I'm speaking in public, so I can connect with them. And I look in the back of the church, and I see a younger man not looking at me but looking at the baby in the row in front of him, making silly faces, getting the baby to laugh and coo. And I'm a little annoyed because I did all this work for this message, and so I don't look at him and I look around. Then I look back, maybe he's locked in now. But, no, he's still distracting that poor helpless baby. And as I'm speaking this message, I am forming a picture of him in my mind's eye. Obviously, he's dealing with some sort of spiritual blindness or apathy. I got to talk to him sometime afterwards, and I learned a little bit more about him, some of his story. He had a medical condition that recently almost killed him. And only by a miracle of God he survived. And now, he just sees life different. He thinks about the wife and the young children he almost left behind, and he sees people differently. He's drawn to people.
And he also said he was encouraged by my message. And so apparently, he can do more than one thing at once, unlike me. As he shared this, I was embarrassed. I had seen him all wrong. In my eyes he was just another nobody who didn't recognize my greatness. Sometimes I get the wrong picture in my mind and get trapped in my mistake.
There's this scene from John's memoirs of Jesus. And in this chapter, it's chapter 9 of his book, there are a lot of people who are struggling with blindness for the sighted. Ironically, they come to see. They come to see through the eyes of a man who was blind. So listen to John, chapter nine.
"As Jesus was passing by, He saw a man, a man who was blind. He was born that way. His disciples asked Him, 'Rabbi, who sinned? This man or his parents, that he was born blind?' Jesus answered, 'It was neither. Neither that this man sinned nor his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him. It is necessary for us to work the works of the One who sends Me while it is still day. Night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the Light of the world.' And after He said that, He spit on the ground, and He made mud with the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the mud. And He told him, 'Go and wash in the pool of Siloam.' Siloam means the one who is sent.
"So he went, and he washed, and he came back seeing. The neighbors and those who had formerly seen him, seen him as a beggar, began to say, 'Isn't this the man who used to sit and beg?' Some said, 'Yeah, it's him.' Others said, 'No, but it looks like him.' He kept saying, 'I am, I am!' So they brought to the Pharisees the man who was formerly blind and asked him how he had received his sight. He said to them, 'He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.' Some of the Pharisees began saying, 'This man is not from God because He does not keep the Sabbath.' But others said, 'How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs.' And so they were divided.
"And they asked the blind man, 'What do you say about Him, since He opened your eyes?' He said, 'He is a prophet.' Now the Jews there did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, 'Is this your son whom you say was born blind? How then now does he see?' And his parents said, 'We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind, but how he now sees? We do not know. Ask him, he is of age. He will speak for himself.'
"His parents said this because they were afraid. Because they feared the Jewish leaders because the Jewish leaders had already agreed that if anyone were to confess that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, he would be put out of the synagogue. So they said, 'Ask him, he is of age.' So for the second time, they called the man who had received his sight and said to him, 'Give glory to God, we know that this Man is a sinner.' And he said, 'Whether he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I know, though I was blind, now I see.' They said, 'What did He do you, how did He open your eyes?' He answered, 'I've already told you, why do you wish to hear it again. You don't also want to be His disciples, do you?' And they derided him, 'Oh, you are this Man's disciple. We are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this Man, we don't even know where He comes from.'
"He answered, 'Oh, that is an amazing thing. You do not know where He comes from and yet He opened my eyes! We know that God does not listen to sinners, but whoever is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him. And ever since the beginning of the world, has it ever been heard that anyone has opened the eyes of a man born blind? If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.' And they said to him, 'You were born in utter sin, and you would teach us?' And they expelled him out.
"Jesus heard that they had expelled him and when He found him, He said to him, 'Do you believe, do you trust in the Son of Man?' And he said, 'And who is He, sir, that I may trust in Him?' Jesus answered, 'You have seen Him, it is He who is speaking with you.' And he began to declare, 'Lord, I believe. Lord, I trust.' And he worshiped Him. And Jesus said, 'For judgment I have come into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see, may become blind.'"
That's the Gospel of John, chapter 9. Praise to you, oh, Christ.
I got my first pair of glasses when I was in the third grade. And for the next two years, I refused to wear them because I didn't like how they made me look. Dad was in the military at the time, and we were living in Colorado. He got a new assignment, and we had to move the summer before I started my sixth-grade year. So as we were moving, I decided that I would start wearing my glasses because the kids in my new school, they didn't know what I looked like without glasses. So I figured it wouldn't be a big deal.
We were pulling out of Colorado, leaving the majestic front range of the Rocky Mountains, and I put on my glasses, and what was once a blurry mass of brown and green snapped into vibrant relief and definition. And my eyes could not believe what they were seeing—what I had been missing—because I was worried about my image.
Ryan Knighton, the guy I mentioned before who gets lost in hotel rooms, he said that as he was going blind for those ten years, he realized that blindness is not the main problem. The main problem is embarrassment. The metaphor of blindness captures the darkness suffered by both the sighted and the blind. We all, sighted and blind, we stumble sightless into a dark future, shrouded in uncertainty. We lose sight of our loved ones as they move away, as we drift from them, as they pass into death. And when we see, all that we see is clouded in this haze of bias and presumption and self-righteousness. We don't see people the way Jesus sees people. We live inside the mistaken mental pictures and, oftentimes, we're too proud or too embarrassed to admit what we can't see. We don't see so well.
So, listen, listen to the whole Gospel of John with me this week. It'll only take about as much time as you devote to watching a movie. Listen to the whole thing, listen and see Jesus. See Jesus stop and relate to a marginalized man as a beloved child of God. Other people see past him; other people see him as cursed or forgotten by God; other people see him only as a beggar, but Jesus sees him as a brother. And Jesus sees you. He looks past your shame. He looks past your disability. He looks past your sin, and He sees you. He sees the person He created you to be. He's not ashamed by you. He's not embarrassed by you. He embraces you. He embraced you in His death on the cross. He took all your darkness upon Himself, and by His resurrection He embraces you with power, power to make you see like He sees. And He guides you and walks with you until the day when faith gives way to sight.
In his memoir, Ryan Knighton reflected on sharing life with his wife, Tracy. He writes, "Without exaggeration or sentimentality, Tracy is the greatest mystery of my disability. To live with me, she denies herself. She gives up some of who she is. How could I ask that of anyone? How does someone wake up each morning and choose to stay with blindness? It's not my place or capacity to answer for her. What I do know is this much: a blind person and a sighted partner can come to an intimacy that few are given. Imagine you only see the world through the eyes and words of another. Think about that. Relinquish your eyes, relinquish some of your consciousness to the control of another person."
Ryan writes, "Tracy sees for me in the way that I would have wanted to." In Ryan's words, "I see a high-resolution image of what it means to have life in Jesus. In my blindness, I am entrusted over to Him and Him to me. Truth comes to me, truth comes to us through His eyes, through His words. Truth about myself, truth about others, truth about the world comes to me through Him. He sees for me. He sees for you in the way that we would have wanted to."
If you are willing, I invite you to pray with me a prayer written by Julie von Hausmann. "Lord, take my hand and lead me upon life's way. Direct, protect, and feed me from day to day. Without Your grace and favor, I go astray. So take my hand, O Savior, and lead the way. Lord, when the shadows lengthen and night has come, I know that You will strengthen my steps toward home. Then nothing can impede me, O blessed Friend. So take my hand and lead me unto the end. Amen."
Reflections for March 10, 2019
Title: Through Another's Eyes
Mike Zeigler: Today I'm talking with Professor William Weinrich. He is a professor of early church history at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He is also a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, served as a chaplain for about 25 years in the Indiana Air National Guard, but he's also written this great commentary on the Gospel of John. We've been following John over the last several weeks on this program. So welcome Dr. Weinrich.
William Weinrich: Very, very good to be with you, Michael. Thank you for having me.
Mike Zeigler: All right. So you say that this man, the blind man who Jesus healed, who He gave back his sight, he is a visible stand-in for the invisible Jesus. How do you say that, or why do you say that?
William Weinrich: After roughly John 9:6, or so, Jesus never appears again until at the end of the chapter in verse 35, or so. Other chapters of John's Gospel, Jesus is always the central figure. Even if He is in rather hostile interaction with the Jews for example, in John 8. But in John 9, Jesus actually as a narrative figure disappears. The man born blind who now has come to see is what I call the visible stand-in for the invisible Jesus.
This is a narrative observation, but I would also like to say that it's a thematic observation. The man who is born blind comes to see by way of a washing in the pool of Siloam, which the evangelist wants to make sure we understand means the One who has been sent, that's Jesus. And so we could paraphrase John 9:7 that the man washed himself in the One who has been sent, and therefore this man now who has come to see is depicted as One sent.
Now throughout the Gospel of John, Jesus is the sent One from the Father, but the Jews or those who oppose Him do not recognize Him as the One who has been sent. And so immediately in the narrative of John 9, already beginning in verse 8, his neighbors wonder who this guy now is. And so some say, "Is this the one who was blind, and we saw sitting and begging?" Others say, "No, but he must be someone like him." So this echoes the Christological dilemma of Jesus' opponents. They don't recognize Him as the One sent from God. In John 9, the neighbors and the family even of the man born blind don't recognize who he is, but when he now voices who he is, he uses a Christological title. He says simply, "I am," and here your hearers might be interested to note that the Greek actually in its specificity is a little more important than what you might get from the English translation. Most English translations will say that the man says, "I am he," which would mean "Yes, I am the guy who was blind and used to sit begging." But in the Greek actually the man who now sees adopts the language of Jesus Himself, "I am," and so designates himself as the one who now is sent, we might say in Jesus' Name, but he now assumes a Christological identity who is known by his association with Jesus and so suffers the consequences. His neighbors, his family don't know who he is. He is placed on trial by the Pharisees and, eventually, he is tossed out of the synagogue at the end of the story.
Mike Zeigler: So he washes himself in the One who is sent and then is publicly identified, this one, so much so that you have trouble telling the two apart. He represents Jesus.
William Weinrich: That's right. In the narrative he assumes the persona of Christ Himself, and that's why I say he's the visible stand-in of the invisible Jesus. He assumes the place of Jesus in the story, but he is also a stand-in for every baptized Christian. He then becomes the image of what it means to be washed in the One who is sent and, therefore, we assume to ourselves the character, and the destiny of the One who has been sent. We become the ones who have been sent, and so we become the stand-ins, if I might again use that language of the invisible Jesus who was Himself the stand-in of the invisible father. And I think that kind of pattern of movement is characteristic of John's Gospel.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"On My Heart Imprint Your Image" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)