"20/20: Refocusing Our Vision"

A sermon based on Mark 8:22-26

We have quite a story this morning – Jesus heals a blind man, and it doesn’t quite work on the first try – it takes a "second touch" for Jesus to get it right. I’m gratified that even Jesus didn’t always get it right on the first try. And I’m comforted to know that he’ll give us a second chance, always!

Now, I don’t think the two-stage healing was necessarily because Jesus didn’t know what he was doing. I suspect there is a life lesson for us in the whole thing.

By now, by the eighth chapter of Mark’s Gospel, Jesus has a long track record of healing people: Simon Peter’s mother-in-law’s fever; people with unclean spirits, like the man who interrupted Jesus’ during the synagogue service in Capernaum, and the man who lived among the tombs of Gerash, on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, who had a "legion" of demons in him; there were crowds of sick people whom Jesus healed; some lepers who were cleansed… and that paralyzed man who had been lowered through his roof, who took up his mat and walked!

So, by now, people expect Jesus to heal whoever is brought to him. (Right?)

And if you thought so, you’d be right! He will be healed.

But how many of us imagined that Jesus would spit in a blind person’s eyes!?

Isn’t that a bit rude? It seems disrespectful, if not downright mean! (Jesus, I’ll have you know: we don’t do things like that around here!) Well… maybe the lesson for us is that we need to be a bit more open to unorthodox behavior, a little less queasy about what’s "proper", ready to step "outside the box" if that’s what’s needed to help somebody heal. (!) Maybe the church itself (if we are the Body of Christ) needs to hack up some phlegm on occasion, to motivate us to get things cleaned up… things to which we’ve been blind… ideas and habits that have festered in darkness and we don’t see it. (!)

You’ll notice my sermon title is about us… Refocusing our vision. You see, this story is not really about the blind guy at all. I believe there is a message for us -- Alpena’s First Church, oldest church, richest church -- as we look toward the future.

I’m told that optimal vision is 20/20. No need for glasses. With 20/20 vision, a person can see clearly at a distance, and see clearly up-close. Frankly, at age 64, I’m at the stage of needing reading glasses; so my vision is no longer optimal. Many of you know about "bi-focal" glasses – one lens down low for seeing "up close", and another set of lenses above that for seeing "at a distance".

I’m going to use those bi-focal glasses as a metaphor this morning, and in some of my up-coming sermons this summer, as we look into our future as a congregation.

In fact, even the notion of 20/20 vision – optimal sight – is a metaphor for me, inasmuch as the year 2020 is only two years ahead of us. Things that we can do now, this year and next, is the "up-close lens"; where we will be as a church -- as a community, as people -- in the year 2020, is the "distant lens". 2020 is only two years off, so it’s "do-able" for most of us.

This approach to today’s text -- that it’s really trying to say something about us and our vision, not just the blind man’s -- came to my mind when I read a sentence four verses earlier than the story we read this morning. Jesus says to his disciples (while they were in the boat headed toward Bethsaida): "Having eyes, do you not see; and having ears, do you not hear?" (verse 18) So, if Jesus’ disciples were missing the point -- and they were right there with him (literally, in the same boat!) -- and they’d been listening to him and watching him for eight chapters now! – it’s possible that my eyes and your eyes are not seeing the whole picture, even though we’ve been together for 5 years.

Here’s what happened as Mark tells it (I quote):

And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to Jesus a blind

man, and begged him to touch him. And Jesus took the blind man by the

hand, and led him out of the village. And when he had spit on his eyes, and

laid his hands upon him, he asked him: "Do you see anything?" And the

man looked up, and said: "I see men, but they look like trees walking." Then

again Jesus laid his hands upon his eyes; and he looked intently and was

restored, and saw everything clearly. And Jesus sent him away to his home,

saying: "Do not even enter the village."

Well, I'm tempted to unpack some of the significance of Jesus' actions – that unexpected (in-your-face) "spitting," for example, which was forbidden by the Jews in healing, because it was considered in the ancient world as an element of "magic." It was "witchery"! But that is what Jesus did… anyway!

However, as tempted as I am to un-pack actions such as the spitting, in the context of Jewish beliefs, and the miracle itself of healing… that’s not my focus this morning.

I was struck (first) that we don’t know this man’s name -- like we do blind Bartimaeus, whom we will meet in a couple weeks (in Mark 10:46-52) -- whom Jesus also healed of his blindness, and who followed Jesus into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. We know Bartimaeus’s name, that he was the son of Timeaus, and that he lived in Jericho.

But we don’t know this man’s name, only his condition. Maybe the people of his village only knew him as "that blind man".

You know, it’s hard to get unstuck from a condition when everybody knows "that one thing" about you! Some disability, some shortcoming, some indiscretion from your youth, or almost anything that sets you apart from the rest – a different race, a different religion, a different sexual orientation or economic status, an ex-con, your weight, your choice of clothes. Different!

But the villagers knew it was important that the man get his vision. Proverbs 29:18 says: "Where there is no vision, the people perish." When people can’t see right, they can’t move right, can’t work right. They may not be physically blind, like this man, but they may be spiritually blind, emotionally blind, mentally ignorant & not know it – that’s blind in a really bad way!

I appreciate that the villagers brought this blind man to Jesus and asked for him to touch him. We should be like that.

I’m sure the people expected Jesus to do as they asked. Touch him, and heal him. It’s what Jesus had done many times before. ("C’mon Jesus, we’ve done our part, now you do yours. We brought him to you for healing, so, now, heal!") Apparently they had to ask more than once! Mark says that they "begged him" to touch the man. So, what’s the delay about? Doesn’t Jesus care? Isn’t he able to do this miracle in their village that he’s done in others?