“How is it that your eyes were opened?” (John 9)
“How is it that your eyes were opened?” is what the religious leaders ask the man whom Jesus healed. “How is it that your eyes were opened?” is the question from people who don’t understand the behavior of Jesus and his followers. “How is it that your eyes were opened?” ask the people who can’t logically figure out the process of gaining clear sight. “How is it that your eyes were opened?” ask our family members of varying political persuasions, ask our bosses and volunteer captains, ask our activist friends, ask the neighbors whom we serve.
The question that is the refrain in our text today is important because it is voiced no less than four times throughout this whole passage. The only clear answer to the question that I can find here–and as we know, things are not always clear when Jesus is involved–is that the man’s ability to see resulted from an encounter with Jesus.
In the Baptist Peace Fellowship of North America~Bautistas por la Paz, we provide opportunities to encounter Jesus and have our sight restored. As we know, sometimes the way we learn to see is by removing the log from our own eyes, or wiping away the mud that has been placed there by layers of societal training to think a certain way, and when the BPFNA~Bautistas por la Paz gather together, we come with a wet washcloth perfect for wiping away grime and tools for chucking logs away into the woodpile. For the last couple years, our annual summer conference has been focused on themes from Jesus’ story in Matthew 25, wherein people ask the ruler, “When have we seen you naked and hungry and thirsty and ill and in prison?” Last year, we gathered around the theme of “When Did We See You in Prison?: Breaking Social and Structural Injustice.” This coming July, we will congregate in Toluca, Mexico to address the question “When Did We See You Naked? Clothing Each Other With Hope.” Each summer, we ask a gospel question; we practice removing the logs from our own eyes with workshops and deep conversations as we build meaningful relationships across differences of country, language, ethnicity and culture; and begin to see clearly so we can confront the world as it is. Maybe we did not think about those who are imprisoned and detained prior to Peace Camp; but afterwards, we have had encounters with people for whom those stories are lived realities, and we see differently. Maybe we don’t normally consider the different ways in which people must be clothed with hope; but at this coming Peace Camp in July, we will have direct encounters with folks who are dealing with grief and depression and desolation, and with whom we can share our hopes and dreams. Then, we see differently. All of this happens by encountering Jesus through encounters with each other. And sometimes when we return to our homeplaces and families of origin, people ask us, “What did you learn? How is it that your eyes were opened?”
In true Jesus-style, I’m going to ask you another question: once we have gained new sight, what is it that our eyes have been opened to see? Perhaps we view in a new way the reality of injustice that looks like homelessness and hunger in our community; young children crossing the desert borders alone; families divided in anger and anxiety over political events in our world. These truths are important to see, and we must gain courage not to look away. And also perhaps our eyes are opened for the purpose of seeing the world that is possible if we follow in the footsteps of Jesus: some call it the beloved community, the peaceable kin-dom, a world characterized by justice and restoration of relationship and affirmation of the imago Dei, the image of God, in all of creation, all of our neighbors–even in us! May we be brave enough to wipe away the mud and remove the logs and risk encountering Jesus. May we learn to see those who are hungry and naked and ill and in prison, and may we witness to those who ask us these good and hard gospel questions.
(This sermon snippet originally preached at the Good Shepherd UCC in Sahuarita, AZ on March 26, 2017 alongside two other “Gospel Questions”: “Where do you get this living water?” and “Who do you say that I am?”)