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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Lent 03/26/2017

Everyone looks, but not everyone sees.  It’s a line from my basketball coaching days when I would attend clinics that included big name college coaches like Bob Knight who back then was in the middle of his long, successful run at Indiana.  Despite flaws which made him very controversial, he was an exceptional teacher of basketball, the best I ever heard, and “everyone looks, but not everyone sees,” was one of his lines.

What he was talking about was how some players just see the game differently which enables them to anticipate what’s going to happen and effectively to be a half step or a step ahead of everyone else.  It’s true of certain players in pretty much every sport; I think of all the years I watched Larry Bird play with the Celtics; his vision overcame the fact that he was slow and couldn’t jump.  I think of Wayne Gretzky in hockey, someone whose physical stature and skills were pretty ordinary, but who, because of his ability to see, set records that might never be broken.  I also think this kind of vision is true of great writers and poets in a slightly different way as they are people who see things in ordinary objects or events that the rest of us don’t; but then, creatively using words, they help us to see.

Everyone looks but not everyone sees could be the title of today’s story of the man born blind.  On the surface it’s a healing story, a story of a blind man receiving his sight.  In reality it’s less about actual blindness and more about what we might call spiritual blindness as an assortment of characters come and go, mostly remaining unable to see what had really happened.  I don’t know if John intended it or not, but I always think that with the confusion of the characters there is something of a comic element in the way this story is told. 

Jesus’ role in this account is actually relatively small.  He’s active in the first seven verses, as he encounters this man born blind and heals him but then Jesus is off stage until verse 35 as other groups interact with the man, surprised about what had happened, but mostly skeptical, suspecting that it was some kind of grand hoax. 

First it’s the neighbors who are understandably confused on finding that this man can now see.  Some are pretty sure it’s the same man, others are not so sure thinking it must just be someone who looks like the blind man despite him saying repeatedly, “It’s me!”  When questioned on how it happened, he told them: “The man called Jesus rubbed mud on my eyes, told me to go wash, and now I can see.”  Jesus himself, of course, is offstage; they can’t question him so instead the neighbors take the man to the Pharisees, people with more wisdom and authority than they have.  Surely they will be able to sort this out.

We know though, that the Pharisees are usually portrayed as nitpicking bad guys in the gospel accounts and they don’t disappoint us here.  What we always have to remember though as we stereotype the Pharisees, is that in a lot of ways, they is us; they have many of the same tendencies that we do. Their first inclination is to want to figure out what really happened; there has to be some logical explanation because people aren’t blind one day and able to see the next.  This is something that falls outside of their understanding, outside that which they think is possible, outside that which they can manage and control and classify.  So, as the respected people of authority that they are, they ask the man what happened assuming that he’ll tell them what they want to hear, but they get the same response the neighbors got. 

Getting nowhere with conventional questioning they decide to use the legal tactic of “let’s change the subject and make this about something else.”  They decide to focus not on what happened, but when it happened and as soon as they find out that this healing took place on the Sabbath, they’ve got what they want.  Rather than marveling at the wonder of what had happened, rather than opening their eyes to the possibility of something new, they preferred to classify this event as a violation of the law and to classify Jesus as a sinner, “not from God,” because someone who was from God would know better than to heal on the Sabbath.  They totally miss the point, but in doing so they’re able to preserve the order of their world.

Confident in their conclusion, the Pharisees again question the formerly blind man, expecting him to now see that they must be right because they know more than he does, but he sticks to his story this time identifying Jesus as a prophet.  Note here the similarity with last week’s story and the progression of titles for Jesus:  the woman at the well began by calling Jesus “Sir,” then moved to prophet before she finally got to the possibility of him being the Messiah.  The blind man starts by identifying Jesus as “the man called Jesus,” and now in this scene, like the woman, he’s moved to identifying Jesus as a prophet.  We’ll see where it goes.

Having gotten nowhere with the man himself, the Pharisees then continue in their effort to debunk any talk of a miracle by calling in the man’s parents, wanting them to admit that their son had never really been blind to begin with.  Perhaps knowing that there’s a storm brewing around this man called Jesus, the parents pull a classic “don’t get us involved” routine, acknowledging that it is their son and he was indeed born blind but then covering it with “He’s of age; he can speak for himself.  Keep us out of this,” and they quickly make their exit.

Having failed in that effort, the Pharisees return to the man born blind but this time he rather boldly taunts them with, “Since you’re so interested in hearing about this Jesus, you must want to be his disciples.”  Their response then amounts to little more than, “Who do you think you are talking to us like that?”

What this whole confrontation is about is vision.  In a sense, the Pharisees have blinders on, kind of like the ones they use on horses so that all the horse can see is what’s straight ahead, nothing off to the side, nothing that might be a distraction.  For the Pharisees, their blinders have to do with only seeing what they want to see and what they want to see is only what they can make sense of, nothing that might challenge their preconceived notions.

Jesus on the other hand, is always pushing beyond the limits of what can be seen only by looking straight ahead, beyond that which can be easily explained and categorized.  He is always about opening the door to new possibilities, about getting people to take off their blinders in order to see not just what is, but what could be.  Jesus is always raising the question of whether we see the world as essentially fixed and unchangeable apart from rearranging the furniture, or do we believe that something really new is possible.  Actually he doesn’t just ask if we believe that something new is possible, he wants us to expect something new because newness, new life, especially out of brokenness, is what he’s all about.  It’s the story of death and resurrection that Lent leads us to, new life out of the brokenness of death.

We’d like to think that we’re on Jesus’ side of this, that we share his vision.  As I said earlier though, we have to be careful when we talk or think negatively about the Pharisees because we too are subject to Pharisaical blinders.  It may not be that we want to be like them, that we want to deny the possibility of something completely new and miraculous, it’s just that our intellect and reason tell us the same kinds of things that it told them:  someone is not blind one day and able to see the next, it just doesn’t happen.  Someone is not executed on Friday, and alive again on Sunday.  There must be a logical explanation that fits into categories that we can understand. 

Intellect and reason and logic are important, but so are imagination and wonder because that’s what leads to the confidence of new possibilities.  If our vision remains limited by logic and reason and the facts on the ground, hope can be in short supply and Jesus for us might never be more than “Sir,” as last week’s woman from Samaria and this week’s blind man called him.  Maybe, like them, we could even see him as a prophet, or like his disciples we could call him Rabbi, teacher, seeing him as someone with good things to teach us.  To see him as the Messiah however, requires a different kind of vision.

The woman at the well had that vision.  When she heard Jesus talk about living water, she saw him differently.  The man born blind also had that vision.  When he heard Jesus talk about the Son of Man, the possibilities inherent in such a strange sounding figure opened his eyes so he could not only look, but he could see; and what he saw was Jesus and he worshiped him, and so do we.

Everyone looks, but not everyone sees.  We give thanks for Jesus’ vision that becomes our vision as we take off our blinders and share in his vision of new life and hope.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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