I’m going to begin this sermon a little differently from how I usually do. I’m going to start with a visual aid and a little experiment that I hope will help open our eyes.
About ten or twelve years ago we commissioned this icon of Jesus and Philip. Take a good look at the icon. What do you see? Let me be clear about what I’m asking. I don’t want you to tell me what you are looking at. I want to know what you see.
When we look at the icon Jesus is standing next to Philip. Jesus has his arm around Philip and Philip is cradling our church building. Jesus is holding a scroll with a verse of scripture. But when we see the icon we discover meaning and experience presence. We see ourselves cradled in the arm of Philip. We see Jesus wrapping his arm around and embracing us. We feel their affection for us. We matter. We experience ourselves as part of something larger than and beyond ourselves. We see the scripture verse as a question about our seeing. Seeing brings about new awarenesses.
Or you could think about it this way. In a little while you will gather around the altar for communion. I will hold before you a wafer and as you look at that little piece of bread I will invite you to see the Body of Christ. I will invite you to see more than what you are looking at. That’s what it’s like when our eyes are opened.
It’s what the neighbors and religious authorities in today’s gospel (John 9:1-41) are either unable or unwilling to do. They’re looking at the man blind from birth but they don’t see him. They don’t see that his eyes have been opened and his life transformed. They don’t see that mud, water, and open eyes are an allusion to the creation of Adam (Genesis 2:6-7) and that day when his and Eve’s eyes were opened (Genesis 3:7). They look at a beggar blind from birth but don’t see the new creation before them. They are looking with closed eyes and fail to see the need for their eyes to be opened, their lives transformed, and themselves made a new creation.
And isn’t that sometimes true for you and me? Maybe we’re not all that different from the neighbors and religious leaders. I wonder if we can look at them today and see some of our own blindspots.
Looking and seeing are not the same thing. One is about outward appearances, the other is about the heart and inner awareness. (1 Samuel 16:7) We look with our physical eyes but we see with the eye of the heart. We have been given double vision, the ability to look on outward appearances and see the heart of the matter. Both are necessary. Too often, however, we live with mono-vision. We look but don’t see. We look at what’s happening but fail to see what’s going on in what is happening.
So how’s your vision these days? How large is it? Is it expanding or is it becoming myopic and shortsighted? How has your vision changed over the years? Are you seeing yourself, others, and the world in new ways? Or are you looking at the same old thing you’ve looked at for years? Are you gaining clarity and insight? And if not, why not? What’s the cataracts that has clouded your seeing?
Are you offering others a soft eye or are you giving them the mal ojo, the evil eye?
Are you profiling others by how they look or behave, where they’re from, their work or lack of work, their religious or political affiliations, what they believe? If so, what’s behind that for you? What’s distorting your vision of them? What would help you to see beyond outward appearances?
In what ways have fear, bias, guilt and regret, wounds and hurt, anger and resentment, created blind spots for you? What keeps you from seeing clearly? How large is your vision of the church, America, Uvalde? Who’s in and who’s out? Who matters and who doesn’t?
When you are out and about your day who do you see and who do you not see? To what are you turning a blind eye?
What forgiveness do you need to offer or receive in order to see yourself or another in a new light? What tears do you need to cry in order to cleanse the lens of your heart’s eye? What would help you today to open your eyes and enlarge your vision?
I don’t ask any of those questions as a judgment or criticism. The questions are diagnostic. I think we are always sharpening our vision and learning to see more clearly. And Jesus is our divine optometrist. But instead of asking, “Which is better, lens one or lens two?” he says, “Here’s mud in your eye. Now go wash in the pool of Siloam.” That’s the testimony of the man in today’s gospel. “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed and now I see.”
The pool of Siloam is a metaphor for the eye-opening experiences that happen throughout our lives. And we all have them. They’re part of our everyday life. The pool of Siloam is the people, relationships, insights, events, and experiences that open our eyes. They change the way we see ourselves, others, and the world. They reveal things about ourselves and life we’d never seen before. They help us see in new and different ways.
Sometimes the pool of Siloam opens our eyes to something beautiful and other times to something tragic. Sometimes we leave the pool with joy and gratitude and other times we leave with sorrow and heartbreak. Some days it feels like we are backstroking through the water of Siloam and other days it feels like we’re drowning in it. Some days the pool of Siloam opens our eyes to something we’ve dreamt of and waited for years to see. And other days it opens our eyes to the last thing we ever wanted to see. We wish we could unsee it but we can’t.
I remember the day a nurse placed my newborn younger son in my hands and my eyes were opened to beauty, life, and the reality of miracles like never before. Cyndy and our marriage continue to open my eyes to what it means to love, what love offers me, and what it asks of me. The day our older son Brandon died opened my eyes to the fragility of life in a way I had never seen before. It showed me that I don’t want to waste a minute or take for granted anyone. My ordination to the priesthood has opened my eyes in a thousand different ways. Each of those is for me a pool of Siloam. They have changed and continue to influence the way I see myself and the world, what matters most, and how I want to live.
My spiritual director often takes me to the pool of Siloam and shows me things about myself I couldn’t or didn’t want to see. Sometimes I like what I see, others times not so much. Either way my life and vision are enlarged. And May 24, 2022, was a pool of Siloam day that opened my eyes and forever changed how I see life, Uvalde, my priesthood. It is a lens through which I now see everything.
What about you? When have you been to the pool of Siloam? What has opened your eyes and what difference is that making? What blindspots need to be washed in the pool of Siloam today? What’s opening your eyes today?
I’m always struck that the man in today’s gospel receives new sight but we’re never told what difference it makes in his life, what he does, or how he responds to what he now sees. Maybe we’re not told those things because they are our questions to answer. What he does with his new seeing is less important than what you and I do with ours.
Do you remember what the word Siloam means? It means “sent.” Maybe we go to the pool of Siloam to have our eyes opened and then be sent back to our life, relationships, to Uvalde, the world to see things in a new light, make a difference, and live in a new way. Maybe every new seeing, every eye-opening experience, is asking something of us. Like an invitation or a calling it awaits our response.
So I wonder, what are you seeing in yourself, your life and relationships, or Uvalde that is new and eye-opening? What is it asking of you? And how are you responding to what you are now seeing?
I understand the point and seeing our own heart and motives is surely a deeper way of looking and seeing. I am confused by the multiple references to Uvalde. I don’t think it’s metaphorical, but these many months later most people are not focused on Uvalde, so are you ministering there? Just a bit lost on that point.
Nancy, I’m sorry I confused you. Yes, I live and serve a parish in Uvalde.
Peace be with you,
Your message gave me much to reflect on and much to mourn over as well. How often do we choose not to see what is before us? It seems that is what our country’s leaders are doing time and again. Refusing to see opportunity for change, for good, what is wrong, and what is right but different. How often do I myself refuse to see these things in my own life?
Along with those questions I still have hope – for I too have learned how to see again – after my own brush with death, after my parent’s deaths, after my marriage failed, and so many other life moments. Each time – with grace and assurance Jesus was with me as my eyes were opened to life anew. It isn’t always easy – even with Jesus by my side – to keep looking forward rather than falling back into those comforting blind-spots – but I keep trying and learning how to see.
Thank you for these words of encouragement.
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What a beautiful way of seeing Erika, thank you. I think we are learning to see and sharpening our vision.
God’s peace be with you,