The message that Jesus sent to John was that those who were blind are able to see, Those with severe disabilities are able to walk, those with disease are cleansed, those who are deaf now hear, those who are dead now live, and the poor hear the good news. What is interesting about all of these words in Greek is that while they do have the literal meanings of seeing, being disabled, being unclean, hearing, etc….there is also a choice in the use of these Greek words. There are other words for sight in Greek, for example that just mean physical sight. But the word that is chosen here means more “perception”. The perceptions are named as false – the perceptions that what matter are material things, and royalty, and men in refined clothing (to quote vs. 8). Jesus first reassures John and then confronts a crowd who have many in it who still cannot see. Why are they there? What have they come to experience and see? Did they come to see the famous? The wealthy? Those with power on earth? If so, if they have come to be part of the glorious of this world, they are in the wrong place. But, as Jesus said to John, those who are perceiving wrong are being challenged and changed. Their perceptions will be cleared and they will finally see and understand what is really important. Those who cannot see the truth will finally see – wealth, popularity, earthly power – these things are not what matters, they are not what God is about. And the deaf, those who have failed to hear the Good News that God comes to be with us not, again, as a mighty kind, but as a helpless baby who will find himself crucified on a cross, and who, when he rises, will not use that power to “punish” his enemies or to overthrow the governments, but instead will continue to preach love and peace and forgiveness – those who have been deaf will finally hear this. And those who have been bent over with shame and pain and humiliation, they will finally find the strength to stand up for what matters and to be part of ushering that in. And those who have been isolated by diseases that cause them to be unclean will take their place in society and refuse to allow the judgments and condemnations of others hold them back. And those who are dead, who fail to live, who fail to find joy or meaning or purpose in this life – they will finally live, they will get that the things they thought would bring life meant nothing.
Jesus has declared this good news. He has declared that it is here, it is happening. With his coming, our perceptions and our choices are changing. Why? What changes us? What brings us to a new perception? I know that there are people even today who follow Jesus who are still waiting for him to return as a mighty king who will overthrow governments and come in wealth and splendor. Who will bring us wealth and splendor. Have they not heard? Have they not seen? What will open their eyes? What will cause any of our visions to be different, any of our visions to be opened and expanded into real sight?
I found myself reading a great deal about Nelson Mandela this last week again. And one of the things I found most interesting was that it was in prison that he developed his non-violent and reconciliation stance. People were waiting for him to emerge from prison and lead them in a bloody revolution. They expected him to lead them in fighting and to bring about change through violence. But he came out different than that. He came out from a living hell into the sun and preached forgiveness. He came out claiming that he would be staying in his own prison to stay in anger or to act from a place of seeking revenge. Mandela was changed in the least likely place in the least likely way. Why? Through time in prayer, meditation, prayer, study, prayer, reflection, he was changed into a person who was able to bring out a complete change in South Africa because he approached the conflict with a deeper vision of reconciliation, forgiveness and love for ALL people. What changed him? Prayer, study, meditation.
Jasmyn reminded me yesterday of this line from Charles Dickens’ “a Christmas Carol” during which the Ghost of Christmas present is showing Scrooge a conversation that Bob Cratchit is having with his wife. Mrs. Cratchit asks how little Tim behaved. “As good as gold,” said Bob, “and better. Somehow he gets thoughtful sitting by himself so much and thinks the strangest things you ever heard. He told me, coming home, that he hoped the people saw him in the church, because he was a cripple, and it might be pleasant to them to remember upon Christmas Day, who made lame beggars walk and blind men see.” Is that what we would think? Or would we wonder why the person who made lame beggars walk and blind folk see had not given Tim healing as well? Would we find ourselves hoping that maybe through prayer Tim would be changed eventually? Or would we step up and claim that a people whom God has led into sight, hearing and life, that we are called to help Tim walk ourselves? And would we see that in so many ways, Tim was already walking with far more strength of purpose and love than we yet have learned to do?
What can change our perceptions? What can open our eyes to see the God who turns it all around? who cures, and feeds and heals and brings good things to all people? What can change that perception?
God does. And encounter with God. That is the only thing that can change our perception. But that encounter, as we read each advent and Christmas, will never be what we expect, when we expect it, or how we expect it. What changed the people we talked about today? The shock of a genuine encounter with God. It was the shock of encountering God in the most disabled child calling for a blessing on the most closed hearted people. The shock of encountering God in a prison after being placed there for trying to set people free. The shock of God coming to us as a poor baby to a young mother, and declaring that the blind can see, the lame can walk. The shock of encountering God as we see Jesus’ declarations actually take place before our very eyes…that those who once had nothing, no legs to stand on, no resources to support them, no eyes that could see are those who now see or ears that could hear now do hear, see, and stand tall, living lives of depth and meaning. The shock of encountering God when our lives are turned on their heads. Jesus. God in Jesus. God with us, Emmanuel. That is what changes us. And that is what God calls us to this Advent.
In today’s gospel, John is asking if Jesus is the one. He asks as he, himself, sits in prison, wasting, suffering. He asks because he needs the joy that only that shocking encounter of God’s reversals in life can give us…..the joy that says, life is not about what we think it’s about. Life is not about the comforts of now, it is about the blessings of God which are eternal. Life is not about the material wealth of now, but the grace of God that is for always. In Jesus message, despite John’s suffering, Joy is to be found.
The message is the same for us. In our hardest times, in our times of the deepest struggle, God says, that in this, there is sight for our hurting and lost perceptions. There is healing for our aches, though it may look different than what we have thought or hoped for. There is renewal and grace and vision. There is Jesus. And with Jesus everything is new, everything is different, everything can begin again.
Peace be with you. Amen.