"Can you see anything?" This is the question Jesus asks after applying a folk remedy on the eyes of a man who was blind. The man takes a good hard look around and says, "I can see people, but they look like trees, walking." Jesus phrases the question as anything, but the man answers as if Jesus was more concerned if he could see anyone. Which, given Jesus' way, is exactly what Jesus wants to know. The man's eyesight, sadly, is not yet fully healed, for he can barely make out what ought to be people. To his myopic eyes, they look like "trees, walking."
They're wooden, you might say. They lumber along, not quite human, kinda stilted and awkward. They appear uprooted, displaced. They look close enough like persons, they seem to be living, but their hands and legs are as stiff as limbs, shuffling like they're being manipulated by an outside cause, buffeted about by some wind, instead of moved by the heart's warm blood that flows from within.
The lack of grace is telling. The fact that he can only see objects that roughly resemble human beings tells Jesus that his job of healing is not done, that there's more to see, that he might want to back up and make another run at this thing called healing. So Jesus lays his hands on his eyes once more. This time we find that the man "looked intently and his sight was restored, and he saw everything (and everyone) clearly."
May I suggest that this is our story, whether we are sighted or not. Sure enough, this man is cured of the physical disability called blindness; but more importantly, he was healed of a deeper inability or unwillingness to see. It's this blindness that is epidemic in our culture and threatens to suffocate our souls: the tendency to see others as partial instead of whole, as objects instead of human. As Jewish mystic Martin Buber would say, we tend to see others as an It instead of a Thou. The formerly blind man was set free by Jesus to a restored sight lit by compassionate "insight." He looked on others intently and clearly.
Just yesterday I took my wife to the eye doctor. Actually, a retina specialist. We've been monitoring some micro holes and tears that have caused occasional "floaters." My wife's a physician, so I needn't say how concerning this is for us. The specialist wants to keep his eyes on this, to see if things have gotten worse or stabilized since the last visit. So I dropped my wife off to have her eyes dilated, ran a quick errand, then returned and parked.
For a few moments I sat in the parking lot. I checked my mail, reluctant to join the others in the worry-thick waiting room. People came in and out of the medical complex. I say "people," but to be honest, most looked like "trees, walking." For a while I was under a spell, bewitched. I saw only Republicans, older white folk in Buicks. Most limped along, or were wheeled by adult children, or scraped their walkers across the hot asphalt. I groaned at old age, its predictability, the incessant doctor appointments and Fox TV and dimishment that increasingly define their days. Then, slowly, instead of "their," I began to see "our." The gift of en-visioning began. I could see these men and women 20-30 years younger, even as children, their Buicks swapped for a Schwinn Stingray with a banana seat or a '65 Mustang, their thick-soled, velcroed diabetic shoes replaced by Chuck Taylor high-tops. The men had full heads of hair, the women turned shapely and sat in convertibles. The ache in my own crumbling left knee began barking. I felt the fear and vulnerability that my wife might be a doctor's appointment away from losing her vocation. I was no longer seeing Republican or Democrat, old or young, affluent or poor, Buick or Prius, Fox or MSNBC. It gave way to Thou. For a moment it was all human and frail and glorious, one great sense of humanity swept over me. I could see time in a moment, all that's passing and flawed and transient rooted together and mysteriously blossoming, held in the larger love of God. For a moment, I saw clearly and intently. I was healed by the hand of Christ. Then I went inside to hold my wife's hand exactly as we had some 35 years ago. In that moment I knew, as Martin Buber also taught, that "Hatred remains blind by its very nature; one can hate only part of a being."
In the end, my wife got the report we'd hoped for: her eyes have stabilized and are good to go! As for her husband's eyesight, well . . .
The world is full of people we don't get. Guess what, chances are, they don't get us either. Maybe they don't vote like you, or drive like you, or parent like you, or worship like you, or look like you, or even like you. As Lynyrd Skynyrd once put it, "There's things goin' on that you don't know." Which makes the challenge before us formidable. Our differences make a difference. Many of them are deeply rooted in values. But if that's all we see, we remain in need of having our eyesight healed. Healed again and again. Because, like the man without sight before Jesus, we need Jesus to keep his hands on us, to continue healing us day by day till our eyes have wings. Again, Buber: "The It is the chrysalis, the Thou the butterfly."
And maybe, finally, we need to hear Jesus say to us, as he said to the healed man so long ago, "Do not even go into the village. Go home." Can we give ourselves a break when it comes to mixing it up in the public forum? Read, study, ponder, google, pray, post, vote--but do so humbly. Very few of us are politicians, no matter how sure we are of our opinions. Instead of allowing our judgments and answers to make us seethe and see red, why not start closer in? Why not just go home and live out the love of Christ? Live it out where you are most unceremoniously at home, in the ordinary places and through the simple, regular actions expressed within the lives of those who are closest to you, whether you like it or not. Go home to the sleep-deprived clerk at the 7-11 around the corner and make her day with an unexpected tip, or maybe a compliment. Or, here's an idea, ask her how she's doing--then listen. Try that and see where it puts you. Because there's a larger life beyond our tribalism, cynicism, nihilism. November 8 comes and goes, but God's love is eternal--and we are all brothers and sisters.
I grew up in a home with a family Bible that sat on the coffee table in the living room of every house we ever lived in. We moved, but the family Bible stayed at the center. The Salvation Edition. Sure, it may have gathered dust, and there were times when the family fur flew, but there it sat. Watching us. Reading us. Calling us. A holy book with a picture of Jesus carrying his cross. Letting us know through thick and thin the cost of sacrificial love, offering us the key to our locked hearts, the larger way home.