Text for the Fourth Sunday of Lent 2017: John 9:1-41 – the Man Born Blind
Jesus says to the man, formerly blind but now able to see, “You have seen Him, and the One speaking with you is He.” (John 9:37 NABRE) Do you notice that the man’s first contact with Jesus in this story is not when he saw Jesus (he was blind!), but when he heard Him … and then felt Him touching his eyes with his wet fingers? And even here, “the One speaking with you” is about the man hearing Jesus, even though the man is now able to see Him. A few lines later, Jesus offers this unsettling word: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind.” (John 9:39 NABRE)
One could consider the possibility that Jesus is suggesting a priority of hearing when it comes to knowing others well. Ought we to rely more on what we hear of/in/from a person than what we see? Or, to make mincemeat of the language, it may be that Jesus is saying that when we see others we are apt to be more blind than in-sight-full; while when we hear others, we are more apt to “see” them.
In John’s First Letter (1 John 4:4-6 NABRE), we notice the same priority given to hearing more than seeing:
4 You belong to God, children, and you have conquered them [N.B. those of the world], for the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. 5 They belong to the world; accordingly, their teaching belongs to the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We belong to God, and anyone who knows God listens to us, while anyone who does not belong to God refuses to hear us. This is how we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of deceit. 
What if it is the case – the way it is supposed to work – that we are supposed to give far less attention to what we see in others than what we hear? What if seeing others before listening to them is a bias that has gotten early into the human race, such that God, in Christ, felt it necessary to be especially strong about breaking the hold of this misapprehension? What if we have such a strong bias towards seeing others, that we need a “new teaching” about how to “silence” our eyes and activate our ears? Hear first; then pay attention to what you see.
4 When he has driven out all his own, he walks ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they recognize his voice. 5 But they will not follow a stranger; they will run away from him, because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.” 6 Although Jesus used this figure of speech, they did not realize what he was trying to tell them. 
Perhaps the real point of the justly famous story given us in John 9:1-41 is not about healing the blind, but about how a blind man was able to hear God (such a gift!) … and who, almost incidentally, was then able to see Him – “You have seen Him, and the one speaking with you is He.” And this point is articulated in relation to those blessed with perfectly good eyes, who could see Jesus, but who refused to listen to Him … and so (in Jesus’ way of speaking) made themselves blind.
When I was a boy, I am thinking sometime just before I went to Sacajawea Junior High School (grades 7 and 8), I decided one summer day (I remember the heat and so recall the season) to “play” being blind. It could have been that my two older sisters, Carol and Catey, decided to “play” this with me. We blindfolded ourselves and then spent the next couple of hours trying to find the world with nothing but our hearing and touch and smell giving us the clues. I still remember how “strange” the world was for those two hours. I was finding a world that I had only in fragments sensed was there to find … if only I could let go of seeing. I began to apprehend how little of the world I saw because I failed to listen to it. I was “seeing” the world better because Carol and Catey and I decided to blind ourselves that summer afternoon in Spokane.
Consider this lovely poem by William Stafford, found in his early collection, A Scripture of Leaves (1989), and called “Listening”:
My father could hear a little animal step,
or a moth in the dark against the screen,
and every far sound called the listening out
into places where the rest of us had never been.
More spoke to him from the soft wild night
than came to our porch for us on the wind;
we would watch him look up and his face go keen
till the walls of the world flared, widened.
My father heard so much that we still stand
inviting the quiet by turning the face,
waiting for a time when something in the night
will touch us too from that other place.
I ask, “What kind of Lenten discipline would it be if we deliberately worked to listen first to those around us, while fasting from the priority of seeing them?” What if this Lenten season found us practicing a kind of holy refusal to let what we see in others control whether we will decide to listen to them?
Said Sherlock Holmes to his Dr. Watson, in many places, but here in “The Case of Identity,”:
“You [Sherlock] appeared to read a good deal upon her which was quite invisible to me,” I [Watson] remarked. “Not invisible but unnoticed, Watson. You did not know where to look, and so you missed all that was important.”
Let us live mindfully, and with confidence and energy, this fourth week of Lent that is before us to live.
 The “world,” in John’s way of thinking, is not a place but about a degree of awakeness in persons. In the same way the word “flesh” in St. Paul refers to that part of a person (or of a people or nation) that still does not want to believe God, cannot believe God, or is still in the process of believing God (notice that I am saying “believing God” not “believing in God”), so “the world” in John refers to the same kind of thing. Those who believe in Christ are not a pre-selected, a privileged group of people in the world. They are simply people like everyone else – all called, all approached by God – who have become awake to the reality of God, becoming more fully human as a result. In contrast, there are those who, for whatever reasons, worthy or unworthy of a human being, are still not awake, or who are not wanting to be awakened, or who fear that being awakened will demand a way of living that they imagine unbearable. This latter “reason” is a worthy reason, though terribly sad, when it is given in the bad example of those who claim to be of Christ, to be children of God, but who show themselves to be more about being self-satisfied or of an in-group than Christ would wish for them to have become.
 “giving us the clues” is something of great importance about the physical senses that we have and exercise in making contact with the world. Often we, without noticing that we do, consider what we sense of the world is also the insight into the nature of whatever particular thing we are sensing – hearing, seeing, touching, tasting, or smelling. The senses gives us clues only; we must then enrich those clues with acts of understanding.
 Doyle, Arthur Conan (2016-06-28). Sherlock Holmes: The Ultimate Collection (Illustrated), “The Case of Identity,” (Kindle Locations 8991-8992). Arthur Conan Doyle famously highlights the sheer mastery of noticing in his detective Sherlock Holmes, by which he appears to mean primarily what Holmes is able to observe, to see while looking at others. And this quotation is really about what Dr. Watson was able to see by looking at the woman. But we would fail to understand how Doyle wrote concerning Holmes’ powers of observation if we overlooked how he always describes Holmes as sitting back with his eyes closed when his listens to the narrative of his new client.