Living Beyond the Village
Early in my ministry here I remember sharing with you a vision of how the Bible was inspired and how it can be used devotionally. Briefly, it is this. The Bible was written by forty-5ive different writers over a span of some twelve to fifteen hundred years. Some of those who wrote had no knowledge of that which had been written before them, and none of them had any idea of what would be written after they wrote. Yet when the portions of biblical literature are all put together, the sacred themes of life weave their way through them in unbroken line and reveal the ever-present nature of the Living God.
Therefore, I have drawn two conclusions from that awareness that have guided my life and ministry. 1. That the biblical writers were all inspired by the same source ~ that they were all responding to the same source of inspiration. 2. That the Bible is the only book that is able to introduce its readers to the source of its inspiration ~ the timeless and ever-present Spirit of the Living God. The passage before us may be considered exhibit one.
Jesus took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village; and when he … laid his hands upon him, he asked him, ‘Can you see anything?’ And the man … said, ‘I can see people, but they look like trees walking.’ Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and … he saw everything clearly.” (Then Jesus instructed him not to return to the village!) Mark 8:23-25 NRSV
There is an African proverb that declares It takes a village to raise a child. In that tribal culture it means that an entire community of people must provide for all the children of the tribe the experiences of social life that enable children to grow in safe healthy environments. The village ~ the place where children learn how to relate to strangers, how to share common societal values, and how to benefit from collective strategies for success.
In the urban settings of contemporary life our children are often deprived of that tribal orientation, But we do well to consider how the communities in which we raise our children contribute to their health and development.
The current debate today between parents and school board members about who gets to decide what children need to learn is just one case in point, for it highlights the struggle between the function of family systems and the responsibility of social systems.
However, it must also be said, that it takes a village to teach our children prejudice ~ against those who live in different kinds of neighborhoods, against those whose education may be deemed to be inadequate, against those whose race and language and lifestyles may be unfamiliar.
The same sense of community that contributes to the healthy development of our children also fashions the way our children see the world in relation to themselves. Recognizing the paradox of the mixed blessing is essential to appreciating the spiritual revelations of this passage of scripture.
I begin by curiously wondering why the blind man’s name is never mentioned. Was it intentionally left anonymous, or considered to be of little worth? But set down this, before passage of scripture is through with us, we will know his name as well as we know our own.
Why did the Lord lead the blind man out of the village? All the other miracles of Jesus were performed in public space where people looked on with awe and amazement ~ empowering the lame man to walk, casting out demons, feeding the multitude with a boy’s lunch. But something there is about this miracle that needed to happen outside the village. And I begin to wonder whether the Lord needed to separate the blindness of the man from the blindness of the villagers.
We’ve all heard it said that None is so blind as those who will not see, and as insights begins to dawn I dare to believe that this passage is the Lord’s way of addressing both the blindness of those who cannot see and the blindness of those who will not see ~ the blindness of those who think they are seeing the world the way it really is when in fact they are only seeing the world through their own blurred moral vision.
The second thing we realize that seems a bit odd is that while all of Jesus’ miracles work well the first time, this is the only one that seems not to work out ~ as the Lord asks for feedback. The lepers were never only partially cured, the lame man walked away without a limp, the boy’s lunch did not only feed two-thousand five hundred, forcing the Lord to find another lunch to accommodate the remaining. But this miracle pauses long enough for the Lord to take stock of the man’s healing.
“I see people,” he said, “but they look like trees walking.” Doesn’t that seem strange for a response? For a man who could not see, wouldn’t the natural response be to exclaim, “Wow! I see blue sky and rugged mountains, I see flowers blooming in the desert and sunshine casting my shadow upon the sand.” But no, he looked back upon the villagers and said, “They look like trees walking.”
After struggling with this passage long enough I begin to realize that Jesus intended for this man to look upon the people with blurred moral vision in order for him to understand how the people of the village looked at him ~ as a non-person, as an object to be pitied, as someone less than human. Why? because until he understood the prejudice of the village that had shaped him he would not be able to see all things clearly!
Daily, he sat in the public square and they would pass him by because he was not considered worth noticing. He did not dress like respectable members of the village, he did not work at a trade like successful people of the village, he did not enjoy social experiences of mutuality with the people of the village, because it was assumed by village folk that if he did not have eyesight that he also lacked insight! No one ever stopped to ask his advice on life in the real world, or to engage him in any meaningful conversation because he was deemed to be unworthy, unequal.
Some would pause long enough to show some charity, but in a sporty sort of way. They would drop coins on the cobblestones near enough for him to hear them fall, and then they’d smirk as he scrambled to find them. Upon finding the coins he would invariably say thank you, but the arrogant seldom hear what comes from those they look down upon.
The Lord needed the man to see the way the villagers looked at him each and every day because until he saw it ~ until he recognized their blurred moral vision ~ he would always be victimized by it, he would never be able to see beyond it or to live beyond it.
How long did the Lord leave this poor man with blurred moral vision before touching his eyes again? Clearly not long enough for the villagers to arrive and discover in his partially restored sight their own blurred moral vision, for the Lord instructed the man not to return to the village ~ but to make a life for himself beyond the village. From my devotional experience of the Bible I can tell you that the Lord waited long enough for us to recognize in that poor man’s blurred vision our own blurred moral vision ~ because until we admit it before the Lord we can never see all things clearly.
It is the soft prejudice of low expectations ~ of seeing others as diminished in value because of some diminished capacity ~ of deluding ourselves into thinking that we see the world the way it is, of seeing the world with self-perceived greater moral clarity, when in fact our blurred moral vision is a tragic distortion of reality.
We see them standing on street corners asking for money, and somewhere in this world of distorted values they are asking to be recognized as human beings with thoughts and feelings as beautiful as our own. But even more obvious, the way honest, intelligent, impassioned people are being silenced by a society because their input is not welcome, those whose religious preferences may leave us feeling uncomfortable or threatened, those whose lifestyles deviate from the social norms and seem to challenge the solidarity of society.
These and so many more, forms of blindness that cause some to feel more enlightened than others, more successful in life than others, of greater moral value than those they perceive to be the run-of-the-mill sort of folk. And I am persuaded that the Lord paused this miracle of healing long enough for us to see the perils of our own blurred moral vision.
And there it is, the Living Lord, whose life is timeless, standing there behind the passage He inspired, saying to the reader: We pause here long enough for you to grasp the horrific danger of living in the real world with blurred moral vision, because until you do, you will never be able to see all things clearly.
We are left there in the road somewhere beyond the village that shaped our childhood, that fashioned our worldview. And I have often wondered what ever happened to the man who saw all things clearly, and what he did in society because of his new vision.
I have asked the Storyteller many times in prayer The Rest Of The Story, but for many years there was only silence. Then one day it came in a profound realization, as though the Lord had said, “I honestly don’t know this story turns out. It’s not my story. It’s yours. This is your chance to determine how the story continues.”
Like I said a few moments ago, we do not know the name of the man whom Jesus healed, but before this passage is through with us, we may know his name as well as we know our own!
November 14, 2021