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Friday, July 27, 2012

Vision

In that day the deaf will hear the words of the scroll,
and out of gloom and darkness
the eyes of the blind will see.

-Isaiah 29:18 (NIV)
    Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
-John 9:39 (NIV)

    When Bob Greenberg died earlier this month, his colleagues in Chicago broadcasting and journalism remembered a lot of things about him, even though he left Chicago sports broadcasting in 1990. They remembered him accidentally knocking over a table loaded with food at old Comiskey Park. They remembered him aggressively shoving a microphone toward an NBA player of whom he’d asked a question and accidentally striking him in, well, an intimate place. They remembered that he could be belligerent, loud, stubborn, and even obnoxious. They remembered how he’d interrupt other reporters’ questions, and shove them aside in his quest for the big interview. They also remembered how hard he worked. And they remembered how he did radio color commentary for high school basketball and football games on the old WBEZ.
    And the last, the color commentary, was probably the most memorable thing about him, because Bob Greenberg was blind.
    Greenberg had always wanted to be a sports broadcaster, and didn’t think that the fact that he lost his sight shortly after he was born should disqualify him. So, when he’d sit down to do color for a game, he’d sit down with player statistics on a stack of Braille cards. When the action demanded, his fingers would fly through the cards like a broken-field runner eluding tacklers. “You know, that was the fourth time that....” he’d say, or something like it, and listeners never knew that the color guy on the radio couldn’t actually see the game any better than they could.
    Of all his colleagues, only one, Scott Simon of NPR, remembers Greenberg ever admitting that his blindness could be a handicap. “He told me that he thought he had a pretty good image in his mind what a football play looked like and what a basketball game looked like,” Simon remembered. “But the one thing he couldn't imagine was a home run in baseball.”
    “He said the sound of the crowd during a home run is totally different than anything else in sports — the drama, the rising expectations — and that he really wished that just once he could see that.”
    Simon brought his family to Chicago for a Cubs game last weekend, partly in Greenberg’s honor. “I want them to hit one for Bob,” he said. “Maybe he can see them now.”
    Simon’s hope resonates, doesn’t it? It’s the hope all of us have that human weakness and frailty isn’t the last word, that blind eyes might one day see, that deaf ears might one day hear. We hold that hope close when people we love suffer, or when we go through our own bouts of sickness, and weakness, or when we stare down our own mortality. It’s a hope born of the conviction - whether we realize it or not - that the creation that God called “good” and the people who bear his image should not stumble around in darkness, or lay in beds gasping for air, or sit in wheelchairs all their lives. And so we hope, with the expectation that God will heal, renew, and restore.
    I’m reminded of a former professor of mine, a man with only one arm, who once attended a tent meeting held by a faith healer. Toward the end of the service, the evangelist invited everyone who wanted to healing to the front. My professor got in line with everyone else, and when he got to the front the faith healer asked, “What can I do for you?”
    As if it wasn’t obvious.
    “I want my arm back,” my professor said, and was promptly excused from the rest of the meeting.
    But what else would he want? What else would he ask for from a man claiming to be able to channel the power of the One who created arms?
    People who believe in the power of God from the beginning have had that same hope. Isaiah captured it memorably in his vision of a day when people who had never been able to hear God’s word read aloud would hear it for the first time, and when light would finally break through the gloom and darkness in which the blind had been living. “That day,” he called it. The day when God would come to deliver his people. God would come, and he would repair and renew his people in all the ways they were broken. He would forgive them, yes. He would help them spiritually. But he’d also heal their sickness, cure their blindness and deafness, make the crippled walk, and overthrow the oppressors on behalf of the oppressed. Isaiah never saw that day, but he looked forward to it and expected it.
    But the centuries went by, and you’d forgive people for getting a little pessimistic. Some of them gave up on that hope. Some of them figured God must need a little help, and so they concentrated on doing what they could to speed that day along, thinking that it all depended on them. Some assumed that any hope their faith offered was for the world in which they were living, and so they tried to fit their faith to that world.
    In that climate, Jesus came. And he said things like, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Only, he didn’t just say it. He actually healed the blind. With a little spit and dirt, or with a touch, or just with a word, blind people could see. And not just spiritually, either, although getting their sight back must have helped a lot spiritually.
    Of course, Jesus didn’t heal all the blind people in the world. His intention was more to make a statement: “That day that the prophets looked forward to? It’s here. The poor are hearing good news, prisoners are free, the blind can see, the oppressed are liberated. I’m announcing that the time of God’s favor is here.”
    So, while we still wait, we wait in a different way than did Isaiah. We’ve seen God’s deliverance. In Jesus, we’ve seen and know it. And though we wait for his return until the creation is redeemed, we know that through Jesus that redemption is here and has begun.
    Jesus said, paradoxically, that his coming will make some people blind, however. So let’s open our eyes, instead, and trust in his goodness, power, and faithfulness - that he will make good on his promise to put behind us all that hurts us. And let’s proclaim in the name of Jesus that “That Day” has dawned.
    There’ll be much to see. But, thanks be to God through Jesus Christ, we’ll have forever to see it.

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