Blind Spots


Rev. Dr. Joyce Antila Phipps

Old First Church, Middletown

November 10, 2010

Texts: Isaiah 61:1-11; Luke 18:35-43

      When I run late for court in the early morning, I usually have to take a particular street as a shortcut but, again, depending on how heavy the oncoming traffic is to the right, I end up trying to see past the blind spot near my rear right window to judge when I can slip into the traffic. The cars behind me, being polite Jersey drivers, are usually honking like crazy because I am so cautious. I really hate blind spots. 

      Of course, dealing with oncoming traffic isn’t the only place people have their blind spots. It’s a standing problem with mothers and lovers. Fathers, too, sometimes, depending on the relationship. I can’t tell you how many times I hear some mother tell me what a great kid her son is—he just has this little problem. Little problem? That’s why he’s in jail, of course. 

       Then there are the women who tell me their partners or husbands only hit them when they’re drunk or when they’ve been told they’ve done something wrong. Of course, that’s most of the time. This kind of reasoning, for lack of a better word, is especially true with women who have been raised in a machismo culture. But this blind spot can be a cause of injury—or worse, death.

       There are other kinds of blind spots, of course. One type could be called the bias blind spot; we’re probably all guilty of that one, to be sure. How many times have we said to ourselves, “What on earth was I thinking?” when we do something really, really stupid. It’s because of our blind spots. We often assume that someone else has our same frame of reference because ours is so obvious. Perhaps it’s obvious to us but not to someone else. 

        We often jump to conclusions because of our blind spots; we assume because we like something, someone else will. We miss the forest for the trees, getting so caught up in the details that we don’t see the big picture. We get trapped by our old categories and use fuzzy evidence to prove our points. We take some item off the internet and take it as the Gospel truth. We can’t think outside the box. The list goes on and on. And we’re not stupid, just hampered by the blind spots. 

         Intelligence alone doesn’t make us rational or bring us past our blind spots. One Yale psychologist who studied personal behavior in relation to intelligence tests calls it “dysrationalia,” or not thinking things through—enough. It makes sense from an evolutionary point of view. Thinking is time-consuming, resource intensive and sometimes counterproductive. As someone once wrote, if the problem at hand is avoiding the charging saber-toothed tiger, you don’t want to spend more than a split second deciding whether to jump into the river or climb a tree. But our cognitive miserliness, or trying to short-cut our decision making is only a partial explanation. I think blind spots speak to something much deeper in our psyches. 

       Most of our blind spots are emotional and come from something deep within us. Sometimes they arise out of the truths and myths, usually the mixture of the two, we have been taught as children for our protection. We inculcate them into our own children for their protection. 

        Most of them make some sense. Don’t take candy from a stranger; don’t go over to a grownup near a car asking for “directions.” Think about it. What honest adult gets directions from a kid, anyway? But then, they become irrational fears and close us off from others who don’t look like us or who don’t sound like us. 

       Our blind spots arise from our loyalties as well. Many parents will overlook the misdeeds of their children or will defend them against some authority when there is no defense. And, of course, the same goes with spouses and partners. Our loyalties extend beyond our families. They go to our community, our church, our country. 

       When people quote Stephen Decatur’s famous quote, “My country right or wrong,” they leave out the first part of the quote: “May she always be right in her intercourse with foreign nations.” The immigrant Union Army General Carl Schurz, who later became Secretary of the Interior, put it this way: “My country; and my country is the great American Republic. My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.” Our blind spots go well beyond our own concerns, to be sure. 

       Sometimes it’s the blind who show us how best to see. Most of us would be utterly helpless without our sight, but many blind persons learn how to adapt to their sightless world. They use their other senses to enhance their perception. They learn the value of listening more closely to tone to get the underlying meaning of a message. They learn how to avoid dangers by feel. Sometimes they need help, to be sure, such as asking if the light is green before stepping into the crosswalk. Sometimes we need help as well, only we’re not so good at asking for it. 

        That is the value of community: knowing people you can ask for help from. The question for us then becomes how we define our community. The narrower we make it, the fewer people there are to ask for assistance. If we look beyond our own blind spots and broaden our sense of community, we actually build a stronger base to assist us when we need it ourselves. 

        The disciples who followed Jesus had their own blind spots as well. Just before our passage in Luke this morning, Jesus again predicts his coming passion. Remember, he is on the road to Jerusalem where he knows he will face torture and death. Jews at the time were certainly not expecting a Messiah who would die such an ignominious death. The disciples were no different in this regard.

        The inability of the disciples to understand the meaning of Jesus’ mission segues nicely into Luke’s account of the blind beggar on the road. When he asks who is approaching and is told that it is Jesus of Nazareth, he cries out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Who told him that Jesus had the lineage of David as related earlier in Luke’s Gospel? 

       The text also notes that those who were in front of Jesus, that is, part of the crowd around him, order the man to be quiet. How often have we ordered someone to be quiet when crying for help, literally or figuratively? More often than we care to admit, I’ll warrant.

        Jesus stops when he hears this call. The blind man sitting on the side of the road had the spiritual vision to realize who Jesus was: the Son of David, the one who Luke tells us throughout his Gospel, who has the power to save. He addresses Jesus as kyrios, or Lord, asking what would seem impossible to a so-called rational reading: “Let me receive sight.” 

        And Jesus tells him that his faith has saved him. The word in Greek has the connotation of healing, not salvation as it has come to mean. The blind man had more vision than those who were around Jesus and could see with their eyes.

        We are called to have that same kind of vision, to go beyond our own blind spots whether they be the results of our upbringing or the way we see the world around us. The only question is whether we will act on the opportunities to do so. 

       Let us pray: Eternal Creator who gave us eyes to see and hearts to love, move us beyond our blind spots so we may be open to the possibilities that await us. In the name of him who moves us beyond our blind spots, even Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.