Blind Man's Bluff
Updated: Jul 18
St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 4th Sunday after Trinity – July 10, 2022
“Can the blind lead the blind? Shall they not both fall into the ditch? The disciple is not above his master: but every one that is perfect shall be as his master. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but perceivest not the beam that is in thine own eye?”
VANITY is a magazine. So is Time, and Bazaar, Glamour, Vogue and People. Their ads pop our eyes, young stars pose for paparazzi as PR men hand out publicity statements and agents rush around pushing cards. ET wants an interview. HBO is doing a special. Charley Rose is on the phone. You’re famous! Could you please sign this?
The Epistle today runs by so swiftly; we have difficulty grasping it. St. Paul writes that today’s sufferings don’t compare to the rich glories in our future. The entire creation is longing for God’s own children to be revealed. The creation, he says, is subject to vanity—not the magazine, but a pursuit of vainglory, short-lived fame, the world’s applause—we are subject to this short-sightedness because our eyes can’t see beyond today. They’ve been made that way by God: for a time, we’re subject to temporal limits. For now. One day, we’ll be free from the enslavement to a dying world and live in God’s eternal glory. For such a future the entire creation has been groaning, he says, waiting to give birth.
The world sees one thing, the spiritually aware person sees something entirely other. And the ugliest thing is pride. Pride tells myself and others how important I am. Pride tells me I need to get in front of you because everyone needs what I bring. The driver who needs to ace you out. I see this and I get steamed up. I feel offended, put out. I judge that nut. Buy just who am I to think it was my place they took? Who am I to feel so righteous that I can launch my heat-seeking missiles of anger at them? Just another proud person. We’re all subject to vanity.
St. Luke’s Gospel has our Lord admonishing us to be merciful and not judgmental. Same issue, isn’t it? Don’t condemn, be forgiving. Figure that the same thing you dish out will be given back to you by others. Do I want some angry bald priest staring out his car and gesturing at me about my driving? I don’t. But if someday that poor man, in his bad day, gets cut off by my car because I didn’t see him: I’m asking God today that when I see his impatience, I will truly see what just happened and I will understand. See and understand.
Can the blind lead the blind? Can a man with impaired vision see well enough to help another to see better? Before I needed glasses, I regarded this parable as being about other people. I had great vision. I could see close up and do detailed work with a fine line pen and ink. I could tie fishing flies. Read fine print. And distant things? My specialty was long range vision. I was really blessed with good eyes. Then I turned 48 and I got tired reading. I skimmed over the paper. I strained to see documents. I squinted and turned the light up brighter. One day I picked up a set of reading glasses at a drug store and—wow! I could read! I needed glasses. How’d that happen? For quite a while I was part blind, but I didn’t realize it.
Can blind people still think they see? Vanity is a magazine. People look in it to see who they wish they were. Models so skinny it hurts, draped with fabrics costing $300 a yard, in fashions so bizarre you’d never see them except on a runway or at a premiere. We’re supposed to envy the people on those pages—airbrushed, botox-enhanced, dyed, soft-lighted and starving. Poor girls. The world of fashion, movie-stardom, stage lights, and tinsel seems to be heaven to a world that wouldn’t know heaven from Hollywood, even with Google Maps. We’re impressed by the wrong things.
I don’t wish to seem jaded against the famous or the rich. God has given them a really hard test. Find out the difference between all this and the real values, what lasts, what is true, who really loves you. We stand at a distance in awe. They feel awful, and no one believes it if they say so.
Can the blind lead the blind? There is an old children’s game called Blind Man’s Bluff where one person is blindfolded and must walk around trying to touch the other players though he or she can’t see them. They may tease the blind man or call out, make noises, try to trick them. And the person who gets touched is ‘it’. We played a variation of this called Marco Polo, in a swimming pool, and it requires that when the person who is ‘it’ calls out ‘Marco’ the others must say ‘Polo’ if they’re above water. I was good at it, with strong legs and long arms and the ability to hold my breath. Some people peeked.
Blind men bluff. They tell us they can see. They expound on what they know and how they observe things and what they conclude. I’m getting fairly nervous saying this, as I seem to be the only one talking right now, expounding to one and all what I know, and how I observe things and what I conclude. Am I bluffing? God knows. Here’s how I see it, through these glasses, for what it’s worth.
We all are subject to vanity, and that’s the will of God. It doesn’t mean we must be vain, seeking our own way, wanting everyone to admire us, looking for cameras and spotlights and admiration. There is a vanity we should shun, and all the pride that goes with it. Can the blind lead the blind? Aren’t we all blind? Was that the point Jesus was making? Was anyone He knew on earth able to teach Him? The fact was, everyone He encountered was unable to see what Jesus was about, what He was doing here, why His mission took those turns, what He meant when He recounted parables. They didn’t get it. He was beyond us all. Compared to Him, we’re all blind. We are subject to vanity, poking along with our impaired vision and telling everyone, “I got this. I can do it. Let me.”
Jesus gave us a real aid by sending to us His Holy Spirit. Now the Spirit of God lives in us and through Him we may see things beyond our limited vision. He shows us what He knows we need, for now. We will see more soon. What we need to see first is that we are vision-impaired and we need the glasses of the Holy Spirit even to see as far as ourselves. Moses stumbled at the thought of being God’s messenger, but the Lord from the burning bush said to him, “Who has made man's mouth? Or who makes a man dumb, or deaf, or seeing, or blind? Is it not I: I AM THAT I AM? Now therefore go, and I will be with thy mouth, and teach thee what thou shalt say.” Ex 4:11-12 God told Isaiah, “Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; he will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped.” Isaiah 35:4-5
Jesus healed several blind people, even one who was born blind. When His cousin John the Baptist was imprisoned and lost hope, Jesus sent back word: “Go tell John the things which ye hear and see: the blind receive their sight, and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good tidings preached to them. And blessed is he, whosoever shall find no occasion of stumbling in me.” Matt 11:4-6 He told a crowd, “For judgment came I into this world, that they that see not may see; and that they that see may become blind. The Pharisees heard these things, and said, Are we also blind? Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye would have no sin: but now ye say, We see: your sin remains.” John 9:39-41 And so it is with us. We are subject to vanity, the uselessness of thinking we know when we really don’t know so much. If we finally admit it, we’re finally right. God will begin to give us better vision. But if we say we see, that we need no help, thank you, we then remain blind.
Humility is the queen of virtues, the old theologians truly said. It must be the supreme virtue because it is set against its opposite: pride. And pride is the worst evil of all. Why? We seek pride, or self-confidence, or self-esteem as though they were courage. They’re not.
Pride exaggerates who we are. Courage is knowing our danger, our weakness, our mortality, and facing the threat anyway. Courage takes stock of the situation and stands in the way of evil.
But Self-confidence is a drunk driver telling himself he can get home ok. Self-esteem is a bragger in a bar, picking on the big guy. Pride is on stage needing everything to come to you, giving nothing, sending no blessing, thankless, and fully entitled.
Pride stands in the way of everything good. Why do we need it? It’s a crutch. Oh, it looks like a Maserati, to you, maybe. But it’s a crutch. God’s eyes are better than ours. We stand naked before Him like the fairytale emperor, while everyone in town admires the weave of the cloth-of-gold they wish they could see. Humility drives out pride and lets us peer into the dimness before us, not seeing well, but truly telling what we can see and what we’re still struggling with. When we see—something, a glimmer, it’s faith that brings it into focus.
St. Paul gives us reading glasses, if we’re not too proud to wear them. With courage to go forward, he says, “So we are always of good courage. We know that … we walk by faith, not by sight.” 2 Cor 5:6-7
We walk, without stumbling, not by sight, for we are actually blind men bluffing our way through the dark.
But if we walk by faith, knowing where the path leads, then although we were blind, yet now may we see.
By faith not by sight.
By humility, not by pride.
By the truth, not by vanity.
By His Spirit, not by our own weak eyes.