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What Do You See?

How do you teach woodworking to a blind man?

That was the question that confronted me several years ago as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I was assigned to work in a school for the blind as crafts instructor with the goal of diversifying products to be sold in the local market. The young men were skilled at making baskets but they had been doing this for years and were eager to learn new skills.

When one of them said that they would like to learn how to build small furniture pieces, I immediately envisioned the loss of several digits to add to their loss of sight. Apparently this was also the reaction of the school board president as well when the subject was broached several weeks later.

However, what changed my mind was watching these young men open coconuts with a large cutlass (machete). The cutlass was the indispensable tool used by banana farmers and always kept very sharp in order to cut anything from grass to small trees. (also a very handy self defense tool against snakes, tarantulas and other wild beasts).

One day I watched one of these young blind men rapidly spin a coconut and slice away the husk with his sharp cutlass. I was impressed at how adept he was with the use of potentially dangerous tools without slicing off a finger. As I found out, this was a nearly universal skill of all of these men who, without the use of their eyes had their remaining senses keenly sensitized.

I learned to take advantage of this ability by creating a number of Jigs that allowed them to reproduce accurate cuts. We used a kind of backward chaining teaching method that allowed them to feel the desired cuts on the wood first and then working backward on each step. In this way their hands learned the necessary skill sets.

Of course, not all of them could learn these skills but some did. Even though it was much more difficult to do without eyesight, they did build several pieces of nice furniture, including a sturdy bed that one of them was able to rest on in his own home.

Blinded by Self Righteousness

In the same way, all of us are, in varying degrees, blinded to the grace of God . For the Jew, this blindness was exacerbated by their allegiance to the law of Moses. This blindness in part refers to the fact that the vast majority of Jewish people sought their own righteousness through the law, so that they remained ignorant of the righteousness that God gives freely through grace. (Romans 10:3).

As the Jewish prophet Isaiah wrote:

“Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the LORD, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool.

Isaiah 1:18 NKJV

For thus says the LORD: “You have sold yourselves for nothing, And you shall be redeemed without money.”

Isaiah 52:3 NKJV

Although a relatively few number of Jews would be able to grasp the goodness of God in grace, even for these it would be a struggle to get beyond their ingrained bias to the law of Moses as a means of curing their sin problem.

For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Zion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this [is] my covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins.

Romans 11:25-27

For this reason, most Jews are enemies of the gospel of Jesus Christ at this time (Romans 11:28). Nevertheless the promise of a coming Kingdom is not cancelled, but merely postponed. Jesus told them after the nation’s leaders rejected Him:

“…for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed [is] He who comes in the name of the LORD!’

Matthew 23:39 NKJV

In that day, all Israel will be saved when:

“…They shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for [his] only [son], and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for [his] firstborn.”

Zechariah 12:10b, compare John 19:37

Not Even These…

Blindness was a common condition in Israel in the first century. Those who were blind from birth or as the result of an accident were thought of as sinners whom God has judged. They were outcasts from society. On the social scale, they were ranked beneath the normal sinners and only one notch above tax collectors.

In fact, we learn from Jewish historians and from the scriptures that there were four types of people that were the most hated of Jewish society:

-A man who is chief of the tax collectors;

-The blind;
-A condemned thief such as the one on the cross next to Jesus;
-and a Roman Centurion such as one that was found at the foot of Jesus’ cross.

In a very real way, the Lord challenges our spiritual blindness by challenging our religious prejudice. Luke’s gospel records for us that the last four people that God saved before Jesus’ dismissed His Spirit on the cross were these thought to be most hated by God.

Chief of the tax collectors

First of all, we see that Jesus presence in Jericho at this time already created a stir. Not only were many wondering if He was Messiah and about to reveal Himself in Jerusalem, but He had likely just spent a night at the house of Zacchaeus, chief of the tax collectors. There was nothing more defiling to a Jew than this. Yet the result of this, to the curious wonderment of the Passover pilgrims, was that Zacchaeus was going around repaying fourfold everybody that he previously defrauded.

Blind Bartimaeus

Next, we see the crowd following Jesus on the way out of town and a blind man named Bartimaeus hears more than the normal commotion of those going to Jerusalem. He asks what is happening and he is told that Jesus of Nazareth passes by. Yet He doesn’t cry out to Jesus of Nazareth. Instead, he screams for Jesus, Son of David to have mercy on him.

His screaming is really annoying to the crowd as he calls out to Jesus, the Son of David. Using this title is a recognition that Jesus is Messiah. A blind man among this crowd was the only one to see and be moved to an infant-like scream for mercy. This is exactly what the Lord Jesus was (and is) waiting to hear.

This man cries for mercy because there is nothing that he can offer. It is the plaintive cry of the psalmist in Psalms 6,9,25.

Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I [am] weak; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are troubled. [Psa 6:2 NKJV]

Have mercy on me, O LORD! Consider my trouble from those who hate me, You who lift me up from the gates of death, [Psa 9:13 NKJV]

Do not remember the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions; According to Your mercy remember me, For Your goodness’ sake, O LORD.[Psa 25:7 NKJV]

Tragically, this would be the last plea for mercy that God answered in Israel before Jesus was unjustly condemned by Israel’s rulers and mercilessly nailed to a Roman cross.

A Condemned Criminal

Then it was the thief on the cross next to Jesus who asked to be remembered when Jesus comes into His Kingdom. This cursed man recognized Jesus for who He is. In the midst of Jesus’ sorrow and pain, this dying thief was given assurance of his place in paradise with God. (Luke 23:41-43)

A Roman Centurion

Finally, we are shown the grace of God extending even to a Roman Centurion. This man so hated by the religious rulers had seen and supervised many such executions. There was no pity in this man’s heart that exceeded his desire for Roman justice. However, he witnessed Jesus grace amid the jeering crowd all along the road to Calvary and he heard the stupid accusations of the crowd. The Centurion could see that this condemned man was unlike any that he had ever seen.

Throughout this ordeal of crucifixion, Jesus was heard to repeat this prayer, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” After three hours, the centurion and the crowd were frightened by a thick darkness that lasted for another three hours. (Matthew 27:45)

At the end of these three hours of darkness, there was a great earthquake. This Centurion must have been amazed to see that this miserable man on the middle cross (Jesus), so weakened by the blood loss from his beating, his scourging, a crown of thorns and his hands and feet nailed to a cross was still able to cry out with a loud voice, “Father, into thy hands I commend my Spirit…” Then Jesus was seen to voluntarily dismiss His spirit and die. (Luke 23:46)

We read that it was after these events that this hardened Centurion came to confess: “Certainly this was a righteous man!” (Luke 23:47). Mark and Matthew add to this in their gospels when they record the Centurion also declared: “Truly this was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39, Matthew 27:54))

You and I

As unbelievers, we are encouraged to see that there is no sin in our past that is greater than the reach of God’s Grace. As believers, we are reminded that there is no one, not even our most hated enemy, that cannot be changed by God’s grace.

Although we have been shown that God’s grace is through Jesus to whosoever will receive Him, do we see who Jesus is as clearly as Bartimaeus did?

Even a blind man can be taught to build a bed to rest upon.

“Come to Me, all [you] who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Matthew 11:28 NKJV

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smc

Comments(2)

  1. Reply
    Kevin says:

    Always thought provoking and well written. Great job!

    • Reply
      smc says:

      Thank you, brother

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