Can You See Me Now?

As I read today’s gospel about Jesus’ encounter with the man who was born blind, I couldn’t help thinking about someone we met in Israel. Though he could see as well as the rest of us, our new friend was deprived of his vision from birth just like the man born blind. Still, he had much to add to the memorable adventure my dear husband and I enjoyed there. We know our tour director Nancy well as she is a parishioner here at St. Paul’s. As a result, we were certain this trip would be everything we expected. Our tour guide was another matter. Yossi never ceased to surprise us with his wealth of information, his passion for his work and his passion for life in general. While he provided amazing commentary throughout, Yossi also left us to our own thoughts as we absorbed the people and sites around us. Yossi smiled all the while as he revealed Israel’s treasures one by one.

We eventually discovered that Yossi didn’t always have access to those treasures. He was raised in a Kibbutz and, as Yossi described it, “God was ripped from my heart as a young child.” Within that socialist community, everyone worked to supply everyone with what they needed. In his case, Yossi observed people who were inclined to take all they needed, but who chose not to work. These “lazy ones” soured Yossi’s view of this lifestyle and unwittingly inspired his dedicated work ethic. Yossi celebrated the day his family was able to leave that place to fend for themselves with some autonomy. At the same time, Yossi remained community-minded. He’s keenly aware of the plight of Israel, its people and their neighbors both friendly and otherwise. Yossi also considers himself to be a secular Jew. Still, Yossi told us often, “You must pray for the people of Israel; for peace here.” I found this to be a curious request in light of his “secular” status. Yossi seemed to read my thoughts as he added, “You must do this. I don’t know how to pray, but you do.” I eventually discovered that nothing is farther from the truth.

Yossi carried his backpack everywhere. Among the items he needed for the day, Yossi carried musical instruments. Some days, Yossi sported his flute. Other days, he carried a tiny guitar-like instrument, perhaps a balalaika. At our first stop in Caesarea, we visited the complex constructed by King Herod more than two thousand years ago. It includes a hippodrome, the ideal setting for the first of many concerts with which Yossi gifted us. Yossi did this throughout our tour whenever the Spirit moved him –and I mean that literally! Yossi offered his most precious concert in Emmaus in the Crusader church there. He surprised me for my birthday with Schubert’s Ave Maria. I tried to sing along, but was so taken with this gesture that I could only listen. Yossi played with his eyes tightly closed as his music drifted heavenward. I knew then that Yossi prays, though perhaps he doesn’t see this.

Whenever we visited a site associated with Jesus, Yossi pulled out his iPad and directed us to open our “books” to a given gospel. It didn’t matter that we had no bibles. Yossi read passages he’d chosen to bring us back to the Teacher who had changed everything for many of us, perhaps even Yossi. I began to wonder if our guide called himself a “secular” Jew because he didn’t want to be confused with “religious” Hasidic Jews. Yossi found them overbearing. In Yossi’s mind, they seem to have “blinded” themselves with rules and regulations. They’ve lost sight of their concern for all of God’s people because these rules have taken precedence over everything and everyone else. In Jerusalem, Yossi lead us to a Christian church where a small community of Messianic Jews worship. When he introduced the woman who would tell us about her fellow Jews who believe in Jesus, she turned to Yossi to insist that he could offer the same explanation effortlessly. Yossi only smiled as he urged her on.

John’s gospel (John 9:1-41) tells us that the man born blind was completely misunderstood by his neighbors and the temple authorities. They saw his parents as sinners who prompted God to impose this affliction on their son. In their eyes, this man deserved to suffer. Only Jesus looked through the man’s opaque eyes into a heart broken by a lifetime of misjudgment and isolation. It occurs to me that Jesus is doing the same for Yossi. Though he was robbed of seeing God until he was freed from that Kibbutz, something -or Someone- impels Yossi to open his eyes to the gifts God offers him today. Yossi read those scripture passages with the passion of a true believer. The things Yossi shared came from deep within his heart. Yossi inspired me as much as the places we visited in Israel, perhaps more so. In the end, it seems to me that Yossi is far closer to God than he lets on, so close that it’s impossible for him to hide this. In spite of Yossi’s once-impaired vision, God is hard at work within him, just as God is working within you and me.

©2017 Mary Penich – All Rights Reserved

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