Sermon: But Did You See the Gorilla?

Photo by David Gonzales on

John 9:1-41| Fourth Sunday in Lent | March 19, 2023 | First Christian Church Roseville, MN

Maybe you’ve seen the video.  It’s the one where you are asked to count how many times a basketball is passed by a group of people as they move in what seems to be a figure 8 pattern. People start counting and focusing on the ball is passed.  Somewhere midway through the test, a person wearing a gorilla walks into the midst of this group, beats their chest and then moves out of the group and out of the video.

If you haven’t guessed, this is a scientific test and of the people who counted how many times the ball was passed, some 40 percent didn’t notice the person in the gorilla suit.

So, how could people miss something that seemed so obvious?

What psychologists are the University learned is that people can have “inattention blindness.”  People who can’t see something right in front of them while they are focusing on something else have a lower working memory, which means they can only focus on so much. Janelle Seegmiller, who was a student at the University of Utah and the lead author of the study had this to say in 2011 about the test: ‘Because people are different in how well they can focus their attention, this may influence whether you’ll see something you’re not expecting, in this case, a person in a gorilla suit walking across the computer screen.’ 

I’ve never been crazy about today’s gospel reading for a lot of reasons.  First and foremost is the translation.  Right of the bat when the disciples asked who caused this man’s blindness him or his parents Jesus answered “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”  That made it seem like God caused this man to be blind.  But then I looked at the Message version which reads “You’re asking the wrong question. You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.”

This is a story about blindness, but physical blindness is not the main story here.  It’s a story about paying attention, paying attention to God, and to our sisters and brothers.  It’s also a story of a God that does pay attention to us, a God that isn’t blind to us.

When we read this story, almost everyone- from the disciples to the Pharisees, doesn’t realize this man who was blind.  The disciples see this guy begging to make ends meet because they didn’t have social security disability back then and they are caught up in the theoretical instead of the physical. They saw the people passing the ball, but they missed the gorilla.

But Jesus saw him.  He spat in the dirt, put the mud in the man’s eyes, and told him to was in a pool.  And the man is healed.  

It would seem to be big news that a guy that everyone knew who was blind and who begged for a living is all of the sudden walking around with eyes wide open and people are wondering if this is the man they knew was blind and if he was healed or not.  They bring him to the Pharisees and grill the man asking who healed him.  The man is probably exasperated and tells them that Jesus healed him, but he didn’t know who this man was since you know HE COULDN’T SEE. 

The Pharisees are finally upset when the former man who was blind responded rather sardonically to their questioning.   They kick the man out of the synagogue.  

As I was getting ready for this sermon, I put a meme up with a quote that caught my attention.  It read, “We are shaped by where we invest our attention.”  The Pharisees were invested in who was following the rules and who was challenging their authority.  They weren’t invested in the man who was healed in front of them. They certainly weren’t invested when he was begging.  

What are we invested in?  Are we focusing on the people passing the ball and missing the gorillas in our own lives? Are we missing those who are hurting and in need of healing?  Are we missing what God is doing in our lives, in the lives of others?  

Sometimes we get involved in the minutiae of the day and the trivial instead of focusing on the things that God is concerned about.  

The thing that we can be thankful for is that while we might not notice the gorilla in the room, we know that the God we serve remembers us.  Even when the world forgets us, we are known by God.  The man who was blind was forgotten by everyone, the disciples, the crowd, his parents and the Pharisees, but he wasn’t forgotten by Jesus.  

At the end of the story, the man is now out on the street alone.  Jesus walks up to him and asked if he believed in the Son of Man.  The man says to point him out and he will believe.  He has experienced what God has done in his life and wants to believe.  Jesus admits he is the Son of Man and man can see Jesus and believes.

May God make us attentive to what is really important.  Let’s see the gorilla.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.




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