Commentary on the Gospel of
Recently I listened to a discussion about a study in which a group of radiologists were asked to check x-ray slides of lungs for cancerous nodules. The radiologists were not told that the slides had been altered so that each included a matchbook-sized image of a man in a gorilla suit waving his fist. You might think the radiologists would quickly spot this strange inclusion, but 83% missed it. According to the researcher, many missed the gorilla because of “inattentional blindness” (also called “perceptual blindness”). The radiologists, searching for expected anomalies that would indicate cancer, were so focused on the task at hand that they failed to see the obvious, visible but unexpected distraction.
In today’s Gospel reading, we get a glimpse at the inattentional blindness of the scribes (and maybe some of the disciples). The scribes – men who spent their lives copying, studying and commenting on what we refer to as Old Testament Scripture – knew the prophecy, “Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes.” (Malachi 4:5) The scribes grew up listening to stories of Elijah, and they spent their adult lives writing and discussing and pontificating about him. I would guess that many were confident they would easily recognize the prophet when he returned to prepare for the coming of the Messiah. Once they had seen Elijah, they would turn their attention to seek the Messiah, and they had a pretty good idea of what to expect there, too.
Yet Jesus tells us that Elijah had come but many of the Jewish experts had missed him. What Jesus says here reminds the disciples what He had announced earlier (in Matthew 11:14) that John the Baptist “is the Elijah who was to come.” The Voice in the Wilderness was not what was expected, so “the spirit and power of Elijah” actively preparing the way of the Lord (Luke 1:17) went unrecognized. Even as the scribes focused intently on the work of transcribing and commenting on the Law and the Prophets, they failed to recognize the prophetic presence of John the Baptist fulfilling the prophecy of Elijah’s return. They had eyes, but did not see; ears, but did not hear. It should be no surprise, then, that these same folks also failed to recognize the One sent to save. They expected a political and military powerhouse, so a carpenter’s kid from Nazareth – Can anything good come out of Nazareth? – hardly drew their attention.
Gracious and loving God, forgive us our blindness, and forgive us for judging the blindness of others. Holy Spirit, frame our vision so that we are attentive to what you would have us see and hear, so that we recognize what you would have us recognize. Amen.