Fourth Sunday in Lent; March 26, 2017, Year A
1 Samuel 16.1-13; Psalm 23Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-41
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
A Man Born Blind Receives Sight
9As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4Wemust work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ 9Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 10But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ 11He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ 12They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’
The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ 16Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’
18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight19and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ 20His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’
Grace and peace to you from the One who opens the eyes of the blind, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
A clear Gospel message from our very long reading today occurs in the first sentence: “Jesus saw.” Jesus sees a man blind from birth. What does this tell us? It tells us that Jesus sees people who are often ignored or not considered important, and he seeks out people who don’t even know who he is.
The blind man is doing his daily thing … begging in order to live. He has no idea that Jesus notices him, who Jesus even is, and how much his life will change forever that day.
Before we arrive at Jesus healing the man, the disciples ask him a question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” There has to be a reason for everything, right? At least that’s what many people say. Why is this guy blind? What did he or his parents do to cause such a horrible thing?
People ask this kind of question all the time, maybe just in a different form. Why did this or that happen? Why was this or that allowed?
We want to know why when we don’t understand when a cancer diagnosis comes along, or when someone we love takes their own life, or when we get locked up. Or what purpose is there when a two year old Syrian boy washes up dead on a shoreline, or when a tsunami claims the lives of tens of thousands of people, or when one comes home from war and another doesn’t.
These are life and faith questions that don’t have easy answers. Why is this man blind, Jesus? Surely he or his parents sinned to bring this upon him.
Jesus says to them: “Nobody sinned. There isn’t a good reason for his blindness. But I tell you what, God’s works will be revealed in him.”
Sometimes the answer to the whys of life is: “There isn’t a specific reason.” The truth of our world is that I hurt people and people hurt me, sometimes the cells in my body go bad, sometimes I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time, or I make decisions that have consequences. Other times, people simply suffer and there is no good reason for it.
We often can’t know the details of why in any given situation, but as people of faith, we trust that God cares, God knows, God sees, and that God works in all things for good.
So Jesus sees the blind man, and without a request, gives the man his sight and is gone.
Now one would think that the miraculous healing of the blind man would cause his community to celebrate and give thanks to God. Instead, every single person in the rest of the story is suspicious, wondering why and how, and questioning even the very identity of the man.
People who have known him for years didn’t believe it was really him. He kept saying to the people, “I am the man.”
My mother-in-law would not be happy with me telling this story, so don’t tell her I told you this. One time she was looking for her pencil. She kept asking her husband, a question but he couldn’t understand what she was saying. He said, “Can you take that pencil out of your mouth so I can understand you.” She took the pencil out and said, “Where’s my pencil?” We like to make fun of her for that.
Sometimes we can’t see what’s obvious and right in front of us, or in the case of the Pharisees and the blind man’s community, even his parents, refused to see the healing and Jesus for who he was: pure gift, and from God.
Rather then celebrate the blind man’s site, the whole conversation shifts to Jesus and an interrogation of the man who was once blind: Where does he come from? Where did he go? How did he open your eyes? What did he do? Tell us again … and again … and again.
The story continues …
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’25He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ 26They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 27He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ 28Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ 30The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.
32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ 34They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ 36He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. 39Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 41Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.
How certain are we of what we think we know? Some of the Pharisees are so certain they know what sin is, and so certain they know that Jesus is a sinner. Anyone who breaks the Sabbath law is clearly a sinner and not from God, or so they think. They could not be more wrong.
What people believe sin is, causes so much judgment and finger pointing. Often times people believe sin has to do with morality or rule breaking, but Jesus and Scripture deepen our understanding of what it is. In the Gospel of John, sin at its core, is not being in relationship with Jesus, and it’s a flat out refusal to believe that he comes from God and is God.
Some of the Pharisees cannot get past their belief that Jesus is a sinner for healing on the Sabbath. The law says, “Remember the Sabbath and keep in holy,” which in their estimation meant, don’t do any work, even heal someone.
They were so ridged in their interpretation of the command, that they forgot the original intent of it. The Sabbath day is meant for nurturing relationship with God through worship, and to rest in order that God could work healing in our tired, and over extended bodies and lives.
Jesus is God, and so when he sees suffering, he heals people, even on the Sabbath. This is why in Mark 2.27 Jesus says, “The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.”
Following the law and their understanding of it was more important to some of the Pharisees than the suffering of the blind man. They didn’t get it. The Pharisees are so concerned with what they believe to be sin that they cannot recognize Jesus for who he really is.
Because of their unwillingness to have their eyes opened, they cast judgment upon themselves and their sin remains. They can physically see, and yet are blind.
All of us can be so stubborn and set in our ways that our eyes are not open to what Jesus would have us see, or any new things that God is trying to do in our lives. We let our own pride and what we think we know get in the way of the grace and mercy we are to extend to others. What we think we know is not always right.
We have a God who is steadfast and yet always surprising us. God comes in the middle of time in Jesus when no one expected it.
Jesus enters the blind man’s life without warning and completely changes it. There is so much about Jesus the blind man doesn’t know and we see his understanding of who Jesus is progress throughout the story through the questioning.
Numerous times the man admits what he doesn’t know about Jesus, but finally he gets so fed up with all the questioning he witnesses to what he does know: “Look,” he says, “this is what I know. I was blind, now I see.” He doesn’t need to know everything about Jesus to witness to how Christ has changed his life.
The man goes from blindness to sight and gets thrown out of his community all in one day. Even his parents seem to throw him under the bus. And what happens … Jesus actively goes out and find him a second time. This is the second clear Gospel message in this story. What does this tell us about God?
It reveals to us that God is a God who seeks out those who are lost and alone. When everyone else abandons you, Christ will never leave you. We many not know everything about God, but because of Jesus we do know that God will always be with us. It’s true that God is always infinitely more than we can comprehend, and yet, God goes to great lengths to communicate God’s love for each of us.
With the man who was once blind, and hymn writer, John Newton, we sing Amazing Grace as our prayer:
“Amazing grace!—how sweet the sound—that saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.”