John 9 (CEB)
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”
Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.
The man’s neighbors and those who used to see him when he was a beggar said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”
Some said, “It is,” and others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him.”
But the man said, “Yes, it’s me!”
So they asked him, “How are you now able to see?”
He answered, “The man they call Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
They asked, “Where is this man?” He replied, “I don’t know.”
Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”
Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”
He replied, “He’s a prophet.”
The Jewish leaders didn’t believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents. The Jewish leaders asked them, “Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?”
His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.”
His parents said this because they feared the Jewish authorities. This is because the Jewish authorities had already decided that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. That’s why his parents said, “He’s old enough. Ask him.”
Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.”
The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”
They questioned him: “What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?”
He replied, “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
They insulted him: “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man is from.”
The man answered, “This is incredible! You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes! We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will. No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.”
They responded, “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?” Then they expelled him.
Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Human One?”
He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.
Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.”
Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”
Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
March 25-26, 2017
Fourth Sunday in Lent
“I Was Blind, Now I See”
We continue with our Lenten theme of hearing Parables of Hope from the Gospel of John. We began our Lenten journey by hearing about Jesus turning water into wine after the wine ran out at a wedding in Cana. It was an opportunity to be reminded that God’s grace and hope never runs out in our lives.
Then, over the last couple of weeks, we’ve listened in on transforming conversations Jesus has had with a man named Nicodemus and a Samaritan woman at the well. Today we have the story of a man born blind, which is another story of transformation because of his encounter with Jesus.
The Gospel of John is a book of signs, miracles and works of Jesus that reflect God’s presence with us. Remember back to Advent and Christmas we talked a lot about Emmanuel…God with us. Now, in the season of Lent as we make our way with Jesus to the Cross, we witness the length that our God is willing to go to be with us.
Our story today is really a one-act play with many scenes and a large cast of characters. There is a lot going on in this story and many different places to stand and consider where we fit into the story.
I’m going to ask you to participate in the Scripture reading this evening/this morning by closing your eyes while I read the story. When you listen with your eyes closed, it does give a different perspective to the story.
As you listen in a different way, be aware of the details of the story and the vivid images that can be viewed differently with your eyes closed.
Perhaps as you listened to the Scripture story in a different way…with your eyes closed, you sensed a turning point in the story.
The turning point in the story may be when the man born blind receives his sight. The turning point may also be when the man born blind affirms his faith as a result of his new found sight.
In some ways, this is another resurrection story in Scripture…God works through Jesus to restore the man’s sight and the man’s faith is resurrected.
The words that we hear loud and clear from the man born blind are, “Here’s what I do know: I was blind, now I see!”
Most miracles can never be explained. We can only describe them by telling what we know, saying what happened and what we believe about it.
The miracle in our story is really about the before and after…it’s about the then and now…who the man was for years and years as a blind beggar and who he is after receiving his sight. How it happened is not as important as the difference it has made.
The man born blind cannot describe his healing and conversion moment to anyone’s satisfaction, but notice that he can tell the difference it makes in his life and he clings to his experience. “All I know,” he says over and over, “is that I was blind, and now I see!”
It comes down to being able to affirm our faith, not necessarily explain it.
The blind man in our Gospel story grows and matures in his faith as the story goes on. Like Nicodemus and the Samaritan woman at the well, the blind man recognizes Jesus gradually. He goes from calling Jesus a man at the beginning of the story, to calling Jesus a prophet; then a man from God; and finally a simple affirmation of faith with the words, “Lord, I believe,” followed by his worship.
He gains more and more vision and belief as he moves through the onslaught of questions and disbelief from others. And the man is the only one in our story willing to make a faith statement…willing to give an affirmation of faith.
In confirmation class recently, we have looked at the historic creeds of our Christian faith and other affirmations of faith. We learned that an affirmation of faith really a statement of belief.
As we draw closer to Confirmation Sunday, the students have also worked at writing their own faith statements…their own affirmations of faith that say what they believe at this point in their young lives.
One of the things we have talked about is that when we say, “I believe this…,” what difference does that make in how we live our lives day to day?
I cannot hear our Gospel story without thinking about the fact that the healing itself, the affirmation of faith and the realization of God’s presence all happens outside the walls of the temple and outside the bounds of the established religious rules.
And it is hard for those in the story to have someone like Jesus operating outside the rules and boundaries and seeing the good in everyone and everything. It is also hard to believe that God will work good out of every situation if we cannot see beyond our own challenges and problems.
And those are the things that seem to trip up the different groups of people in our Gospel story.
The disciples see the blind man and immediately go into blaming mode. They buy into a common first-century belief that illness or physical disabilities were punishment for one’s own sin or the sin of one’s parents. “Who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” the disciples ask Jesus.
Many of the blind man’s neighbors simply go into denial, saying the former beggar is just someone that looks like the man born blind.
The Pharisees are blinded by their rigid interpretation of the law and can’t seem to agree on what happened or who is responsible for going against the rules and healing on the Sabbath.
The Jewish leaders are blind to God’s power in their midst and will not even believe the man had been born blind and regained his sight until they talk to the man’s parents.
And the parents are blinded by fear of being expelled from the synagogue and tell the Jewish leaders to go back and ask their son what happened.
Each group in our story is blinded by their own assumptions and fears and miss God’s invitation to see differently…and see Jesus as the light of the world. Even today, many religious authorities and others have been blind to the light of God’s presence and the wideness of God’s mercy and grace.
We like to say that seeing is believing. Yet, sometimes we spend so much time in our own perspective of something or get stuck in trying to figure out a miracle like the blind man receiving sight, that we overlook the vision of God shown to us through Jesus and we look for reasons not to believe.
Right from the beginning of our story, Jesus sees the blind man and sees beyond the man’s blindness.
Jesus does not reduce the man to his condition of blindness or any perceived sin. Instead, Jesus sees that God’s goodness will be revealed in this man and his challenging condition…Jesus sees the potential of a new disciple.
So, Jesus literally gets his hands dirty by spitting on the ground, making mud and spreading it on the blind man’s eyes. Then Jesus sends him with the command, “Go, wash.” The man does what Jesus says and comes back able to see.
Then the man’s literal sight gives way to the growth of his vision, his recognition of Jesus, and his understanding of who God is. The man born blind sees in himself what Jesus had already seen…a disciple. The vision of Jesus moves the blind man from a world of darkness to the light of God’s presence…from unbelief to belief…from beggar to follower of Jesus.
A man named Noah Purifoy is an artist who uses junkyard salvage to create beautiful works of art.
He began his work as an artist with three tons of rubble salvaged from the 1965 riots in the Watts area of Los Angeles. Those racially motivated riots lasted for six days in early August of 1965 and resulted in 34 deaths and over $40 million of property damage.
Noah Purifoy salvaged everything from broken bicycle wheels and bowling balls to discarded tires and damaged TV sets. He and a colleague created sculptures that conveyed a powerful message about people being treated as “throw-aways” in modern society. One journalist referred to Noah Purifoy as “the junkyard genius.”
Jesus always pointed to God as the ultimate ‘junkyard genius.’ Jesus always pointed to how God works for good in every situation, which frees us to anticipate God’s healing and grace in every situation.
Jesus gets right to the point in our Gospel story and the point is that the man’s blindness can reveal the work and light of God. And that is true for all of us. All of us are born into life so that the works of God might be revealed. God will show wonders through each of us if we are not blind to God’s grace and light in our lives.
The irony in our story, of course, is that the blind man receives his sight, but everyone else in the story loses theirs—not their physical vision, but their capacity to believe and understand what they have witnessed.
Metaphorically, sight is a choice. So often we avoid what we would prefer not to see. At times we do not ask questions that may help us understand, and we close our eyes to new perspectives.
As with the other Gospel scriptures we have heard in this season of Lent, there is no simple way to ‘finish’ a sermon on this passage…but the good news is that these stories go with us and continue to inspire us even after we leave this sanctuary.
May we continue to think about this encounter between the man born blind and Jesus and allow it to inform our lives of faith in the midst of the blessings and challenges of our everyday lives. And may we hold to the faith promise that Jesus still comes…to grant sight, faith, hope and new life to all who ask.
May it be so for each of us.
Thanks be to God. Amen.