Are We Blind or Can We See?

Are We Blind or Can We See?
John 9:1-41
4th Sunday of Lent
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Kids: How far can you spit? What else can you do with your spit? Don’t do it here, please. You know what Jesus could do with his spit? He could make blind people see. And then the people who know they can see, try to figure it out, and discover that maybe they don’t know as much as they thought. Really Jesus wants us to not just see with our eyes but with our hearts. You know how you can see with your eyes somebody sad, but not pay attention? Other times you might look at them more carefully and see with the eyes of your heart. Jesus opened the eyes of his heart to the blind beggar and healed him.

Give me, O my Lord, that purity of conscience which alone can receive your inspirations. My ears are dull, so that I cannot hear your voice. My eyes are dim, so that I cannot see the signs of your presence. You alone can quicken my hearing and purge my sight, and cleanse and renew my heart. Teach me to sit at your feet and to hear your word. Amen.

Our scripture reading today will be read by a various people, so as to make these 41 verses come alive. Hear the story of Jesus, the Blind Man, and the Pharisees. Ask yourselves, who is blind?

John 9:1-411

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man's eyes, 7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, "Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?" 9 Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." 10 But they kept asking him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" 11 He 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." 12 They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then 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." 16 Some 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. 17 So 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 sight 19 and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" 20 His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but 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." 22 His 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. 23 Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."

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." 25 He answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." 26 They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" 27 He 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?" 28 Then they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." 30 The man answered, "Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34 They 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?" 36 He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." 37 Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." 38 He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, "I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind." 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, "Surely we are not blind, are we?" 41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains. (New Revised Standard Version)

We are blind if we, like the disciples, think that we can so simply find a reason, find someone or something to blame for every hardship -- for every illness, every divorce, every untimely death, every job loss or failure to thrive. The disciples want to place blame squarely on the parents or on the blind man. They assume somebody sinned. We want to know what caused the cancer, why the person committed suicide, how a predisposition and circumstances lead to addiction, and which partner is primarily responsible for the break-down of a marriage. And Jesus says, “Neither the blind man nor his parents sinned.” It seems that Jesus wants to move away from blaming and toward healing. It is okay to want more information but not if we use it against people, not if it leads to a subtle elevation of ourselves.

Jesus’ answer to their question is that he was born blind that God’s works might be revealed in him. You were born with all of your character traits, your genetic predispositions, even the challenging ones, that God’s works might be revealed in you. Maybe you’re not the smartest kid on the block. Maybe you’re not the most athletic. Maybe you’re not the most beautiful. Maybe you were born with a different sexual orientation. Maybe you have always been painfully shy. Maybe you struggle with depression. Maybe you have a chronic or terminal illness, but Jesus says this no matter what it is, its purpose is so that God’s work might be revealed in you.

Secondly, we are blind if we think we can understand or explain how Jesus heals. The people question, “Was this really man?” “What exactly did Jesus do?” The Pharisees questioned how Jesus could be a healer, because clearly he was not following their rules for the Sabbath. They questioned the blind man. They questioned his parents. Some people are always questioning, never satisfied with a miracle, they want to undo it with their logical minds. They want to disbelief it with their scientific reasoning. They want to discount it, by finding some flaw in the character of the healed or the Healer. We tend to value human knowledge over God’s wisdom. Paul says to the Corinthians (chapter 1), “Where is the one who is wise? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? …God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” But some people, even religious people like the Pharisees and us, get caught up in having their/our own answers. The blind beggar begins to explain things to people who think they know everything there is to know about God.

This leads me to my final point. We are blind, if we think we know all there is to know about God, if we think we can learn nothing from a beggar on the street, from a person whose eyes have been shut, whose disability renders them unimportant in society. We are blind, if we think that poor people, people from underdeveloped countries, disenfranchised people, people who are racked by disease or failures or all kinds of hardship, have nothing to teach us about God. Mother Teresa said if we judge people, we will have no time to love them.

The supreme irony of this passage is in the final verse. Jesus points out the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees, the ones who think they have mastered their faith and religious practice to the point of being free of sin and acceptable to God and above reproach among their peers.

Jesus tells them that their sin is the blindness of arrogance, of thinking they see, thinking they know, thinking they understand things. This arrogance leads them to judge others. They pre-judge the blind man and they pre-judge Jesus. Too bad they did not have the vision to love the poor blind man and love Jesus.

What about us? How is our vision? Do we close our eyes to the miracle of life all around us? Has our skepticism, our indifference to spiritual disciplines, our casual approach to the Christian faith, our tendency toward a moralistic deism formed cataracts on the eyes of our heart? Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” How pure, how clean is your heart? Do you even care? “All have eyes, but some have eyes that are shrouded in darkness, unable to see the light of the sun. Because the blind cannot see it, it does not follow that the sun does not shine.” (Saint Theophilus of Antioch, bishop) Turn yourself over to the Lord Jesus Christ and be healed, commit yourself to his truth and be led out of darkness into God’s marvelous light!

Everlasting God, in whom we live and move and have our being: You have made us for yourself, so that our hearts are restless until they rest in you. Give us purity of heart and strength of purpose, that no selfish passion may hinder us from knowing your will, no weakness keep us from doing it; that in your light we may see light clearly, and in your service find perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.