Peace Presbyterian Church
John 9:1-41 4th Sunday of Lent
Elizabeth M. Deibert 26 March 2017
This week on Monday, after I selected this text about blindness, my glasses started coming apart. By Wednesday, they were falling off my face, broken at the nose bridge, but I kept snapping them back together and stubbornly going on with life. Gia said, “Go to the eye doctor and get some glasses.” I said, “I have an appointment on Monday. I can make it.” Short after saying that, I walked outside to get some fresh air and enjoy the beautiful sunshine. I sneezed, the glasses hit the pavement and before I could react, I had stepped on them and broken them completely. No more fixing. God always has a mysterious way helping me live with the text all week. These are my old glasses. They once were lost, but now they’re found. And I am so glad to have them, even though I can’t see quite so well with them.
I am also glad to have several folks helping me read the passage today – not because I can’t see, but because it is 41 verses long and I want you to stay alert, so I’m recruiting all of you as well. People on this side, please read the red lines. You are the Pharisees. (Sorry, somebody’s gotta do it.). People on this side: you are the neighbors who got Jesus in trouble. Please read the green words. The other players know who they are.
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 Jesus' disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God's mighty works might be displayed in him. 4 While it's daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man's eyes. 7 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.
8 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?" 9 Some said, "It is," and others said, "No, it's someone who looks like him." But the man said, "Yes, it's me!" 10 So they asked him, "How are you now able to see?" 11 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." 12 They asked, "Where is this man?" He replied, "I don't know." 13 Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. 14 Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man's eyes on a Sabbath day. 15 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." 16 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. 17 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." 18 The Jewish leaders didn't believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents. 19 The Jewish leaders asked them, "Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?" 20 His parents answered, "We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. 21 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."
22 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. 23 That's why his parents said, "He's old enough. Ask him."
24 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." 25 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." 26 They questioned him: "What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?" 27 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?" 28 They insulted him: "You are his disciple, but we are Moses' disciples. 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don't know where this man is from." 30 The man answered, "This is incredible! You don't know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes! 31 We know that God doesn't listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God's will. 32 No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man wasn't from God, he couldn't do this." 34 They responded, "You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?" Then they expelled him.
35 Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, "Do you believe in the Human One?" 36 He answered, "Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him." 37 Jesus said, "You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you." 38 The man said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshipped Jesus. 39 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." 40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, "Surely we aren't blind, are we?" 41 Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you wouldn't have any sin, but now that you say, 'We see,' your sin remains. (CEB)
At first glance this seems to be a story about the healing of a blind man. But it’s really about opening the eyes of the Pharisees. It is about their blindness. Their stubborn resistance to Jesus. The blind man is healed. He is the one who sees. The Pharisees are the ones who cannot see. Just like in the Prodigal Son story it is the son who stayed home who is lost, not the one who went away and came back grateful for his Father’s love.
Actually the disciples and the neighbors and the Pharisees are all thinking the same thing about the man born blind. They are wanting to blame someone. This blindness is somebody’s fault – either his or his parents. We sometimes do this with cancer. We want to blame it on bad genes, or eating the wrong things or on smoking or, an easy blame. We would not blame a blind person, but we would often blame someone born into poverty. If they would just get an education and a good job, they might make something of themselves.
We fail to see how poverty can lead to diminished self-esteem, lower educational outcomes, and poorer mental, emotional, and physical health. So it’s harder to finish school and get a good job.
The other things to observe is that when the blind man is healed, it throws off everyone around him. The neighbors are both curious and confused, fearful about things they cannot understand. In their fear, they run to the religious, legal experts, because that’s what fear makes you do – look for someone who acts certain and confident, because uncertainty and change is too scary. So the Pharisees are not liking that this healing happened on the Sabbath. That’s against the rules – transforming someone’s life on the day of rest. No, that is work to heal someone, and we know people should not work on the Sabbath. The Pharisees are unwilling to show any human dignity to either Jesus or the man who is now healed. What concerns them is that their world is getting turned upside down. For they have all the power when it comes to things of God. Nobody else can use God’s power. They make the rules about God.
But the man now healed gets empowered. He gets a little sassy and confident – now that he can see. If he lived in our time, he’s be posting stuff on Facebook and Youtube about this healing and it would be going viral.
And the Pharisees want to nip it in the bud. No, do not give glory to this man, who broke our rules. He’s a sinner. Give glory to God (and us who control God’s godness), for we are in charge here – not that healer guy, who clear is a sinner for he did not ask our permission and he broke our rules.
But the man says, “I don’t know about your rules and all. But what I know is that I used to be blind and now I can see. And I’m pretty happy about it, so you’re not shutting me up about that.” In fact, my story’s going to make so many people grow in faith in the future that a guy named John Newton’s going to write a hymn that quotes both and that prodigal son, “I once was lost but now I’m found. Twas blind but now I see.” And that hymn’s going to become the most well-known hymn around the world -- estimated to be performed 10 million times annually and appearing on over 11,000 albums.
Unfortunately, Newton who wrote the hymn was just as blind as the Pharisees, for he continued to participate in the slave trade, even after his dramatic Christian conversion during a storm at sea. But after a stroke which forced retirement and then an ordination as an Anglican priest, Newton wrote Amazing Grace in 1772. But it did not grow in popularity until it began to circulate in the South, namely Kentucky and South Carolina, thanks to Sacred Harp shape note singing and William Walker and a couple of guys from Centre College, who paired it with the tune New Britain around 1835. Then Harriet Beecher Stowe included it in her book Uncle Tom’s Cabin. And later in the 1960’s it began to surge in popular culture. A celebration of the once blind now seeing.
So Newton’s eyes were partially opened to God’s grace on that ship when he was personally saved through a storm. But was not until 1788, 34 years after leaving the slave trade that his eyes were opened to God’s grace for all humanity. It was then that he renounced his former slaving profession by publishing a blazing pamphlet called “Thoughts upon the Slave Trade.” The tract described the horrific conditions on slave ships and Newton apologized for making a public statement so many years after participating in the trade: “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me: that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.”
It is one thing to open my eyes to God’s love and to be profoundly grateful for that love saving me. It is another to open our eyes to the many ways we have participated in systems discount the value and dignity of other human beings – because of their physical health, their mental health, their gender or sexual identity, who they love, the color of their skin, their country or culture or religion, their lack of education or their accent or their appearance or their poverty.
Jesus’ mode of operation is accepting those whom the world rejects, healing those whom we would ignore, valueing those who are at the bottom of the heap. It is threatening to most of us because it turns the world upside down. But it is also healing, if we can see that we too are blind. For as he said to the Pharisees, if you admit to being blind, then you’re fine. It’s when you arrogantly claim to be see clearly, that your vision is messed up.
So stay humble my friends, and keep listening to Jesus, and asking yourself, “Am I blind to the needs of others?” And if you dare, keep praying that God will open your eyes, your ears, and your heart – over and over and over again.