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; 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.
This week’s Gospel reading puts us directly and perhaps a bit uncomfortably close to our ability to deceive ourselves, to avoid seeing that which we do not want to see, to make of the world a projection in which our own previously conceived notions are again given form. Yes, our ideas about right and wrong, good and evil, sight and blindness, to simply make the world the arena in which what we already know to be true is played out. This is a profound danger that I cannot help but believe we all live into in some ways. Year after year of making decisions related to our work and family, of evaluating and responding to other people’s behavior, of seeing the consequences of our actions and other people’s actions in the world, all of this sort of accumulates in what we might begin to call a world view, a way of ordering and filtering everything that we encounter on a daily basis. And the way we view the world affects just about every facet of how we interact with it: how we treat strangers, who receives our political votes, what churches we attend, or what type of food we put into our bodies. Yes, all of these decisions are ways that we express how we understand right from wrong, truth from falsehood. The question, I guess, is what happens when this world view, when what we know to be right, when that is all brought into crisis? When the once solid moral ground on which you stood begins to shift underneath your feet?
This sort of crisis is an inevitable part of living. Everything from death to divorce to the birth of a new child or other unexpected blessings prompts this sort of reflection. So, there is really no point in further exploring the reality of these sort of interruptions. What is more interesting, I suppose, is how we respond to them, even when they do not happen to us. The Pharisees in this reading, then, sort of provide a case study for how we hope that we do not react when what we presume to be true is suddenly called into question. So, if you are a fan of the religious establishment, this is by no means a happy day. In fact, the leaders of the Jerusalem Temple, by the end of this story, will end looking like fools, practitioners of the very sort of blindness and hardness of heart with which they have tried to mock both Jesus and this man born blind. From our perspective, standing a considerable distance from this story, their motives seem alarmingly straight-forward and the question is how they could possess such a stunning lack of self-awareness. They come off as petty and incapable of putting together a coherent and sustained case for why this healing is not the work of God in flesh. Rather than admitting that this Jesus does not fit their worldview, that he does not conform to their expectations of the Messiah, they do everything that they can to force him into their worldview and this means, ironically enough, rejecting him. In the world of the law, where God’s presence is the result of a rigid adherence to the rules, where God will only show up when the proper boundaries between right and wrong, religious and profane are maintained, and when those who obviously suffer God’s neglect, those like beggars and the blind, when they are kept at the necessary distance, yes in this world of ever increasing boundaries, there is, simply put, no room for this Jesus. Actually, to be fair, that is not entirely true. There is a place for Jesus in the religious leaders’ world, and they will do everything in their power to get him there, but we get ahead of ourselves.
And what, exactly, is this scandal? Why are the religious leaders so offended by this man, so convinced that he is not the Messiah but rather the worst sort offender against God? Why is this Jesus one of those worldview type shattering events? Yes, this Jesus who sees in the man born blind not an occasion to join in the condemnation that was constantly heaped upon him, but rather sees this man as yet another chance to proclaim and enact God’s goodness and mercy? Well, the answer that they give is that Jesus is healing on the Sabbath and therefore breaking religious law and custom. Which is true as far as it goes, but it is sort of like complaining about an inch long scratch on a new car that someone gave you. So, what is really going on here? Perhaps here we see that old human inclination, that old stubbornness, reasserting its ugliness. Yes, perhaps the religious elite see all too well what this Jesus may mean for them: the end of their power and privilege, a death to their control over whom God is allowed to love, the end of their determining who is in and who is out. Maybe that entire system, what we may call humanity’s blindness, wherein we set ourselves up as judges and arbiters of God’s grace, maybe, just maybe, is being torn asunder in this Jesus and his healing.
The incredible and tragic irony of this story is this: had the religious leaders not instantly condemned both this Jesus and the man born blind, they might have seen that Christ, too, had come as a light to them. That this man who can turn human saliva and dirt into agents of healing and mercy, that this man could heal them, as well. Heal them from their fears that God would leave them if they did condemn those who failed to live up to their standards. That this Christ could heal them from their unquenchable and not wholly satisfying pursuit of status and power. That even though his presence meant the end of their reign as minor gods, that did not mean the end of God’s love for them. In fact, this Christ breaking into their midst meant that a new freedom had come: the freedom to stop finding all their meaning and purpose in their status and wealth, the freedom simply to be loved by Christ and then go love others. Yes, the shattering of this worldview was perhaps a gift that Christ had come to give through his grace. How tragic, then, the elites’ cynicism of this Jesus.
Yes, we can be certain that there is no such thing as a neutral encounter with Jesus. Whenever he shows up in our midst, our worldviews in all of their theological, political and social aspects are bound to be shaken to the core. Fear not, dearly beloved, for these are merely the birth pangs of the new sight which you are receiving. For this same Christ, this one who comes among us to heal and forgive, to comfort and console, yes, this Christ who comes to give you the vision to perceive the infinitely compassionate heart of God, this Christ is bound to cause a problem or two when he encounters our world of fear, mistrust and decay, and that he does so, that he destroy death with life, that he replaces fear with comfort and anxiety with acceptance, well this is what we can begin to call the Gospel. Yes, this the second gift that the man born blind receives: not just the gift of physical sight, but the gift of realizing that this Jesus, this man of infinite compassion and care, this man who cares for the lowly and the outcast, this friend of the broken and the distressed, this great lover of humanity, this is who God actually is. This is the true sight that the man born blind finally receives: it is the sight that receives the Christ in faith and hopes on nothing other than his promises. It is the sight that prompts him to fall on his face in worship of the Christ of infinite love. It is, in short, the same sight that God gives you day after day after day as the Christ abides with and in you. For the vision that Christ creates in you in the vision to be absorbed by a God of infinite love and splendor. It is the vision that accepts the love of God as sheer grace, as an utterly free gift of God in Christ Jesus, and therefore a gift that does not create boundaries but defies them. This is the freedom of true sight. In Jesus’ name, amen.