Synopsis: This pandemic can be like a healing “mud” that washes away our spiritual blindness and opens our eyes so that we may behold the Son of Man and believe.
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Peace be with you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The title of today’s sermon is “Was Blind But Now I See.” You probably remember this line from John Newton’s well-known hymn, Amazing Grace. This hymn came out of the heart of a man with a very tumultuous past, a man many might have called a sinner due to his work in the African slave trade.
Yet he wrote this awesome hymn about God’s grace – a song that gives Christians around the world hope and strength in times of trouble – a song that relates to our scripture reading for today and certainly to the pandemic we are faced with today.
(Read John 9:1-41)
Let’s take a closer look at Jewish Sabbath laws so that we can get a better understanding of this event.
In 167 B.C., almost two centuries before Jesus was born, Antiochus’ army tried to put a stop to sacrifices at the Temple. The people of Jerusalem revolted and then fled to the desert, but their hiding place was soon discovered by the pursuing soldiers.
The soldiers surrounded the Jews and demanded they surrender. The Jews didn’t give in, but they refused to fight because it was the Sabbath. They wouldn’t even block the entrances to their caves. As a result, 1,000 men, women, and children died without resistance.
That gives us an idea of the intensity of the Jews’ conviction that the Sabbath should not be violated. Anyone who unintentionally violated the Sabbath was required to pay a heavy sin offering. Anyone who intentionally violated the Sabbath would be stoned to death.
By the time Jesus was born, the Jews’ conviction around Sabbath Laws had only become stronger. Because of the pagan influences all around them, the Pharisees had taken it upon themselves to keep the Jewish faith pure.
They had good intentions, but over time, they created rules so rigid and legalistic that they became needlessly burdensome. A farmer couldn’t plow his field on the Sabbath. That’s reasonable, right? Well, it didn’t end there. No one could drag a chair across the ground because that would create a furrow which is related to plowing.
A Jew could not carry a heavy load on the Sabbath. That’s reasonable too – but it didn’t end there. No one could wear an extra piece of clothing because that was related to carrying a load.
One dilemma that caused a lot of discussion was what a Jew could do if their house caught on fire on the Sabbath. The Pharisees ruled that a Jew could save only clothing, wearing one piece at a time, but it had to be taken off before going back into the burning house to save another garment.
Can you imagine the spectacle that would be?
These rules might be the “heavy burdens” Jesus spoke about when he said in Matthew 11:28-30, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The word “light” has a double-meaning when it relates to our scripture reading for today. Jesus deliberately violated the Pharisees’ burdensome Sabbath rules by healing a blind man on the Sabbath and helping him to “see the light” both physically and spiritually.
At the end of the previous chapter, Jesus had a major confrontation with the Pharisees. How major? Well, they had stones in their hands. That’s because Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” Fortunately, Jesus was really good at escaping these situations.
It’s possible that Jesus notices this blind man as he is escaping the Temple. There is no indication that the blind man cried out to Jesus to be healed, but apparently, the disciples knew the man had been born blind because they ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
I love this passage because it brings up that age-old question, “Why does God allow suffering?” The Jews believed people suffer because of their personal sins or the sins of their ancestors. I agree that we reap what we sow not only on a personal level, but also on a collective level.
If you are a parent, then you know that protecting your children from the consequences of their behavior cripples them because they never learn how to live responsibly. That’s why God allows suffering – so that we can learn all how to live responsibly.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could live in bubble and isolate ourselves from the effects of everyone else’s sins? No can do. We’re all in this mess together, so we all suffer together.
But we don’t want to believe that, so if someone is suffering, we ask, “Whose fault is it?” That is the question the disciples want Jesus to answer. Jesus dismisses their question because to him it doesn’t matter. He is focusing on the solution – the work he came to do to end suffering and to glorify God.
When someone is suffering, it doesn’t matter whose fault it is. Assigning blame doesn’t help; it only allows us to shirk our responsibility toward our brothers and sisters because hey – it’s their own fault. It’s so much easier to philosophize about suffering than to actually do something about it.
Doing something about it requires us to be brave enough to open our hearts, put ourselves in other people’s shoes, and imagine how they might feel. Then, we extend God’s Love by doing what we can do and letting God do the rest. That’s what Jesus did.
The way Jesus heals this man is different from the way he healed others. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus healed some blind men simply by touching their eyes. In this case, Jesus mixes dirt with his saliva to make mud, spreads it over the man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.
Why didn’t Jesus just touch this man’s eyes? The others had faith in Jesus and asked to be healed. This man didn’t, so maybe Jesus provided a way for him to demonstrate faith. The man probably had his doubts, but unless he wanted to keep mud on his face, he had to go wash.
He was sent, so he went. Perhaps that’s all the faith he needed to be healed.
Jesus had also just escaped Pharisees holding stones, and healing on the Sabbath was forbidden. If he had placed his hands on the man’s eyes and healed him immediately, that would have drawn immediate attention whereas it took some time for the blind beggar to wash and come back.
By the time he returned to the scene, he was no longer a blind beggar, and the neighbors were the first to notice. Can you imagine the gossip?
“Hey, isn’t that the blind beggar?”
“No that’s not him – just someone who looks like him.”
“No, that’s definitely him.”
All the while, the man is saying, “Yes! It is me! I was the blind beggar!” But all he could tell them was what Jesus did, and then what he did, and somehow, he can now see. The neighbors ask where Jesus is, but the man doesn’t know. Jesus is nowhere to be found.
The neighbors brought the healed man to the Pharisees. Why’d they do that? I think they were terribly confused. A miraculous healing had just occurred, and it was the Pharisees’ job to investigate such things in order to judge whether they had come from God or from some evil source.
But this healing also occurred on the Sabbath, which is forbidden. So, in bringing this man to the Pharisees, the neighbors were saying, “Help! A man by the name of Jesus restored this man’s sight on the Sabbath! Does that make him a good guy or a bad guy?”
The healed man tells the Pharisees his story, and even the Pharisees are confused. Some said, “He can’t be from God if he violates the Sabbath,” and others were saying, “But we know that only someone with the power of God can do something as great as restoring sight to the blind!” Since the experts couldn’t decide amongst themselves what to think, they asked the healed man.
At least he had the courage to speak his mind. He said, “He’s a prophet.” Well, the Pharisees didn’t want to hear that. We can imagine them saying, “Oh well, you must be one of his followers who faked blindness to promote him. Get his parents in here for questioning!”
Poor guy! Don’t you just love it when people ask you what you think when they really don’t want to hear what you think – unless, of course, it validates what they think?
So, the healed man’s parents are dragged in for questioning. They say, “Yes, this is our son, and yes he was born blind, and no we don’t know how it happened that he can now see. Ask him.” Can you blame them? During this time, the Pharisees had threatened to excommunicate anyone who proclaimed Jesus as the Messiah.
They bring the healed man back in, and they say to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” In other words, because Jesus had violated the Sabbath, and was therefore in their minds a sinner, they could not believe that he had healed this man. So, they were saying to him, “Swear before God that you are telling the truth – that this sinner restored your sight.”
The healed man bravely stands his ground and soundly rebukes the Pharisees for their refusal to accept the facts – that this man – whether he be a sinner or not – restored his sight. When they keep pressing him about how Jesus restored his sight, he finally says, “I’ve already told you! If you don’t believe me, then why don’t you become one of his followers!”
Then he proceeded to remind them of their own rules – the same rules Nicodemus applied when he said to Jesus, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher who has come from God; for no one can do these signs that you do apart from the presence of God.” The healed man says, “How astonishing it is that you can’t see that this man is from God when your own rules prove it!”
They can’t see. Isn’t it ironic? A formally-blind man is now trying to open the eyes of the blind Pharisees. Clearly, the Pharisees refuse to see the truth. Self-righteous indignation takes over because – as far as they are concerned – since this man was born blind, he was born in sin, so how dare he attempt to teach them? In their rage, they throw him out of the Temple.
Jesus hears that the healed man was excommunicated, so he seeks him out to join to with Christ. First, Jesus asks him if he believes in the Son of Man. In Judaism, “son of man” has two meanings. When it is preceded by the article “a” as in “a son of man,” it refers to an ordinary human being. However, when it preceded by the article “the” as in “the Son of Man,” it means something else.
It seems the healed man knows what the term “the Son of Man” means because he doesn’t ask, “What do you mean by ‘the Son of Man?’” Most Jews were expecting a Son of God – a human with Divine favor – an anointed king from David’s line. But in Judaism, there was also a belief in the Son of Man from Daniel’ prophecy, the Divine who became human.
Some Jews, such as the Pharisees, refused to accept the idea that any human being could be equal to God. That is why they picked up stones when Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I AM.” He was giving the Pharisees a little hint at who he is, and their response indicated their rejection of the Son of Man.
The healed man believed in the Son of Man and wanted to worship him – if only he knew his identity. When Jesus revealed himself as the Son of Man, the man professed his faith and bowed down and worshipped him.
Jesus says, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” The formally blind man’s mind and heart were open, allowing him to see spiritual truth. He wasn’t blinded by his investment in his own ideas about God and how to be in a good relationship with Him.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, refused to see the obvious evidence that God was somehow joined with this human being named Jesus because to do so would require them to admit that their ideas about God and their harsh rules about how to be in a good relationship with Him – were wrong.
We humans would rather be blind than wrong – further evidence of our insanity.
One man sinned, and humanity suffered – but because one man turned from sin, because one man looked past the form to the Christ within, humanity was saved.
We’re all in this mess together: that truth is evident now more than ever. In this pandemic, we are all experiencing the acute pain of separation. How many of us this week have felt unnervingly fearful and deeply lonely? My friends, this feeling is ancient. Humanity has been feeling this way since Adam and Eve saw naked bodies and covered them with fig leaves.
They looked, saw sin in nakedness, and covered their bodies. We look at each other, see germs, and cover our hands with gloves and our faces with masks. Adam and Eve saw bodies that were naked, but they were not those bodies. We see bodies that carry germs, get sick and die, but we are not these bodies.
This is more than a world health crisis; it is an existential crisis – a spiritual crisis. Ironically, while we are separated physically, we are joined together in a single purpose. For once, all the countries of this world are joined together fighting a common enemy and valuing more than ever the preservation of life.
This crisis could end up being the mud that opens the eyes of humanity and brings about the coming of Christ into the hearts of all. All of humanity is taking a journey of faith to the pool of Siloam right now. We don’t know if this social distancing thing is going to work, but we’ve been sent, so we went. Unless we want to keep this virus around, we have no choice.
Now is the time to exercise our faith, compassion, and trust muscles. No one wants to die, but if we have faith in Christ, we need not fear death. We are not these bodies, so its death is not the death of who we really are. Whenever we feel afraid, we can find peace by reminding ourselves of this truth.
We may not fear death, but there are many others around us who do, so we need to exercise compassion. I heard about a local church that continues to hold the passing of the peace as it always has – with touching, hugging, and kissing – because they say, “Jesus will save us.”
That’s just an attempt to glorify ourselves – even if it’s at others’ expense. To say, “Look at me! Look how strong my faith is!” Remember what Jesus said when Satan tempted him to cast himself down from the pinnacle of the Temple: “It is written; you shall not put the Lord thy God to the test.”
Finally, we need to trust God to use this situation for the good of all. This major inconvenience – to say the least – is proof that life doesn’t revolve around our personal selves. Life serves all of life, so let’s trust that somehow, in the end, we will be reassured of the abundance of God’s grace.
We don’t know what life is going to be like after this is over, but I think we’re pretty sure this is the end of the world as we know it. Humanity will never be the same, and the change might be profound. Perhaps the little caterpillar will finally transform into the butterfly.
As Thomas Merton wrote, “Then it was as if I suddenly saw the secret beauty of their hearts, the depths of their hearts where neither sin nor desire nor self-knowledge can reach, the core of their reality, the person that each one is in God’s eyes. If only they could see themselves as they really are. If only we could see each other that way all the time, there would be no more war, no more hatred, no more cruelty, no more greed . . . I suppose the big problem would be that we would fall down and worship each other.”
Let’s pray together: Lord, we come to you today, willing to lay down our heavy burdens before you. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to open our minds and hearts to see the light of Truth. Give us the strength to focus on solutions and on the work we came to do to glorify you.
Deffinbaugh, Bob. “12. The Light of the World (John 9:1-41).” Bible.org, bible.org/seriespage/light-world-john-91-41.
Merton, Thomas. “Thomas Merton Quotes.” AZQuotes.com, https://www.azquotes.com/quote/528853