4th Sunday in Lent
Thoughts on the Word:
John 9 (NRSV)
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 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, saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ 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.’ They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 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.’ 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. 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.’
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 and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 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.’ 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. Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’
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.’ He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 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?’ Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.
Let us pray – In the name of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.
This week our Gospel an account provides us with some clear distinctions between those who can see, and those who are blind. Now of course at the start of the passage we see Jesus bring healing to a man who is physically blind, a wonderful miracle which defies the laws of nature as we understand them, but as we shall see this is not the greatest miracle of this Gospel passage. We see a great contrast however when we look to what Jesus does not achieve in this passage – He does not cure the spiritual blindness of the Pharisees – they remain unable to see Jesus for who he truly is, they continue to reject him.
OK so let us look a little deeper at our passage. We begin with the blind man. The disciples ask Jesus who’s sin caused this man to be born blind – his own sin or that of his parents… They ask this because the prevailing view of the time was that anyone who was suffering any form of disability was suffering under the judgement of God – which of course meant that they were sinners who deserved this – or in the case of a child born with a disability, it could have been because of the sins of the parents… Jesus is clear in his response – this man’s condition was not caused by sin, that is not how God works, while there are consequences to sin, God does not mete out physical punishment in this world – rather the consequence of sin is separation from God, death and eternal separation – what we call hell, but for us who have placed our hope and faith in Christ these consequences no longer apply, for they have been dealt with by Christ’s sacrifice.
So, no this man was not being punished for sins, he was born to be someone in whom God’s works might be revealed. It is important to look at that statement – God’s work is to be revealed in this man – the place where the real work of God is going to be effective in this man is not through the external healing of a physical disability, as amazing and profound as such a miracle is. Rather God’s work will be revealed in him. We will come back to that a little later.
Now I want us to look at what happens after that amazing physical miracle – The Pharisees enter the story now, seemingly looking for information about who this Jesus character is. The trouble is that they start their search for answers about Jesus, by blindfolding themselves. You see many Pharisees show us that they have already decided that this man couldn’t be from God – they say ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.’. The Pharisees have established in their own mind what God is like and how people who are ‘true believers’ should behave and live. Anyone who doesn’t conform to the standard that they have set for God, anyone who fails to meet their expectations about observation of laws and regulations is clearly not from God – they are clearly sinners.
Now lets be clear, the Pharisees were not just being good Jews following the Old Law – they had developed their own interpretations and regulations regarding the Law, and overlaid these on top of it. Their interpretation of the Sabbath law was a clear example of this… they were incapable of seeing the true intent of the Sabbath as established in the Old Covenant , because they had veiled it, covered it up with their own expectations about what was right and just. Because they had veiled their eyes with their own prejudices and their own expectations, they were incapable of seeing that the point of the Sabbath was to allow us to reflect on God’s glory, to give us rest in the arms of God. When confronted over a separate issue around the Sabbath in Mark 2 Jesus says that the Sabbath was made for man – not man for the Sabbath.
The Pharisees had lost sight of this truth, they couldn’t see that Jesus healing this man of his blindness on the Sabbath, brought glory to God. All they could see was the failure to meet their own expectations. I wonder brothers and sisters how often we blind ourselves to the Glory of God because we have set our own expectations, and placed our own veils over our eyes. Just as the Pharisees placed their own expectations and limitations on the Old Covenant, Christians can run the risk of placing our own limitations on God.
An argument I have often heard from people who reject God is : well I just can’t believe in a God who would send people to hell… Some Christians have bought into this and have started teaching that hell doesn’t exist, or that it is temporary… they have overlaid their own expectations and their own view of what is ‘just’ and ‘right’ over what has been revealed to us in scripture. Others just have decided that they don’t like the writings of St Paul – because Paul is too big on laying down moral expectations - they proclaim that they will just stick to the words of Jesus – and forget Paul… Others have decided that they just can’t accept that Jesus really rose from the dead – that doesn’t happen after all – it must be just a theological device, to help s to understand Jesus lives on through us… Really?! Using the Gospel account we read today, some say that this blind man wasn’t really cured – after all miracles like that don’t happen… it must be just a fictional narrative used to tell show us that Jesus is from God …
Brothers and sisters there are many many more examples and they are all examples of how we can blind ourselves to God acting in the world, and prevent Him from acting in us. Did you note that all of these positions I just outlined start from the position of overlaying our own expectations and placing our own limitations on God? Pauls instructions about morals don’t need to be obeyed because they don’t fit with my understanding of the world… the resurrection couldn’t have been a real event because in MY experience that sort of thing doesn’t happen – neither does the spontaneous healing of blind people so all the miracles must be false…
Brothers and sisters God is NOT subject to our expectations and limitations! He is the creator of the entire universe! Just like the Pharisees, who couldn’t see God’s glory being exposed right in front of them, being spiritually blinded by their own expectations and rules with which they had veiled the old testament scriptures, we become spiritually blinded when we start to overlay our own conditions, expectations and limitations on God.
Now I am not saying that we shouldn’t read the bible in its correct context, I am not saying that we shouldn’t seek to understand what it meant to original audience, these things are important! What I am saying is that when we do that, when we study scripture and find there are difficult teachings, or things with which we struggle, we can’t just overlay our own rules and expectations onto that, or choose to ignore that bit. When we do that we place our own limited flawed human understanding above the revealed Word of God – and by doing that we veil our hearts to His message, we erect barriers between us and God – we become spiritually blind just like the Pharisees.
But what of the miracle that was even greater than giving the blind man back his sight? The greatest miracle is that when Jesus sought the man out after he had been chastised by the Pharisees, he handed himself over to Christ. When given the opportunity to ‘believe in the ‘Son of Man’, this fellow doesn’t start laying down his own rules and expectations – he doesn’t place limitations on his belief – he simply says tell me who he is, so that I might believe! When he hears that it is Jesus, again he doesn’t lay down a contract for belief, he doesn’t try to overlay his own understandings and expectations about what this ‘Son of Man’ should be like to be worthy of him – no he simply said ‘Lord I believe’, and worshipped Him. The great miracle is that the one born blind in this story was the one who in the end could see clearly, while the Pharisees – those who should have been able to see, were stumbling blindly. God’s work was revealed in the man born blind as he was transformed and became a member of the Kingdom.
I finish this week with a challenge for you. I want you to examine your faith – I want you to decide if your faith is like that of the man born blind, who despite being laboured with this disability for much of his life was able to see clearly, about the most important thing each of us face, his relationship with God. Or are you stumbling around in the dark, spiritually blind, placing your own expectations and limitations on your relationship with God?
If we find ourselves in the Pharisees camp, we need to lay aside those things which prevent us from full and vivid relationship with God. We need to make a choice to accept God as He reveals Himself, and when things trouble us, when we don’t understand, we need to look to God for answers through prayer and study – and not simply overlay our own limitations or expectations on the one who is creator and sustainer of the universe.
The Lord be with you.