Text: John 9:1-41 Title: Who is Really Blind?
Who sinned? Who is responsible? What can account for this tragedy!
It is a common enough concern when things go wrong. There must be somebody to blame!
Or do you think that is a primitive way of thinking? Is it a kind of superstition?
If it is, it is a very persistent superstition. It is not easy to get away from, even in the modern world. Whether superstition or not, when something serious goes wrong in any group there is usually a search for someone to blame. The search for a scapegoat or scapegoats!
Let us pray…
“Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Who said this? Peter, the leader of the apostles? James and John, the sons of thunder, key leaders in the early Jesus movement? Paul, the self-proclaimed apostle of apostles? None of these. These words come from a story told only in the fourth Gospel according to John.
The story concerns a resident of Jerusalem who was born blind, and lived his life into adulthood as a blind man who sat every day, begging for assistance, beside the pool of Siloam (John 9:1-41). This is the reading set in the lectionary for today.
NOW the extended narrative revolving around the man born blind, whom Jesus heals,
and the associated controversy, is thus set at the heart of this extended sequence of conflict scenes. It is different, in character, from the earlier scenes of encounter, where the focus is on Jesus and the person with whom he is talking — Nicodemus, and the Samaritan woman in particular.
This particular scene of encounter in John 9:1-41 has quite a cast of characters — Jesus, his disciples, the blind man, his parents, the Pharisees, and a crowd of people in Jerusalem.
The question I want usto explore together this morning is: Who is really blind in the story before us?
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.” Some of the Pharisees who were with 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. (John 9:39 – 41)
Our gospel reading for today gave us a fascinating story of the furious rage that is evoked when the lights go on for someone, when their eyes are opened, and they begin to see
what is really going on. Such enlightenment, such an alternative view of who’s in charge and where the truth comes from cannot be tolerated, and the forces of darkness strike back with naked hostility. That’s why Jesus was such a dangerous figure.
He openly proclaimed that his mission was to open the eyes of the blind and to set free those who were held captive in the darkness. No wonder they had to have him bumped off,
so to speak. In the gospel story we saw what they will do when people start to have their eyes opened so that they can see the truth. Immediately there was a vicious smear campaign. They tried to discredit the man whose eyes had been opened. He was a liar and a fake they said, he was a sinner and he knew nothing. They tried to threaten his parents to get them to pressure him to pull his head in. And of course, they tried to discredit Jesus as well. He was not from God, he is a lawbreaker, a sinner, a deceiver.
But when people have really seen the light for themselves, it is almost impossible to get them to shut up and go back to sitting in the darkness. Life in the light is too beautiful and more than makes up for the hostility it provokes.
Who is really blind in this story?
Jesus encounters a blind man. Clearly Jesus sees him differently. They all looked at him but they never saw him. He was the blind guy. Born that way. Day after day he sat and begged. They looked. They walked by. They wondered. But they never saw. He had never seen their faces until today. He had never seen his own face, his parents’ faces, a sunrise, the stars, his home, a smile until today. Before today it was as if he didn’t even exist.
Today he became a new creation, he was enlightened, he became a living testimony to the Son of Man but they still don’t see him.
The disciples look at him and see a theological question, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Their vision is distorted by the popular belief that suffering is caused by sin and you get what you deserve.
The neighbours looked but couldn’t see past the image of the way things had always been, a blind man sitting and begging. It’s all he had ever known. It’s all they had ever known.
Blinded by disbelief they keep asking him, “How were your eyes opened?”
Two times the religious leaders call him in. Two times they interrogate him.
Two times he gives glory to God. They cannot see the prophet, the man from God, that this formerly blind man now sees. They cannot see the new life, the new man, the new creation that bears testimony to the man from God. Two times they turn a blind eye to this man and his God. No one, as the saying goes, is more blind than he or she who chooses not to see.
They have chosen power, rules, and boundaries over the truth and their eyes have grown dim.
Once again, ‘Who is really blind in this story?’
One of the hallmarks of John’s Gospel is that when Jesus arrives on the scene and in our lives, everything changes. Limitation falls by the wayside with the one who can turn water into wine. There is no need for sacrifice because the lamb of God who takes away sin is here. Divisions, rifts, bigotry (and their corresponding ethnic definitions) between Samaritans and Jews fade away in the presence of the one who offers living water.
And the one who can heal even a man born blind is the One who offers not just life, but life in all of its abundance. Once your eyes have been opened, the gift of vision opens you to an entirely new realty and once you’ve seen the new reality you can never go back to your old ways of thinking. It may have been simpler when we could not see; when we were blind to the reality that surrounds us.
The blind man was a beggar. He knew the contours of his reality. He probably got up each morning and travelled by a familiar route to his spot on the street. He had adapted to his reality. He learned to live in a world that was defined by his lack of vision. Having his eyes opened exposed him to a world he had only known by touch. Suddenly a whole new sense was opened up for him.
New vision can be exciting and terrifying all at the same time. But once his eyes had been opened, he could not go back, he could not un-see what he was seeing, he could only shut his eyes, or look really look and see.
The Pharisees were blind. They could only see within the parameters of the Law and the traditions handed down to them. Jesus tried to heal their vision, but they did not want to see, they kept their eyes shut, only opening them to confirm the safety of their parameters or to locate the reassurance of the Law and the traditions.
Sometimes the Church whose eyes had been opened by Jesus couldn’t abide the bright light, so they put on blinders of doctrine and dogma designed to keep the light from over-stimulating their senses lest they wander too far from the safety of the parameters they had established using their blinders. The Church learned to live within the confines of those parameters. The Church preferred the status quo. Less disruptions, less conflicts.
Let’s keep everyone happy. Don’t ask too many questions. From time to time someone would dare to go out beyond the confines of what was known about reality. These explorers were dangerous because they tried to provide new visions of reality.
So, the Church learned to shut its eyes as tightly as it could until the light shone so brightly
that it penetrated their defences, and they couldn’t help but see the earth is not flat, that the earth is round, and it revolves around the sun. This new knowledge about the nature of reality was exciting, but it was also terrifying. It was tempting to keep our eyes shut.
But we could not go back. Once the church could see beyond the parameters, there was no going back, so the gateposts were moved, the parameters expanded and there was no going back. Oh, a few people try, and some succeed but the pain of their limited vision pales in comparison to the wonders of the new vision of reality.
Our vision has expanded beyond the wildest dreams of the generations who once filled the churches. We have seen the Earth, taken her picture from as far away as Mars and we have travelled to the tiniest reaches of Creation and mapped the DNA of our existence. Our vision has expanded, and it is so exciting, and it is so terrifying and we might be tempted to shut our eyes, but there is no going back.
God is not up there above the clouds. We need to peer beyond the parameters of our expanded vision of reality and open ourselves to new visions; visions of what it means to be human; visions of Divinity that are so exciting and so terrifying, because there is no going back.
Jesus lived and died trying to open the eyes of his contemporaries to his expanding vision of what it means to be human. Jesus pointed to a ONENESS with the Creator he called Abba that was as exciting and terrifying as it was liberating.
The freedom that Jesus lived, trusting in the Grace of the One he knew intimately as Abba, opened Jesus and his followers to a new way of being in the world and there was no going back to the old reality.
Those of us who follow Jesus here and now, we can try to shut our eyes to the visions of reality that are all around us, we can shore up the parameters and strengthen our defences.
This new reality that is emerging is exciting, but it is also terrifying and the comfort of the familiar ways that we have been taught is so inviting. But we cannot go back there to the safe, familiar, comfort of our blindness to the reality that surrounds us.
So, we open our eyes and gaze beyond the limits of our horizons and let the excitement and the terror open us to the wonders that await us.
They all looked but none saw him. If they saw him, they would have to confront their own blindness. This man blind from birth is not just a single individual, he is every man, every woman. The only difference between him and all the others in today’s gospel is that he knows he is blind. Until we know we are blind we can never see with new eyes. “Surely we are not blind, are we?”
On this fourth Sunday of Lent Jesus invites us to see, to examine our blindness or blind spots. Don’t just look around. Look within. What do you see? How do you see? Where is the mud of darkness in your life? Name that reality. Acknowledge it and then go wash.
The mud of darkness always gives way to the light of Christ.