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Lent 4A Sermon
John 9:1-41
March
22, 2020

 

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John 9:1-41

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 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?’ 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.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit; Amen.

This story of Jesus healing the man born blind has always been a favorite of mine, probably because I find a lot of humor in it. First, this man does not ask to be healed – Jesus does it as a response to the disciples’ misguided question if this man was born blind because of his own sinfulness or the sinfulness of his parents. The method of Jesus’ healing – that he spat on the ground, made some mud and spread it over his eyes, is also a bit odd – and the fact that he is instructed to go and wash in the pool of Siloam before his sight is granted to him seems very out of character for Jesus. Then there is the hilarious part where the neighbors interrogate him, the religious leaders interrogate his parents, and in the end, the man who is now able to see for the first time in his life is driven out of the community by the religious leaders. It is all one big mess, and if we didn’t find some humor in it, we would certainly lose all faith in human beings. I think that the funniest line in the whole New Testament is the response from his parents: 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!
In all of this, we should not lose track of the fact that while all of this is going on around him, this man is experiencing something that he has never experienced before – sight. It is not that his sight is restored, it is that it is given to him for the first time in his life. Have you ever seen videos of children who are able to hear their parents’ voice for the first time because of cochular implants, or people able to see colors for the first time in their lives because of special glasses? It brings tears to their eyes suddenly being able to experience what the rest of the world defines as “normal.” This is something that the whole community should be celebrating with this man – they should have tears in their eyes as well!! And yet, they are dwelling on the unknown. Who did this for you? How did he do it? With what power or authority did he do it? Come on … we need to understand it so that we can either celebrate it as a blessing from our God, or condemn it as coming from a power that we do not know or understand. But of course, they will not understand. As I said in the beginning, this whole scenario is set up by a question that is built on faulty premises – who can we blame for brokenness that we do not understand; and now, who can we credit when there is healing that we do not understand?

I don’t think that we have changed much since those days of Jesus. We still need to know who to blame and who to credit. Especially if the blame is on someone we don’t particularly like, and the credit is due to someone who is on our side. We are experiencing something that we have never experienced before in our country, but instead of a miraculous healing of blindness, it is because of the presence of a microscopic organism that we cannot see with the naked eye. This virus is invading our whole world in an insidious way – using each of us as carriers to spread itself. The more it spreads, the more likely it will find a host that cannot survive the damage that it will do to that host’s body. This invasion is different than a military invasion because we have no face, no flag, no evil tyrant to blame for attacks. Who is to blame for this pandemic – the sinfulness of one generation or another? I hope you are not asking those questions, because we must learn from Jesus’ response to the disciples who asked those same questions. His answer – even before he spat and spread mud and healed this blind man – was that there is no connection between our sinfulness and this brokenness. It is our response that will either show forth healing or will increase the chasm of brokenness that is a result of the presence of sin, death and the devil in our world, as Martin Luther would say. What do I mean by that?

Well, our New Revised Standard translation of this text contains the same misguided wording of all English translations of the Bible. In our translations we hear Jesus say, “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.” But in the original Greek version of the text, Jesus does not say the words, “he was born blind.” The well-intentioned translators, wanting to give context to it all, put these words into Jesus’ mouth … but they lead us into a new direction. Listen as I read the text without those four words and with different punctuation – remember, the original Greek texts had no punctuation either: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; in order that God’s works might be revealed in him, we must work the works of the one who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” In other words, stop trying to solve an insolvable mystery; do the good works of God so that God’s works might be revealed in him … and I would add, so that God’s good works will be revealed in all instances of brokenness and sin that we encounter.

As we experience a reality that is totally new to all of us, I encourage you to take Jesus’ response to his disciples to heart. There are mysteries that are not solvable at this time – like what the next step might be, how many people will be sick or die, how our society will be affected, how our families, churches, institutions and communities will be affected financially and relationally. And how long we are going to be socially distancing ourselves from our friends and family. There are questions that science and medicine are working hard to answer, and we should encourage them in their endeavors to treat victims, find a vaccine, and in preventing our medical systems from being overwhelmed. The role of our communities of faith in all of this is to hold them up in prayer as they do this important and fascinating work, and to be a community to each other even as we grieve the fact that we cannot be together physically. In addition, each of us is called to do the works of God as we best can. For many that means staying in your house so that you and the ones with whom you come into contact will remain healthy and safe. For some that means going to work at hospitals, grocery stores, warehouses, clinics, carry-out restaurants and other places to look out for the well-being of people who are sick or hungry. For all of us, it means finding ways to show love to those around us – a telephone call or facetime chat with someone who is alone, ordering items from a local business, dropping off needed items on someone’s porch – there are so many things that we can do if our attention is not focused on blame or faulty questions.

At a discussion with other pastors about this passage, one of them brought up a quote from an unknown source: Don’t let your suffering go to waste. As I reflect on that quote, I cannot help but think about how every serious crisis is an opportunity to do things that you never thought you could do before. I am also reminded that the blind man in this story is not the only one who is broken and in need of healing. The disciples are broken; the religious leaders are broken; the parents and neighbors are broken; and we all are broken. That is why we do what we do out of a call to do God’s works in this broken world. Thomas Merton once said that we are all bodies full of broken bones. We are all simultaneously broken and God’s vehicles for healing brokenness in this world. That is reality, no matter if we are able to embrace each other, or if we need to keep at least 6 feet between us.

This whole streaming service is a bit awkward for me. I am not used to it, but it is necessary to share God’s word with all of you. It is also interesting because I know that folks who are not regularly here at Clinton Heights for worship are watching and listening. You might say that this is us together, not allowing our suffering to go to waste. We are trying to expand the number of folks in our circle of brokenness, in our circle of love and care. Thank you all for joining us today, and I hope that you will continue to join us for how ever many weeks we are in this reality. You are all in my prayers as you seek to do God’s works as God’s broken healers for this broken world. May God bless you with patience, mercy, humor and peace as we watch and wait for God’s healing power at work. Amen.