Fourth Sunday in Lent
Out of the depths….
- Psalm 23
- 1 Samuel 16: 1-13
- Ephesians 5: 8-14
- John 9: 1-41 Jesus heals a man born blind
Hear the Gospel (assisted by youth David, Peter, Nate, and Malcolm)
May the Gospel open eyes to see to see and hear Jesus.
The Gospel in context – John and Jesus take us on a Lenten journey
Jesus continues to take us on a journey. It is a journey “Out of the depths”, as our Lenten worship theme proclaims. It is a journey from “death” to “life.”
For four Sundays in the middle of Lent we travel with Jesus in John’s Gospel. First we saw Jesus in the dead of night with Nicodemus confronted about being birthed into new life (John 3). Last Sunday we saw Jesus at the well with a Samaritan woman confronted by the living water of new life (John 4). This Sunday we see Jesus with a man blind from birth who is given eyes to see new life (John 9). Next Sunday Jesus is with a man raised from the dead and given new life (John 11). Each of these 4 encounters with Jesus provokes a crisis revealing a choice — a choice for death or for life.
John 9: 1-41 – Jesus sends he blind man to go and wash and see
The story begins: “As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth” (9:1) We are not told how Jesus knew that this man was born blind. But being blind or truly seeing are central for life with Jesus. Few biblical stories show that more clearly than this Gospel.
Quickly a question confronts hearers in the story: Who is blind and who sees? It doesn’t take long for the confrontation unfold in this encounter. The disciples see the blind man and ask a question: “Teacher, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” It is for them an obvious question asked from the presumed superior place of seeing.
Questions are intimately intertwined with whether we are blind or whether we see. Questions matter. Wrong questions rarely lead to revealing answers. Unless you’re Jesus!
What answer did Jesus give to the disciples? [Let someone respond…] Jesus replies with a lot more answer than they asked for. With few words Jesus confronts a basic belief about sin for their day – disability is a price for sin. Jesus unravels that view by saying,
“Neither this man nor his parents sinned;”
“Wait a minute. That can’t be! We never did it that away before. Blindness is a disability which is a consequence of sin. If he had been blinded later in life than we know he sinned. But if he was born blind it is more likely a result of his parents’ sin. Jesus, don’t mess with our religious belief system.” Can’t you hear it?
One of the most inspiring and enlivening things about Jesus is that he doesn’t fulfill expectations, he doesn’t fill in all the blanks, he doesn’t stick with the rules and uphold the dominant system. Jesus has a way of turning things on their head. It’s called the upside down kingdom.
Jesus disrupted their neat sin system. This man’s blindness has nothing to do with his or his parent’s sin. He was simply born that way. But Jesus doesn’t stop there. He adds:
[The man] was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him….
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
“Ok Jesus, what are you saying?” Can’t you see the disciples looking at each other with that puzzled question on their faces? “We are not blind…Are we?” Whatever Jesus is up to here he is revealing that God is at work in the world in this very moment and Jesus is God’s work-light in the world. See it…if you have eyes to see.
Unlike other healing stories, this blind man doesn’t ask Jesus to heal him. Jesus sees a blind man and is talking with his disciples and then he spits in the dust, mixed up a little mud and plastered it on the blind man’s eyes.
“Thanks a lot Jesus! First you spit in my eye – well almost – then you send me to go wash it out in the pool of Siloam. What good is that going to do?”
Would you say and do if you were the one born blind? Would you obey Jesus?
This blind man did. He was sent by the one who was sent to wash in a pool whose name means sent — Siloam . The blind man went and washed in the pool now can see!
But the story goes on. The blind man who can see returns home. Now puzzled neighbors say to each other, “Isn’t he the blind beggar?” “No it just looks like him.” But the man insists, “I am the man.” Finally they ask him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He eagerly tells them, “A man called Jesus put mud in my eyes and told me to wash in the pool. I did and I see.” Still puzzled they question further, “Well where is he?” The seeing man replies, “I don’t know.”
So the neighbors take the man who had been blind but now could see to more learned authorities, some Pharisees. Then another important clue is given. This was taking place on the sabbath .
The man faced an even greater interrogation by the Pharisees than from the neighbors. “Who did what on the Sabbath?” But the man answers simply, “He put mud on my eyes, then I washed, now I see.” The Pharisees are puzzled and incensed. “He can’t be from God, he doesn’t observe the Sabbath. He must be a sinner, but then how can he heal? They question further, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened?” Again the man answers simply, “He is a prophet .”
Then other Judeans took up the interrogation with the man’s parents demanding to know if this was their son and if he really had been born blind. The parents were afraid. Here another clue is dropped: “Anyone who confessed Jesus would be put out of the synagogue.” So mom and dad hastily say to the questioners, “It is our son and he was born blind, but we don’t know anything about how he sees. He’s of age. Ask him.”
They interrogators press on trying to get the seeing blind man to glorify God and condemn the healer as a sinner. But the man answers simply again, “I don’t know if he’s a sinner. I do know I was blind, now I see.” They press harder, “What did he do to you?” The man answers simply again, “I have been telling you and you won’t listen. Or do you want to hear it again so you can become his disciples?” Scornfully they said they were disciples of Moses not some sinner who breaks the sabbath rules.
Then the man challenges them, “Isn’t it astonishing that you don’t know where he comes from but he opened my eyes. God listens to those who worship and obey God’s will. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Furiously they cling to their system of beliefs that blindness is a consequence of sin and breaking sabbath rules is sin. They accuse the man of being a sinner with the audacity to try to teach them. “And they drove him out [of the synagogue]” (verse 34b).
Note: “Jesus is outside the synagogue, at the side of those who are cast out.” (Duke (1985, 124); Wes H-B (1994, 228). On the outside with outcasts, Jesus hears that they had driven the man away and went to find him. Jesus also questions him, but with very different questions for a blind man who sees and is put out of the synagogue, “Do you believe in the Human One?” The Human One is a term with divine meaning. The man pleads, “Tell me more so I can believe.” Jesus said, “You’re looking at him?” And the man confessed, “Lord, I believe.”
Jesus says for everyone’s hearing, that the world is made up of those who are blind and those who see and that he has come to reveal that those thought to be blind see and those who think they see are blind. Some Pharisees, who apparently are “with Jesus” as secret believers respond with a critical question, “Surely we are not blind….are we?”
Jesus closes the story by saying to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But you who claim to see are still in sin.” At the beginning it was disciples and at the end it is some Pharisees, those who make some claim to being “with Jesus” but with half-hearted commitment yet claim to see, that Jesus names as the real sinners.
Blindness and Sight in the Story
We have only begun to mine the rich revelation of this Gospel. Let me offer three brief summary sightings in the story:
One, the Gospel, the good news is that God sends Jesus who comes for all the world but with particular care and presence with the outcast, the anawim , the little one’s, who are oppressed, dismissed, disparaged. Jesus gives sight to the outcast and upsets the system that enforces or blames them for their blindness.
Two, while this is a story of a man who receives sight from Jesus, it is not a story of one man’s blindness. As Wes has shown in his commentary on John, the reference to the blind man in Greek is “everyone.” It is not only a “man born blind” but “humanity, blind from birth.” (Laurel Dykstra, “Living the Word,” Sojourners , March 2008, p. 48, Wes Howard Brook, Becoming Children of God : John’s Gospel and Radical Discipleship , p. ).
Three, there is a progression in the sight of the man born blind, a confessional progression revealed by his reply to his interrogator-accusers. It is a journey of seeing more fully. He responds first by saying a man put mud in his eyes and sent him to the pool to see. Next he responds that it is a prophet who restored his sight. Then he declared that it was someone sent from God . Finally he confesses that it is the glorious Holy Human One of God. “The blind man’s progress in spiritual sight is paralleled by the opponent’s descent into spiritual blindness” (Daniel J. Harrington, “Blindness and Sight,” online America , Feb 25, 2008).
In the OT story, God sends Samuel to anoint a new King from the sons of Jesse in Bethlehem. Seven worthy sons are passed over and the youngest least expected son David is anointed. The writer of the letter to the Ephesians tells that Jesus is God’s light in the world and that we are children of light – if we awake and rise from our blindness and death to this life in Christ that shines in us as the body of Christ (5:8-14).
We are left with the question at the end of the story: Surely we are not blind….are we?
God in Jesus Christ is here to remove our blindness and open our eyes so that we may see – and welcome rather than drive out those who see Jesus.