Let us pray.
Most holy, Lord God, turn our hearts to you and your amazing grace, especially during this holy season; help us see the goodness of your creation no matter what may befall us, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
An African king had a close friend who had the habit of remarking “this is good” about every occurrence in life no matter what it was. One day the king and his friend were out hunting. The king’s friend loaded a gun and handed it to the king, but alas he loaded it wrong and when the king fired it, his thumb was blown off.
“This is good!” exclaimed his friend.
The horrified and bleeding king was furious. “How can you say this is good? This is obviously horrible!” he shouted.
The king put his friend in jail.
About a year later the king went hunting by himself. Cannibals captured him and took him to their village. Stacking some wood, setting up a stake and bounding him to it, they tied his hands. As they were tying his hands, they noticed that the king was missing a thumb. Being superstitious, they never ate anyone who was less than whole. They untied the king and sent him on his way.
Full of remorse the king rushed to the prison to release his friend.
“You were right, it was good,” the king said.
The king told his friend how the missing thumb saved his life and added, “I feel so sad that I locked you in jail. That was such a bad thing to do.”
“NO! This is good!” responded his delighted friend.
“Oh, how could that be good my friend? I did a terrible thing to you while I owe you my life.”
“It is good,” said his friend, “because if I wasn’t in jail I would have been hunting with you and they would have killed me.”
I think that the misfortune in our gospel reading is not that a man was born blind. It was after he was given the gift of sight, he was persecuted. But in spite of that persecution, the man born blind continued to see how great the world is and how fortunate he was. He received a conversion. His outlook was rosy no matter what and he responded to amazing grace with pledging allegiance to Jesus.
During Jesus’ second trip to Jerusalem in John’s gospel, he is taking a stroll. His entourage is with him. They encounter a man born blind. Notice that the question they ask Jesus is not about how unfortunate his situation is. They have the assumption that his blindness was caused by someone’s sin. Their curiosity is only about who the sinner is.
This was the customary theological view of anyone’s misfortune. Bad things happen to bad people. Good things happen to good people. Even if Jesus had a limp, the assumption would be that Jesus sinned, even though he may have just stubbed his toe. They would also assume that a rich person is blessed by God, even if that person’s money came from embezzlement, robbery, or some other less than savory source. Drug kingpins would be seen as blessed by God.
Jesus rejects this theological position. Neither the man nor his parents sinned. But his blindness will glorify God. Now this had to be a head turner for the disciples. How can someone’s blindness glorify God? Why would God’s goodness be associated with something as terrible as blindness?
Jesus then talks about light and darkness. The man born blind has known nothing but darkness. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus is bringing light to all those who think that they see, but instead live in darkness. The disciples, who see misfortune as punishment for sin, live in darkness. Those who don’t see God’s love and care for all people, live in darkness. Jesus came to bring us into the light of God’s greatness and love.
Jesus then put dirt and his spit in the man’s eyes. Not exactly what we would expect to help someone see.
Part of the problem of seeing God’s goodness in the world is to set our minds on what we think we know to be true, not allowing new information to allow us to see what is really happening.
The people who knew the blind man merely assumed he was someone that must look like him. It couldn’t really be him. He is blind and will always be blind. But the resemblance is remarkable. Even though the formerly blind man insisted it was him, they still couldn’t believe it. They needed confirmation by asking to see who did this miraculous thing.
Well, Jesus being Jesus, did this healing on the Sabbath. It’s against the law to work on the Sabbath. Isn’t it nice to have friends who are willing to take the time to escort you to the authorities? That’s what happened to the former blind man. Ironically, this seems to have gone on on the Sabbath.
The Pharisees then accuse Jesus of breaking the Sabbath law, while meeting to judge the law-breaker on the Sabbath. The hypocrisy was probably not lost on John. The Pharisees were divided concerning Jesus. When asked, the former blind man testified that Jesus is a prophet.
Even the authorities could not believe that the former blind man was really blind. So they summon his parents. All this activity is occurring on the Sabbath. They were reluctant to put themselves in jeopardy with the authorities. The parent’s attitude was, “I know nossing!” They were not legally required to testify about their son, once he reached the age of majority.
The authorities call the former blind man back to testify. They have already decided that Jesus is a sinner and is worthy of arrest. They need to get the former blind man to agree with their decision. All the former blind man knows is once he was blind and now he sees. Such amazing grace!
The former blind man could have a career as a successful litigator. He asks the authorities if they want to be disciples of Jesus. Now they are on trial. They testify that they follow Moses. That Moses talked to God. That they know where Moses came from. Jesus, they know nothing about. Not only are they blind, but they are ignorant.
The former blind man says that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to people who love God and obey God. Since no one has ever given sight to a man born blind, then Jesus must be from God.
Well, the authorities didn’t appreciate a theological lesson from a former blind man. They did what people in authority do when they are painted into a corner. They threw the former blind man out of the synagogue. The former blind man now had no place to worship.
Jesus found the former blind man when he heard what they did to him. The former blind man pledges faith in Jesus.
Some Pharisees must have tailed the former blind man to see what he would do or say on the Sabbath. They overhear what Jesus says to the former blind man. Jesus came to bring sight to the blind and blindness to those who see. (Jesus probably knew he was being overheard.) Defensively, the Pharisees believe that Jesus was talking about them.
When the Pharisees ask if they are blind, Jesus confirms their question by their own admission. Turning the popular theology on its head, it is those who see who are guilty. Those who are blind have no guilt.
This is a conversion story – a profound conversion story. Being born blind is very different than someone who is later blinded. A person born blind has no context of what things look like. It is a very different world. The man born blind received Jesus’ healing of sight, was persecuted and expelled, then expressing faith in Jesus, seeing who the savior of the world is. The Pharisees, who see, are blind to who and what Jesus represents.
Conversion is messy. It requires us to leave the world as we thought it was and enter a new world, a world likely foreign to us. There will be people who want to pull us back into our pre-conversion world. Choosing Jesus demands a new life. It is a life of compassion for the less fortunate. It is a life of empathy and love. It is a life of forgiveness. It is a life of harmony.
Text: John 9:1–41 (NRSV)
9 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 Wea must work the works of him who sent meb while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 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, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 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?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 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.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 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.” 16 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. 17 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.”
18 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 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 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.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesusc to be the Messiahd would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 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.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 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?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”e 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir?f Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord,g I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 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.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.