3.30.14 I Was Blind And Now I See
4 Lent A March 30, 2014
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you have a pencil or pen with you, please get it out now. If you don't have one, then please get one from the ends of the pews. Good.
There will now be a quiz. No, just kidding...
But what I will ask us to do with our pencils or pens is intended to help us see some important points in this very long gospel story.
First of all, I'm going to ask you to cross out a phrase that occurs on the 3rd line of the reading. The words to cross out come right after the word "sinned". Cross out the phrase "he was born blind." We can do this with a good conscience because that phrase, "he was born blind," does NOT appear in the earliest Greek manuscripts of the gospel. It's not even in the King James English translation from the early 17th century. It's a much later addition to the text from some translator who thought he or she was being helpful.
And, then, now we're going to have a little fun changing some punctuation around. Did you know that in the earliest Greek texts of the gospels there weren't any commas or periods or semicolons? Punctuation was unheard of then. Commas and periods are rather modern inventions that help us make sense of text. So when we read Holy Scripture it's good to see these punctuation marks as a little arbitrary. So go ahead and make the text say "Neither this man nor his parents sinned." Period. Take out the semicolon.
Moving right on, capitalize the word "so". (They didn't capitalize back then, either.)
So--having made these justifiable changes, this is how we can very legitimately read the gospel now: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned. // 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."
When we make these perfectly legitimate tweaks within the text we are addressing some troubling issues. First the issue that blindness or illness is some kind of punishment from God for our own sins or the sins of our parents. That is a very ancient mindset--but, of course, you still hear it around today.
Many people think they get sick because they "deserve it" as some kind of punishment. But we know that illness comes with being a creature. It goes with the territory. We may develop illness because of our own poor choices in life--or not. God doesn't use illness as a club with which to hit us.
The second problem we address is the issue that God planned the specific blindness of this man so as to bring glory to Godself or to convert others to belief. Again, we reject this notion that God plans for us to be ill, even for good reasons, / and that God plans ways to make people suffer so as to create teaching moments.
OK enough about those points.
We're not done with our pencils and pens yet. Now, circle these words throughout the reading:
2nd paragraph, verse 11: "The man"
3rd paragraph, verse 17: "he is a prophet."
Turn the page, verse 27: "Do you also want to become his disciples?"
Verse 33: "If this man were not from God, he could do nothing."
Next paragraph, verse 38: "Lord."
What we've circled are various statements about Jesus that the man born blind made during his encounters with his neighbors, with the Pharisees who questioned him, and with Jesus himself.
First the man encounters Jesus on the way. Jesus makes a paste of mud with the dirt and with his saliva and puts it on the man's eye. Then he tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. So at this point the man is still blind--and he hasn't seen Jesus with his eyes yet. He's heard him and he's obeyed him—without seeing him. That’s important for us to note these days. Obedience without sight.
So then the man washed his face and he came back / able to see. They asked him to tell his story of healing--which he did. The Pharisees see him and ask him to tell his story, which he does. But the story is an invitation for trouble as some of the Pharisees note that he was healed on the Sabbath. And at this point the man called Jesus a prophet.
OK so the authorities still have trouble believing this story, so they go to the man's parents, who basically wash their hands of the whole thing and send them back to their son.
So the Pharisees come back the second time and try to ferret out more information from the man, who really cannot tell them any more than he already did. The man tells them, “look--one thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” And I bet this guy was getting pretty tired of the same questions over and over--so he pushes back against his questioners, asking them with nice irony, "what, do you also want to become his disciples?"
Then the formerly blind man turns into a real theologian, using deductive reasoning from his experience and arriving at a nicely justified position that the man Jesus must be from God.
Here are the steps in his thinking: I was born blind. Never before now has anyone been able to give sight to someone born blind. Only God can do that kind of miracle. Therefore, because this man Jesus opened my eyes, which only God could do, he must be from God.
So that's too much for the Pharisees, who drove him out of the synagogue.
So what happens next? Jesus seeks him out. Jesus goes after him. He asks him if he believes in the Son of Man. And the one formerly blind and now with sight restored asks Jesus--whom he has not SEEN before--who the Son of Man is. Jesus identifies himself and the man says--in full, sighted faith--"Lord, I believe." And he worshiped Jesus.
So----Here we have the man who was born blind, healed of his physical blindness. But more importantly, he was healed of spiritual blindness. And the fully-sighted Pharisees, by the end of the story, have been shown to be completely spiritually blind. The Light of the World is right there before them, but they choose to remain in the darkness of sin--which throughout John's gospel is the darkness of deliberate disbelief in Jesus.
So did you notice how the words and phrases we circled map out the spiritual awakening of the man born blind? He refers to Jesus first as a man; then as a prophet. Then he implies he is one of Jesus’ disciples. Then he deduces that he is from God. Then comes his final, completing assertion: the man calls Jesus "Lord." "Lord, I believe."
This man born blind / is like all of us. Each one of us began our lives in the dark, and each one had to learn more and more about Jesus so that we could one day come to faith. And how might we come to faith? By good old-fashioned deductive reasoning, like the man here in today's story. Each one here is encouraged by our Anglican ethos, to ponder, to reason, to test the waters of faith by reasoning logically, and to hear and respond. Each one here is encouraged to come to that place where we, too, might say, "Lord, I believe."
We're all on a kind of continuum of faith. Some may be farther along than others. And that's ok. It's the movement through the continuum that's important. And the goal is the fullness of belief at the end of the scale.
And why believe? Well the God-centered reason for believing is that it completes God's will for us in the world. Whatever else we choose, God wants us to choose faith. God wants our love.
And the human-centered reason for believing? We believe / because our faith can carry us through the most difficult times and challenges we'll ever face. Here's an example: This past week Anderson Cooper on CNN interviewed a fellow named James Wood. He’s the brother of Philip Wood, one of the Americans on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370. Cooper asked Mr. Wood how he was getting through this awful period. And this is the answer from Mr. Wood: "Look, We're all human and we all hurt. We all struggle through things. I don't want it to sound clichéd, but my faith is getting me through this. This is not the end of all things. I believe in heaven, to be quite frank about it." [ac360.blogs.cnn.com]
Mr. Wood went on to cite Psalm 46:10: "Be still, and know that I am God." He found it a comfort, a source of strength, to remember that God is in charge and that eventually, through the promises of God, through Jesus, things will come out ok.
Please God, none of us here has to deal with a heart-wrenching tragedy like this one. But we know this mortal life will hold some unwelcome surprises for us one day. Things happen. We will sicken and one day we’ll die. But there IS more. That is our hope and our faith.