Fourth Sunday of Lent
March 10, 2002
The Gospel: John 9:1-13 [14-27] 28-38
Sermon: "Grace frees us from Blindness"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
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 worshiped him.
John 1:9-13 [14-27] 28-38
Grace frees us from Blindness
Fourth Sunday of Lent - March 10, 2002
Blindness might be described as a form of bondage. Not being able to see limits our ability to move freely. We can't go where we want to go all the time. We can't do all the things we would like to do. We can't experience the gift of color. We can't see somebody laugh or cry. We can't see clouds, or trees, birds or animals, I would imagine many of us would not want to lose the use of our eyes. Yet, blindness comes in many forms. Blindness may not simply be physical. We may be blind in spirit. The funny thing about spiritual blindness is that it is often self-induced. God does not blind us. Other people do not blind us. We often blind ourselves. We blind ourselves and we often have no idea how blind we are.
Today's Gospel is about physical and spiritual blindness. This Gospel is about the curing of physical and spiritual blindness. For this Gospel is about salvation and about grace. In this Gospel story we are set up as observers. We are watching the actions of Jesus, the disciples, a blind man and the Pharisees. We watch as the drama unfolds. We watch as blindness is overcome.
Jesus is walking with his disciples when they come across a blind man. The man is blind from birth. So the disciples want to know who sinned that this man was born blind. Hebrew theology believed that there was a cause and effect between sin and adversity. If a person was blind then it was due to his sinfulness. If a person was poor it was due to sinfulness. They also believed that the sins of the parents could be transferred to the children. A child with a birth defect could be the result of the sins of the parents. In addition, a baby in the womb could sin. This belief came from the pregnancy of Rebekah with Isaac and Esau. They moved around so much in the womb the two children were thought to be struggling with each other. This struggle was thought to be sinful. So, the disciples want to know what sin was the cause of this man's blindness and who caused it. Jesus responds with a new teaching about sin. Neither this man nor his parents sinned against God as a cause for his blindness. This man was born blind so that God's works might be revealed. In other words, the man's blindness was not an opportunity to reflect on sinfulness. The man's blindness was an opportunity for God's saving works in the world to be revealed to all. So, Jesus takes dirt and spit, rubs it on the man's eyes and tells him to wash off the mud in Siloam. The blind man does as he is told, and returns healed.
What is the response of his neighbors? What is the response of the Pharisees? At first his neighbors do not believe it is he. The once blind man convinces them otherwise. He attributes his good fortune to the man Jesus. When he comes before the Pharisees they do not believe him either. Their reason for not believing is not based on previous knowledge of the man. Their reason for not believing is based on the Law of Moses. This man was healed on the Sabbath. No work is to be done on the Sabbath including healing. In fact, when they ask him how he was healed they conclude Jesus broke a serious Sabbath Law. In the Mosaic law kneading on the Sabbath is strictly forbidden. One cannot knead bread for example on the Sabbath day. In order for Jesus to make mud of the dirt and spit, Jesus had to knead the mixture. Jesus broke the Law. Therefore, Jesus cannot be from God. While the man was physically blind, the Pharisees are spiritually blind. They are blinded by their own rules and regulations. They are blinded by their own interpretations of the Mosaic Law. They are blinded by their own interpretation of God.
In their blindness they try to denounce the healing and they denounce Jesus as a sinner most severe. In fact, they proclaim they do not know where Jesus comes from at all. Through their arguments and their denouncements; through the healed blind man's own experience his spiritual eyes are opened. When he is first questioned by his neighbors about his healing, he claims Jesus is a man. When he is first questioned by the Pharisees about his healing, he claims Jesus is a prophet. When he is questioned the second time by the Pharisees, he claims Jesus must come from God. Here is a man who has always been blind. He did not ask Jesus to be healed. He did not call out for healing. He did not do anything to deserve this healing. He is healed solely by and through the grace of God in Jesus Christ. As he goes through these questions we see his spiritual eyes being opened a little bit at a time. Slowly he recognizes that Jesus is more than just a man. Isn't it funny that as his spiritual eyes begin to open the Pharisees spiritual eyes become more firmly closed?
The Pharisees stand on the Law of Moses. They have developed their own grading system of right and wrong. With the development of this grading system they have also reserved the right to pass judgment on people. The righteous people conduct their lives in accordance with the Law. As they live in accordance with the Law so shall they be saved. Break the Law and one's salvation is insecure. And if you have any doubts, ask them, they will let you know whether you are saved or not. By this grading system they throw the healed blind man out of their presence. Healed or not he is still a sinner from birth and they cannot associate with sinners. Jesus, his healer, is a sinner too. He healed on the Sabbath and cannot be from God.
Yet, the healed man is not alone. Jesus seeks him out. When this man meets Jesus he finds out Jesus' true identity. He realizes Jesus is the Son of Man and worships him. Grace abounds. Salvation is not tied to the Mosaic Law. Our Salvation belongs to our God.
Yet, how often do we live more like the Pharisees than the healed blind man? We have a tendency to live by Law rather than by the grace of God. Like the Pharisees we set up systems of right and wrong, of acceptance or rejection, over things that just don't matter. In order to fit in a person has to wear the right clothes, live in the right neighborhood, or know the right people. We set up gradations of right and wrong. A liar is worse than someone who steals who is worse than someone who cheats. Nowhere are these gradations worse than in the church. To worship God correctly, everyone has to do it just the same way. They have to bow together, kneel together, and sit together. Furthermore, their experiences have to be exactly like ours or they are invalid. To be saved they have to believe exactly like we do. A person who tithes is better than someone who works in the kitchen who is better than someone who sits in the pews. All of these scales put us in the seat of judgment. We try to take the place of God and dole out grace according to one's works. The fumy thing is we think we are placing ourselves in the seat of the judge. In actuality we are placing ourselves in the seat of the judged. We create our own criteria by which we ourselves will be judged. In this criteria of right, wrong and judging we blind ourselves. We blind ourselves to the incredible grace of God.
But even as sinful and judgmental as we are and can be God's grace abounds. We are all saved by grace. Thank God, we are all saved by grace. We cannot work out somebody else's salvation. We cannot work out our own salvation. The blind man did not seek out Jesus. Jesus came to him and offered him two free gifts: the gift of sight and the gift of salvation. After he received the first gift he still did not know immediately who Jesus really was. He only realized Jesus' identity as he thought about the gift he had received. We are like the blind man. We receive gifts from God all the time. The gifts may be large or the gifts may be small. As we reflect on the gifts then the realization of Jesus' identity has an opportunity to occur. Our own blindness can be overcome. As our blindness is overcome by God's grace we are no longer bound. We are no longer bound by the sinfulness of our lives. We become free. Free to recognize and worship Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior. Thanks be to God.