March 26, 2017 – 4th Sunday in Lent
John 9:1-41 – Jesus Heals the Man Born Blind
The Rev. Dr. Susan Kraus
This morning’s account, from the gospel of John, of Jesus healing the man born blind is much more than a description of a healing miracle. It is that, but the author of the gospel also uses this event to talk about blindness in a much wider context than physical blindness. It seems that most of the characters in this drama are blind in some way – everyone, in fact, except Jesus.
The man healed by Jesus was, obviously, physically blind.
The disciples, in their wondering who had sinned to cause the blindness – the man or his parents – are themselves blind to the reality of innocent suffering, suffering without a moral cause. Surely as they had traveled with Jesus and been present when he fed the hungry, healed the sick and cast out demons, they’d had enough experience of human life to know that many people suffer from afflictions of all kinds without anyone’s sin being the cause. And they’d had enough experience to know that Jesus’ reaction to a person’s affliction was not to ask whose sin had caused it, but rather was compassion and healing, in the words of the gospel, “that God’s works might be revealed in [them]” (John 9:3).
The neighbors of the man born blind and those who had seen him beg are almost comical in their confusion and inability to see what was right in front of their eyes – the man who once was blind could now see. Even when “he kept saying, ‘I am the man’” (John 9:10), they couldn’t stick with the reality in front of them. They wanted to know how the man had been healed and they wanted to know where the healer was. Like the disciples, they wanted an explanation of what they saw, and that desire clouded their vision of the truth.
Finally, the Pharisees – or at least some of them – are spiritually blind. To cure the blind man Jesus made mud on the Sabbath. That was a violation of the Jewish law prohibiting work on the Sabbath. Jesus had broken a religious law, so some of the Pharisees concluded “this man is not from God.” With their focus on the observance of laws which were made to help people glorify God by honoring the Sabbath, they were blind to the glorious work of God done by Jesus – the healing of a man whose entire life had been constrained and limited by a congenital affliction.
When the healed man challenges the Pharisees by saying, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing,” they reply “You are born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” (John 9:33-34). The Pharisees could not admit that they were wrong about God and that this formerly blind beggar was right. To maintain their self-respect – and self-righteousness – they show scorn for the man favored by God and drive him out of the house of God. Jesus lets them know that their refusal to admit their spiritual blindness demonstrates their sin.
Many of us share the weaknesses of the characters in this drama. Like the disciples, we may get so caught up in trying to understand the world we live in that we don’t see the opportunities right in front of us to do something to make the world a better place for others – to “heal a hurting world,” as Episcopal Relief and Development phrases it. Like the neighbors of the blind man, we fail to really see and appreciate the glorious work of God staring us in the face because we don’t understand how God works or where God is, exactly. Like the Pharisees, we sometimes get so focused on what is small and relatively unimportant that we miss the bigger picture. Sometimes we may be so blind to our own faults or so unwilling to admit them that we criticize others and drive them away with scorn. This happens in the church today just as it did in the synagogue two thousand years ago.
Last week our gospel lesson was the account of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. You will remember that the woman’s recognition of Jesus as the Messiah was gradual rather than immediate. The same is true for the man born blind. He had no doubt about his healing, and when he was questioned, he declared that Jesus was “a prophet.” But he did not fully believe in Jesus as the Messiah until he had another conversation with Jesus, who clearly told him his identity. Then the man believed and worshiped Jesus.
Again, I think we are like the Samaritan woman and the man born blind. It takes us time to recognize Jesus and the work of God in our lives. The process is gradual, with moments of clarity separated by periods of relatively less light. We need to give our attention to God in prayer so that we can see God where God is at work.
Jesus’ exchange with the Pharisees warns us of a deadly pitfall. If we think that we have all the answers about how and where God is at work, we are being willfully blind and will be held accountable for this sin. God is greater than our comprehension. God is greater than our religious traditions. God is mysterious and surprising. Look for God in works of light, justice, compassion, and love – anywhere and everywhere.
In Lent it is important to look at the relationship between sin and affliction. We must see clearly that Jesus was afflicted, not for his sin, but because of the sin of others. Jesus was the innocent victim of sin, who died on the cross “that God’s works might be revealed in him” (John 9:3). God’s works revealed in Jesus include both his self-giving love and his Resurrection. Jesus, the light of the world, calls us to look at the world and at ourselves in his light. And Jesus calls us to glorify God by doing the will of God, as he has shown us by his example.
Many Christian men and women, some of whom we call “saints,” show us what life looks like when life is illuminated by the light of Christ. They teach us how to walk guided by Christ’s light, how to lead our lives so that Christ’s light may shine through us. One such man was St. Francis of Assisi.
Would you open your Prayer Books to page 833 and find prayer 62 – “A Prayer attributed to St. Francis.” Let’s read and pray that prayer together slowly, asking God to help us learn from its holy wisdom.
“Lord, make us instruments of your peace. Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love. For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen.”