On Seeing With New Sight
March 19, 2023
John 9: 1-41
As [Jesus] 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 Pharisees 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 if they confessed Jesus to be the Messiah they would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So for the second time the Pharisees 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 sin, 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. 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.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Today’s sermon is titled On Seeing With New Sight. On Seeing Past Fear.
Last year was my oldest daughter’s senior year of high school and each high school senior was required to design a project that would challenge them to develop new skills and potentially change their world view. My daughter took the part about changing her world view quite literally. She proposed to spend 5 days blindfolded. Five days attending school, Five days of no driving, Five days of no cell phone use. That all sounded very positive to me and I enthusiastically told her I would help her however I could. Then I realized it would be five days of me driving her, five days of making all her meals and five days of cleaning up after her. I began to have my doubts about this project. Unbeknownst to me, her teachers at school were having similar realizations. Five school days of having other students guide her around and what about insurance? Are we covered? She began to ask other students if they could help guide her around from class to class and help her get to the cafeteria. Many of them were not able to commit because they were planning to be involved, often off-campus, with their own projects. I’m not proud to say that my daughter ended up having to change her project. She didn’t have enough support from her family, her school community, or school authorities.
The blind man in our story today is experiencing a similar lack of support…lack of support from his family, his community, and the religious authorities of his day. He has just been healed from life-long blindness and is anyone celebrating with him? No. What he sees with his newly restored sight are people questioning him left and right. His community can not even agree about whether or not this is the man they have always known, as if his blindness was his most distinguishing characteristic (ouch!).
Community members take him straight to the religious authorities, the Pharisees. The Pharisees are full of questions, too, and they are demanding to know the whereabouts of the man who replaced blindness with sight. Because of their positions of power and authority, they are unsettled by three things: first, that someone unknown to them could be capable of such healing; two, that someone would be doing such works on the Sabbath; three, that a condition that they believe to be a result of the sins of ancestors could be reversed. By what power could such a thing occur? Finally, the man’s own family refuses to stand by him. They are called in to testify to the authorities that their son was blind at birth, but they refuse to say anymore because they are fearful of being cast out.
There is one person, and only one person, who comes to the man’s side. When Jesus hears that the man has been “driven out” Jesus returns to him. The man at once recognizes Jesus’s voice and Jesus has one last question for him. “Do you believe?” A more accurate translation would be “Do you put your trust in me?” Jesus spoke Aramaic and he would have used the word hayman הימן meaning “to trust.” This story was originally written in Greek and the Greek word used was πιστεύω pisteúō, (pist-u-o); to put trust with. Jesus asks the man, “Do you trust me?” Of course, he answers, “yes,” even though this answer means he may no longer be accepted by his family, his community, or his religious leaders.
This story is not really about the act of healing that the man experienced. This story is about what happened after the man’s sight was restored. What should have been a cause for celebration was instead seen as a threat. It was a threat to those in positions of power because things were happening that they could not explain and they could no longer control the narrative. It was a threat to the community because it upset the status quo. It was a threat even to the man’s own parents because suddenly they had to choose between staying where they knew they belonged or choosing to place their trust in someone and in something unexplainable.
This is a story about the resistance that our teacher, Jesus of Nazareth faced. This is a story about the resistance anyone will face when aiming to follow his teachings. To be a student of his means we will be changed because we see with a new sight. To be a student of his means we can see the precarious position of those who are in power and afraid to lose it. To be a student of his means we can see a role for ourselves when faced with the suffering of others. We do not turn away; we ask how we can make a difference. To be a student of his means we place our trust in the Great Mystery that is God. Our choices may not make sense to others; we may be questioned, our choices challenged.
In closing, Friends, I stand before you today, and say that to be a student of his might just turn your life inside out. I was changed from an agnostic to a disciple of Christ. I used to seek independence and now I relish relationship. I used to place my trust only in the probability of mathematics and science, now I extend my trust in the possibilities…possibilities that are endless and a love that is everlasting. I was lost, but now I’m found. I was blind, but now I see.
God of morning and God of night, draw us closer to the place within us where Your love is all there is. Remove the illusion that we are separate from one another and remind us that as we nurture and heal ourselves, we, in some small and magnificent way, are serving the greater whole of humanity. As we remember our brothers and sisters in despair, help us to bear the weight of empathy and compassion as we share their burdens. Strengthen us to live in this world we love and to remain centered within you, where all goodness, compassion and love find their source. This I pray in Christ’s name. Amen.
I leave you with these words from the book of Deuteronomy, chapter 31:
“Be brave and steadfast; have no fear or dread, for it is the Lord, your God who walks with you.”