(See this week’s painting by scrolling down below.)
Today, I want to tell you a story. The last several weeks we have been with Jesus in the beginning of his ministry as he spent time in the desert preparing for public life, calling his first disciples, and touring the country gaining larger and larger crowds. Today, we are much further along. Jesus was making waves, and he had caught the attention of the Pharisees and the other leaders. They had tried to have him arrested at a recent festival and snare him in other traps. He so enraged them at their last meeting that they spontaneously moved to try to stone him. Then, beginning at the top of John Chapter 9 …. Hear the word of the Lord.
9:1 As [Jesus] went 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 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but […] that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 “Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.
17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”
The man replied, “He is a prophet.”
18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”
20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
39 Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.
The Word of Life.
Thanks be to God!
In the midst of the corona virus, we may all feel newly blind right now. We feel the uncertainty, not knowing what will comes next. It makes us feel helpless in the middle of the storm. We are grasping in the dark for information, for familiarity, and we may have trouble finding it.
My unthinking presumption when I hear “blindness” is pitch black where you can see nothing, like immediately after you turn off a light, and your eyes haven’t adjusted. However, when we think of the physical challenge of blindness, there are different types or classifications depending on the severity of vision impairment.
Today, only 15% of people considered blind have “total blindness” where they can see no light at all. People who are considered “legally blind” can have a variety of conditions like macular degeneration, glaucoma, cataracts, or an injury that today might be able to be repaired with surgery. These people can see some things, but even with glasses it may be limited to vague colors or shapes.(1) In Jesus’ day many of us who wear glasses might be considered blind because we can’t see without them.
In today’s narrative, the blind man probably had total impairment, no light at all. In comparison with us in our figurative blindness, the man born blind may have at least one advantage over us. He knows that he is blind. This is how life has always been for him. Blindness is what is familiar.
How long have we been blind without knowing it? Have we had one of the less severe conditions, but now we find ourselves totally in the dark? We come to the sudden realization of how blind we are, and perhaps how blind we have always been.
When we find ourselves in this position, what do many people want to do? We may even find ourselves doing this … Trying to affix blame. Just like the disciples do. Just like the Pharisees do. Who sinned? Who’s fault is this?
Jesus tells us that this is the wrong question. In this passage Jesus doesn’t want to talk about the why. He talks about how the works of God might be displayed. In the midst of the suffering, yes. In the middle of tragedy, yes. In the center of chaos, yes.
Look at this week’s picture. Jesus gets right in there, and he is changing this man’s life right before our eyes. Giving him new life giving him abundant life. It looks like such a small thing. We don’t hear about anything spectacular, in fact in our current situation of trying to keep everything clean and sanitized, it can sound a bit disconcerting. Jesus mixes saliva with dirt to make mud to put on the man’s eyes and tells him to go wash it off. The man listens to Jesus and does what he’s told. When he opens his eyes, he can see.
This is no small thing. Even now with modern medicine sight often degenerates and cannot be restored. Just a couple of weeks ago there was a story on the news about a revolutionary technique being tried at the Casey Eye Institute in Portland where an inert genetically modified virus is injected into the eye of a person blinded by a genetic disorder (2). The hope is that the genetic problem will be removed by the inert virus, and the eye will then be able to repair itself. It is hoped that some vision will be able to be restored. The researchers are very hopeful, and yet this is only in the test phase. (3)
There is the healing of the vision, but then, there is an aspect that I never considered before. There is a whole psychological side as well. The brain has to learn how to interpret all this new information that it is receiving. A person who was born blind wouldn’t have been able to acquire things like depth perception, like most people do as they grow up. They might know how something feels, but not how it looks. So, even now those who are able to have sight for the first time have to learn before they can be allowed to go home. This getting your sight thing is a lot more complicated that we might have thought. When Jesus heals the blind man, he not only fixes the physical problem in his vision, he gives the man the ability to interpret all the new visual data as well. Otherwise, the man would still would be wandering in a state of confusion. All of this makes Jesus’ miracle even more remarkable than we may have realized. (4)
In this moment, Jesus comes and completely changes this man’s life. It is not about determining who was to blame. It was an opportunity to save and to give abundant life. He receives much. He was a beggar who was ostracized from his people. He no longer has to suffer from isolation and marginalization. Jesus saved him from continual darkness. He won’t have to wonder where his next meal will be, or who may be willing to even acknowledge him as he sits begging. He will know the safety and security in a way that he never experienced before. (5) There is something else very important too. He is now a disciple. Jesus can come into our perhaps newly realized emotional and spiritual blindness as well. He can enter the storms of our lives, like the storm we are experiencing right now.
This week I was reminded of the story of Jesus walking on the water during a storm in Matthew 14. In this chapter Jesus in fact was dealing with several storms. The first was the storm of grief from the news of the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. Then, there was the storm of providing for people confronted with food scarcity in the desert. After that he sends the disciples off in the boat, and he takes some time to self-isolate on a mountain to pray. Meanwhile, a weather storm had whipped up on the Sea of Galilee, and Jesus comes to them in the midst of the storm walking on the water. He comes to us in the midst of the storm, and he goes with us through the storm.
He comes to us while we are blind, yet we can hear his voice before we can see him, like the blind man. It is like Jesus says in the next chapter, explaining the extraordinary sign that he performed. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me … They too will listen to my voice” (John 10:14, 16). This is all because “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full” (vs. 10). When Jesus talks about this full life an abundant life, he is not talking about riches. He is talking about a life that has a full relationship to God, one in which we rely and depend on Jesus to provide that for us. Jesus comes to us, and he opens our eyes. He invites us to look to him. Just like with the man who is no longer blind, he invites us into relationship with him. In this way, we are reborn and have new life. In this way we can see the path forward.
We have a daunting path in front of us. This is not the first time a plague or pandemic has affected God’s people. God has been in it with them and brought them through it. God will do it again. This is a time that calls for us to be the church. In Rodney Stark’s book, The Rise of Christianity, he talks about the response of the Early Church to two outbreaks, the Plague of Galen (165-180 AD) and the Plague of Cyprian (250-262). Christian behavior during these times strengthened the church and how they were seen in their community.
We can use Jesus’ example to be advocates, demonstrate compassion and allegiance to each other and to our neighbor. This is the role of the church in this broken world. We are working on different ways that we, as Joseph United Methodist Church, might do this. One way is volunteering with the Wallowa County Community Action Network as they develop a list of people who can help those in need during this self-isolating time when people may need extra help. I sent an email out a couple of days ago with information about how to do that. Another way is just to call the people you know. We have developed a phone tree for the people within our church, but call your neighbors.
Even if we find ourselves unable to stop the hardships or provide healing, we can continue to pray and to simply tell the truth about what we know. Like the man who is no longer blind in today’s reading that refused to back down in the face of great pressure from the leaders. We know that Jesus will be with us in it and through it all.
The media both social and traditional has been full of stories and commentary about what the whole world is going through with this pandemic. There is self-distancing, self-isolation, sheltering in place, and lockdown. It’s daunting to say the least. In this fourth week of Lent, one of the things that I liked the best and gave me the most hope was a post by Chett Prichett. It summed up what I’ve been thinking through this time. “What we’re doing right now IS Lent. Giving up everything so our friends might live. Sounds pretty familiar to me.”
Remember, this is not the first pandemic to affect God’s people. Remember that God is faithful, and it is okay to admit to ourselves and to our God that we feel helpless and don’t know what to do. Knowing that God is faithful and that God will display the works of God, we have to be on the lookout for the glimpses of God’s good. Then, share it. Call a friend. Text a neighbor. Make a Facebook post about it. “This is what I saw or experienced today.” Encourage one another. Then, as we offer a smile or wave at someone, at least six feet away, we may be offering a sign of God’s peace to them. This can remind others that while we may be distant, we are not alone.
- “What do blind people see?”, Healthline, https://www.healthline.com/health/eye-health/what-do-blind-people-see.
- The genetic disorder in this test is Leber congenital amaurosis
- From <https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/03/04/811461486/in-a-1st-scientists-use-revolutionary-gene-editing-tool-to-edit-inside-a-patient>
- Scott Hoezee, “Now I See,” Center for Excellence in Preaching. https://cep.calvinseminary.edu.
- Karoline M. Lewis, John (Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentaries) (p. 141). Fortress Press. Kindle Edition.