Fourth Sunday of Lent, Year A
1 Samuel 16:1-13 † Psalm 23 † Ephesians 5:8-14† John 9:1-41
Do you wonder if this blind man ever found himself wishing he had never been healed? It certainly does seem that his healing created for him a heap of trouble. We might say that his healing is not the end, but the beginning of his problems.
Consider the evidence: Up to this point he’s been a part of a community, if an invisible member. People seem to have known him, even though they may not have paid him much attention. Perhaps he became a part of the landscape in the way many others do. Whether a fixture of our community we see walking to the bus every day or a far-off figure in the landscape, we long ago filed them in our comfortable system under the appropriate tab: “blind and helpless” “useful but thoughtless” or “Tea Party and heartless” or “liberal and arrogant” categorizing them so that we could be free to go about our other tasks in life.
This is the way we get by, I suppose. By categorizing, by settling on simplistic dualisms. It’s important so that we can get on with living, but this rich story, so packed with social observations about the way we go about our living may be inviting us to look again. It may be inviting us not to settle with our settledness—especially in these days when divisions are so pronounced and relationships so brittle.
But there is fair warning here. The world does not always welcome a truth teller. A prophet is rarely welcomed in his hometown. And this blind man becomes a prophet of sorts, doesn’t he? Through him others are forced to look a little more closely at their own lives, their own assumptions.
Once he is healed and sees things for what they are, the world seems to turn against the man who, like the woman we encountered last week at the well, is not even given a name. He faces resistance. He is thrown out of his church. In fact, Biblical scholars are pretty sure the man is a type for the kind of experience of many early Christians who were rejected for their turn toward Jesus. He was among a cloud of nameless seekers who, seeing the shortcomings of institutional religion that had lost its way, of defective social norms were punished rather than welcomed as a voice of reform and new life.
It’s too bad, because it is clear we could use their kind in our churches and in all aspects of our life together. Certainly, we are beginning to realize this in our political realm as our systems of governing seem to be so dysfunctional. We need people on the ground lending their voices, marching and shouting, listening and loving, working quietly in the eye of this tornado of turmoil to bring peace, understanding, and renewal. We need people who can see a new way.
That’s where the story and Jesus start, after all. Jesus and his disciples are walking along and they see this blind man. They see him! That’s a start. That is something! But their question reveals their own limited imagination: Who sinned, this man or his parents? These are the only two options they can imagine. But Jesus, as he often does, offers a third option, although it may be no less troubling if we take it literally: This man was born blind so that the works of God could become evident. Quite a sacrifice for someone who didn’t offer.
And yet, we can take the story to be not about some kind of cosmic predestining that sees this man as a pawn. Jesus’ point here is to point out the nature of God as lifegiver, healer, blessing. God is a God who heals, full stop. And Jesus as his earthly representative proceeds to do just that. And the light that this man can once again perceive ends up shining light on more than we might have imagined, because this too is what is required for life. We have to see things for what they are.
But let’s get back to the man for a moment. Notice what he does as he is pulled here and there through the story. He answers every question honestly and directly. He refuses to speculate about political or theological agendas.
He stands in stark contrast to the Pharisees whose responses seem to be so wrapped around their agendas that they end up looking like fools, stooges, or villains. We know this song and dance, don’t we, as we look to the other Washington for the latest drama. But then, while that may be true, it might be a little too convenient—easily glossing over our own biases, our own settled positions and assumptions about others that muddy our own conclusions and separate us from this blind man who seems to see things so clearly.
You would think the comic craziness of the story would drive him nuts. You would expect him to fall apart. But the striking thing is that he seems to do just the opposite. Things do get crazy—I mean, nutty. It is a slapstick story, the way people seem to be losing their heads around him. But in the midst of it all, this one who was sent to the pool called “sent” by the one who was sent by God, is the calm in the eye of a storm.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, are falling apart. We might give them the benefit of the doubt early on in the story. They are divided as they try to parse a contradiction: So it can’t be from God because it’s against the rules, but it has to be from God, because it’s a good thing. Like Nicodemus, one of their own, they are asking good questions about how experience rubs up against their settled conclusions.
But then a committee meeting is called, then a consultation, then a task force is formed, and finally a hearing is held. And while the man who was once blind is indicted, it is the judges who are exposed for what they truly are—frauds less concerned with what is true and good than what is personally beneficial. And the storm rages.
And in the middle of it, not one, but two quiet people, meet each other. And something real happens, and we see it.
Make no mistake. There is no promise of a painless path for this settled man who now sees, nor for the one who gave him his sight. It leads to a cross, an electric chair, if you want a modern equivalent. What an ironic thing! The man is made well, and for it, he is rejected. For it, he suffers. And so does the one who makes him and us well. What is it about us and our human condition that makes this such a tragically common outcome?
Did you notice how quickly the questions evolve, how difficult it is to keep track of the real issue? At the beginning blindness was an indication of sin. By the end—and this is surely ironic!—the man’s sight was presumed to be sin. And yet, despite this theater of the absurd, he grows stronger. He, along with his healer, are the only ones who are not losing their heads. If there is a promise in this story, this is surely it. This, John tells us, is the result of an encounter with the dying and rising one. This is what discipleship looks like. This may be what you are searching for here this morning.
Perhaps the most dominant story of these days is our teetering on the precipice of disaster as a country. And countries have fallen before. But this gospel suggests there is more in the mix than our bubbled perceptions. There is a Spirit among, there is Life to the full that sees past our divides. There is a God present who never ceases to surpass our expectations with possibilities that our limited perceptions have not perceived.
That, I think, is what the man born blind sees so much more clearly than anyone else in the story. He sees his healing, and he sees its source, and it changes everything.
This is not, you see, a story of blindness. It is a story of sight. It is not a story of sickness. It is a story of healing. This is not a story of death. It is a story of life. And that too is what we are living, no matter the details. Do you see now?
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