(sermon note: 02-27 sermon note)
As he [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 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. 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.’
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about two blind pilots who walked onto a plane one day. Naturally, they were wearing sunglasses and carrying white sticks. They situated themselves in the front cabin and as the plane started to move, the passengers were visibly uncomfortable, shifting in their sights and frantically looking about.. The plane gained speed but it stayed on the ground. The runway got shorter and shorter and the plane was rushing towards a fence. The passengers started screaming and suddenly the plane lifted, narrowly avoiding the fence at the last second. All the passengers calmed down, thinking it was all just a bad joke. In the front cabin, the co-pilot turned to the pilot and said, “You know, some day they’re gonna scream too late and we’re all gonna die.”
Aaah, the human spirit can be incredibly clever in its fight for survival. I’m profoundly inspired by the ingenuity of those afflicted by any bodily handicap. Those blind pilots, afflicted with a handicap that should have kept them from flying the friendly skies, found a way to stay airborne with a plane full of passengers. Simply listen to the screams and pull up on the throttle…ingenious! Who would’ve thought?! Well, a couple blind pilots, of course! The human spirit invariably finds a way to overcome physical handicaps.
Our blind friend in today’s reading somehow found a way to overcome his handicap as well. We don’t really know the man’s situation other than that he had been without sight for all of his life. Because he was considered a “man,” he was an adult person, meaning he had lived with his affliction for a long time. The man had found a way to survive in a world that isn’t too kind to those with physical handicaps. Our world can be a harsh and unforgiving world, particularly to those who aren’t fully able to defend themselves against it. Having physical handicaps can seriously limit a person’s capabilities in this world. The fight for survival is real for every living thing in this world. Physical handicaps keep living things from being contenders in that fight. But the man survived despite his affliction. He probably survived by living unnoticed, as reflected by the fact that he isn’t even given a name in our reading. He, like so many handicapped people then and now, had been relegated to the shadows of existence. He didn’t have a name, lived a life of obscurity, his own parents failed to defend him when questioned by the religious authority. He was just another blind man to be ignored yet taken care of by the generosity of others. Oh yes, he had survived but only for a rather unglamorous existence. Until he was plucked out of obscurity by Jesus as an object lesson for his disciples and us: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Of course, the man was no more insignificant than you or me in the eyes of Jesus. Yes, Jesus used him to teach us how God uses such people to reveal his grace and mercy, his so-called “glory” as Jesus refers to. If there is no one afflicted, how can God show mercy? God needs the afflicted to show his mercy and compassion, to reveal the full breadth of his love. It is assumed for the unafflicted but the afflicted are too easily regarded as the unloved. Yes, God values and appreciates the afflicted just as much as the unafflicted, albeit for entirely different reasons. God loves the afflicted just as much as the unafflicted! God can show mercy to the afflicted and heaven knows how much God enjoys showing mercy! He looooves showing mercy, just as much as He looooves loving! For God, showing mercy IS showing love, two sides of the same coin.
Jesus pulled the no-name blind man out of obscurity and offered him the gift of sight for the first time in his life. Why? Because he deserved it! He deserved to finally see the reality that so many of us take for granted. To see the beauty of the world and all of God’s creation. And not indirectly through the other four bodily senses but directly through the eyes. That man deserved to see simply because he was alive and God wanted to show him mercy and compassion on that particular day. God loved him and gave him vision he had never had before. It was nothing more than a gift, totally undeserved and absolutely without cost or expectation of anything in return. We know this is how our God works, freely and generously giving to all those who love him…even to those who don’t love him! We know this about our God…He is a good and generous God to ALL of us!
This encounter between Jesus and the blind man is more than just an object lesson on Jesus’ restorative healing powers. It’s more than just an illustration of the Pharisees’ displeasure at Jesus’ healing on the sabbath day. It’s most importantly about following Jesus’ lead in helping our neighbors in need. The world might be harsh and unforgiving to those among us with physical handicaps but that doesn’t mean WE have to be like the world. No, we can choose to love and serve ALL of our neighbors, particularly those with special needs. We might not all have physical handicaps but we all share the same spiritual handicap of sin. All of us are handicapped by sin and this world might be less harsh and unforgiving on such a handicap but the next world certainly has no tolerance for it. We need to help each other’s spirits overcome the affliction of sin. Why? Because we all deserve such grace and mercy!
God’s grace is for all of us, deserving and undeserving, known and unknown, loved and unloved. God’s grace is arguably God’s greatest gift to us. In John’s gospel we hear, “and from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (1:16) Grace is God’s purest form of love for us. God generously gives it to us and expects us to generously share it with others…”grace upon grace.” As Peter writes in his first letter, “as each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.” (4:10) We must share his grace and love, and share his forgiveness and mercy.
We are all afflicted and handicapped. Therefore, we all have the same ingenuity of our blind brothers and sisters. Let us help each other survive our affliction with love and grace and mercy and forgiveness. Nothing is more clever in defeating our harsh and unforgiving world than in sharing grace. Let us give thanks to the one who endlessly shares his grace with us. Thanks be to God! In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.