On this 4th Sunday of Lent, we have another person whose life is changed by meeting Jesus. First, it was Nicodemus, a leader of the Pharisees, who sought Jesus out. Then, it was the Samaritan woman who met Jesus while she was getting water. And today, it is the man born blind who just happens to be along Jesus’ path while he is walking along.
Now as you heard the story, I hope you were able to appreciate the humor in it. Because, honestly, it almost plays like an episode of the keystone kops the way the pharisees end up making fools of themselves in this situation. First, they interview the man who gives a simple statement…He put mud on my eyes…I washed and now I see. But the pharisees are not sold…don’t believe he’s telling the truth.,,or maybe he isn’t the same man…but an imposter. So they call in the parents…who acknowledge that, yes, he is their son, and that he was born blind, but refuse to comment on the fact that he can suddenly SEE…I guess, because their afraid of the religious authorities and don’t want to get involved….in their son’s miraculous healing. Makes you wonder a bit about his parents… Anyway, and then, when they call the man back before them …he almost seems to be entertained by the questioning of the pharisees. “Oh you TOO want to become his disciples?” …and …”well, isn’t this ASTONISHING…that you religious people are clueless? “ ..which completely annoys them. But, you see, he realizes that they, in all their “wisdom” are actually the blind ones, because their religious certainty makes them unable to accept what has so clearly happened right before their eyes. And so, when they throw him out again accusing him of sinfulness, we’re just left chuckling to ourselves at their ridiculousness..
Yes, it’s an entertaining story…but there are details I don’t want us to miss here. First, the story starts with a man born blind. Now…as is pointed out by the blind man himself…people have suffered temporary blindness throughout history and received their sight again. This happens. But when people are born blind..that is another matter altogether. It has only been very recently that some researchers have been able to bring a kind of “sight” to those who have never been able to see. But that was nowhere on the radar screen during Jesus’ time.
So, the story doesn’t start with his disciples bringing this man to Jesus so he can be healed. That’s not what happens. No, instead, the story begins with the disciples’ question — “who sinned...that this man was born blind?” They want Jesus to talk about what is WRONG with the man, and who is to blame. Because that is their theological assumption. They believe that sin is at the root of every disability. Every aberration in the world from what is “normal” in their eyes is a result of sin. But whose sin? Is it the man himself (…and I’m not sure how that would even work… if they were really closet reincarnationalists who believed this man had sinned in some former life…or that God “foreknew” he was going to sin and thus made him blind at his birth)…or, they wondered, is his blindness a result of his parents’ sins? After all, we are taught that the sins of the parents are visited upon the next generations.
And here Jesus makes one of the major correctives to all our bad theology… and I don’t want us to miss it. Too often, we rush right past it as we follow the drama with the Pharisees. But listen, Jesus says that this man isn’t blind because of his sin or anybody else’s. He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. He was born the way he was so that God’s work may be revealed in him.
We live in a world where people are born with all sorts of different abilities …with differing physical abilities, differing mental abilities…with all sorts of unique characteristics and traits and identities and orientations. And we love to label them them all — to judge them accordingly — as “sinful”, at times….or as “less than whole”…or “less than normal” …or just “less than” in some other way. But Jesus says here, that people are born the way they are for only one reason — so that God’s work…God’s work…might be revealed in them. And what is God’s work? Love. Light. Grace. Mercy and Kindness. Courage and Faith. Every person is born that these things…this work of God …might be revealed in them. Every person, as they are, was made to reflect God’s image. Now, in our story this morning, this blind man was healed…and we might be tempted to think that that is what Jesus meant…that this one man was born blind for this moment, so Jesus could heal him and show God’s work.
But honestly, the story doesn’t play out that way. It isn’t his sudden gift of sight that reflects God’s work in this story…but rather, it is his courage and faith in the face of the blindness of the religious leaders and the skepticism and fear of his family and friends and neighbors that reveals God’s work in our world. When Jesus says that this man was born blind so that God’s work might be revealed in him…he isn’t just saying it about this one man who was born blind and who was healed that day. Rather, he is saying it about every person born blind, even if they aren’t healed. He is saying it about every person, born different than others. And he is saying it about all of us. Born as we are…with our differing abilities and aptitudes and such — we are all created as we are for only one reason….so that God’s work might be revealed in us. So that we might embody courage and faith and love in the face of the world’s skepticism and fear. So that we might see clearly…where the world is blind. So that we might trust God…who created us and loves us.
This is what happens to the man in this story. He encounters Jesus, and his whole way of viewing himself and the world around him changes. But it isn’t just because he can see with his eyes…but because the eyes of his heart have been opened. He no longer sees himself as “less than” others. He no longer accepts the judgments of the religious leaders who would condemn him for the way he was born. He is not fearful. He is not intimidated. He sees clearly…with the eyes of Christ. He sees himself and the world clearly — and trusts Jesus. This is what Jesus means…when he says he came into the world to open the eyes of the blind. He is not nearly so concerned with our physical blindness…as our spiritual blindness. Our story today is about Jesus…who finds us, as we are, along the pathways of life…and says “you…you were born as you are so that God’s work…God’s light and love…might be revealed in your life. Trust the word of Christ for you. Have courage. Have faith. Amen.