3/36/2017 Fourth Sunday in Lent The text is John 9:1-41.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Who is Jesus? Is he simply a healer, a preacher, a rabbi, a teacher? Is he a blasphemer, an outlaw who entices people to believe what he is not? Is he a prophet or is he something more? During the time of Christ, people struggled with this question even more than we do today.
Jesus, the one we call Christ, has been described in many and various ways throughout the generations. Although some of the words used to describe him are accurate, other words to describe him reveal more about the person using them than about Jesus himself. And the funny thing about it is that just when you think you’ve finally worked out who Jesus is and what he’s about, you may just find out that you’re wrong. Anyway, that is what today’s gospel story about Jesus healing the man who was born blind tells us. Our perception of reality and truth depends on what kind of “seeing eyes” we are using to observe what is before us.
If you doubt that, I can tell you what happened in Bible study this week. As I was speaking, I got distracted by someone passing the door. All I got was a peripheral glimpse so I didn’t really see the person long enough to describe who he or she was – so I asked the class who it was. One person said it was a “strange man”. Another piped up and said it was Allyn. But all I could say was someone – male or female – passed by the door. That is why “eye witness” accounts of events, given under oath, can vary…and at the same time, each person can pass a lie detector test. We all see things from our own perspective…and that perspective is determined by physical location, emotional state, preconceived ideas of reality, and a multitude of other factors.
So it is no surprise that those who encounter Jesus see him differently. Seldom do people look at him with the 20/20 vision of faith.
It is through the eyes of a blind man in today’s Gospel that our perception of Jesus is made clearer. This man had ben blind from birth. And his very blindness labeled him to be a sinner, or at least the product of a sinning mother and/or a sinning father. He lived in a world of darkness – a physical darkness of which I can only imagine, and a spiritual darkness in which he was rejected by people of faith, cast out of circles of relationships and impoverished. All he could do to survive was beg. This man lived in a world of sound without vision. A world without a warm smile and a welcome touch.
Yet this man was not the only one blind that day. The disciples who walked with Jesus and ate with him and listened to his words and who saw signs of Jesus’ true identity, they too were hampered by cloudy vision. Through the eyes of the disciples, Jesus was a preacher and their teacher, an interpreter of the law, who acted as a prophet, but he did not have the power of God. So, when they came upon the blind man, they expected Jesus to use the man’s blindness as a teaching tool, informing them about sin. But Jesus did not see the man’s sightlessness as a manifestation of sin, but as an opportunity to reveal the glory of God. So just when the disciples thought they had figured it all out and knew who Jesus was, a teacher and prophet whom they followed, they were surprised by grace and shaken by the power of Christ to make whole that which was broken. And in the mud, the eyes of the blind were opened.
But not all eyes were opened that day. The eyes of the man who was sightless from birth were opened. His sight was restored as a sign for all to see that Jesus was more than a mere teacher and preacher, an interpreter of the law. Jesus had the power of God to pardon sin and to do that which was not possible by human hands. But not all who saw believed their eyes.
And so the neighbors questioned the man whom they had seen begging in the streets. And they brought him to the Pharisees for they could not understand how sight was given to him. And they took the man to his parents and inquired if this indeed was their son. And when there was no denying the fact that sight had been given to eyes darkened at birth, then they asked again how this could be. And through the 20/20 vision of faith, the man bore witness to Jesus.
Yet still eyes remained closed – sealed shut by disbelief and expectations. For the Pharisees, the possibility that Jesus had the power, not only to heal and restore, but to forgive sins, was unreal for only God could do that and Jesus was man. Rather than opening their eyes to the divine presence which was revealed in the sight of the man they interrupted the events through their own short-sighted perspective. The Pharisees’ eyes were clouded by their own privilege, prestige, position and power. So rather than seeing in Jesus the Son of God, the Savior, the Messiah, the one who defines power, they saw a competitor and a political opponent.
The neighbors’ eyes remained clouded too, clouded by daily woes and personal hardships, and the realities of the real world. The eyes of the man’s parents were clouded by fear. For if they acknowledged that Jesus had given their son his sight, they could be thrown out of the synagogue, ostracized and shunned. And in spite of what they had witnessed, the eyes of the disciples remained clouded by confusion. They thought they had figured it all out and knew who Jesus was – and just when they did – they were surprised again by grace and the power of the living Lord.
When it comes to knowing Jesus as the Son of the living God, our eyes, too, can play tricks on us. When we are blinded by the pains of hardships of life and death, we may see God as some distant deity who abandons us to an unfriendly world. When we are blinded by an overabundance of self-worth and self-importance, we may see Jesus as an opponent to “beat” or to ignore. When we are blinded by fear, we may run from Jesus instead of kneeling at his feet.
Those who try to tie down Jesus, to box him up in a neat package, confine his message to a few pleasant stories, and define him as obsolete – make a big mistake. For Jesus, the Christ, will not be so limited. And he will continue to surprise the world with his grace.
For he’s a healer. He’s a preacher. He’s a rabbi, a teacher. He’s a Jew. But he is no blasphemer. He is the living God who came not only to restore, but to save. He came to give sight to blinded eyes and shed light in the darkened places of our lives, our hearts, our souls. He came to give wholeness, and to renew circles of relationships which were broken by sin. He came to bring new life and hope to the world through the shedding of his own blood.
May our eyes be opened through faith so that we believe this. And may we trust this each and every day. May we see the future that the Lord has set before us through 20/20 vision of faith-filled eyes. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.