Lent IV – John 9:1-41
‘I was blind, but now I see!’ John 9.25
What a wonderful story! We know clearly why John included this in his gospel. He writes, ‘Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’
Each episode within John’s gospel is not to be taken literally, but is written to convey a spiritual truth. In this particular episode, the man blind from birth represents ourselves. He is everyone. All of us begin in a state of spiritual blindness, and there is so much we do not see. John is saying that Jesus opens people’s eyes to realities of which they were previously unaware. Jesus expands our possibilities. He offers an added dimension to our lives, to the world around us, to our relationships with others and with God. It’s as if we start to live all over again, when we see everything in a new light.
But why are people physically or spiritually blind? The disciples noticed this man had been physically blind from birth, and they wondered why. Because they understood God to be just, they felt the cause of the man’s blindness could not be God’s doing, but due to some other cause. That is why they believed that human suffering, and something like the denial of sight, had to be the result of sin. People considered great suffering, and great loss indicated great sin. It was a theory held by the friends of Job. The disciples figured sin had to be involved in the cause of this man’s blindness. We can entertain similar thoughts when we face personal calamity, or disappointment. We can ask, ‘What have I done or not done to deserve this?’
Jesus responded to these kinds of questions by denying any necessary link between suffering, dysfunction and sin. He declared, ‘It is not that this man or his parents sinned.’ By saying that, he didn’t mean they had never sinned, but that neither they nor anyone else’s sin had caused this man’s blindness. In effect, Jesus was saying, ‘This is beyond explanation, so be careful about struggling to explain it; beware of attributing it to any particular cause, and beware of building any theological conclusions upon it. Here is the fact: a man blind from birth; but don’t jump to any unwarranted conclusions, neither about the man himself, nor about his parents, nor about God. Instead, take a positive attitude: approach this fact as an opportunity to consider God’s power at work within this situation.’
Now, I don’t believe Jesus meant that this man had been deprived of his sight at birth by God, so that several years later Jesus might to come along and heal him. Jesus meant that, whenever we come across dysfunction, trouble and suffering in human life, our primary concern should be to ensure that divine peace, harmony and love prevails over human suffering, chaos and fear.
In John’s gospel the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross is portrayed as the supreme expression of divine glory. Others viewed it as a human tragedy and proof that God had forsaken him. These were the same persons who believed Jesus was a false Messiah and a sinner. They told the man born blind: ‘We know that the person who healed you is a sinner’. Jesus had broken the Sabbath, and that proved it! And when he died upon the cross they claimed it as additional proof that Jesus was a sinner. It didn’t occur to them that Jesus might be the victim of their sins, and not his own, nor that in his death he was revealing divine patience and forbearance, the wisdom and the power of God.
‘We know that this man is a sinner’, said the Pharisees. But the man who had recovered his sight refused to be bullied by them. He didn’t argue about whether or not Jesus was a sinner, he simply appealed to the facts. ‘I don’t know whether he’s a sinner or not, but this I know for sure: once I was blind, but now I see.’ He spoke from personal experience, and he refused to deny it. Jesus had given him new vision.
A man who had always been blind, and who suddenly receives his sight., would see for the first time in his life, the colours of the world around him, the expressions on the faces of others, and many other things sighted people take for granted. A new world would be disclosed to him, a world that had always been there, even though he hadn’t been able to see it. ‘Yes’, says John, ‘that’s exactly what it’s like when someone encounters Jesus. The experience is an eye-opener, a surprised awakening, a new vision, life takes on an expanded dimension, new colours and contours, new meaning and depth.’
When we encounter Jesus we see ourselves in a new light: we discover what we’re really like (as if the man blind from birth had picked up a mirror and seen his own face for the first time). But we also see other people in a new light. When we view them with the insight and compassion of Jesus, we discover new facts about them and new possibilities in them. We see God in a new light, and we discover that the God we share with Jesus is not the God of rigid rules and repressive morality. We see God as if through new eyes. We discover the God of grace and mercy who constantly seeks to restore our sight, to reveal how far we have strayed, and to persuade us to return home.
Can you witness the eye opening power of God as revealed in Jesus Christ? Has he made a profound difference to your life? Or has your eyesight faded, have cataracts formed to make your eyes dim? Allow him to touch your eyes, and restore your sight, but be prepared for its consequences.
Twenty-five years ago, I quite suddenly and rapidly developed cataracts on both eyes. I was unaware that they’d been forming for some time. I was only fifty years of age, but almost overnight I found myself unable to read the newspaper, or drive a vehicle. Fortunately, I’d memorized our Anglican liturgy, but I still relied on a server to assist me. The surgery was so successful with cornea implants that, for many years, I no longer required eye glasses except to read. A good number of you have had similar surgery and know the experience of receiving new sight. In a different way, I have twice survived serious surgery for cancer. I was not only overwhelmed with the gift of life but also with a renewed sense of the miracle of my life being encompassed by the mystery and reality of God.
Meeting Jesus is a shattering life changing experience. His light can be so brilliant, it can temporarily hurt the eyes. The man who received his sight, was understandably confused and bewildered. He was driven out by those who were threatened by his vision. But he was not left to wander alone. Jesus found him. The man did not find Jesus; Jesus found him. That is the deep truth of our faith – the God we identify with the person of Jesus searches for you, and when he finds you, and restores or improves your spiritual sight, he will not abandon you.
Matthew’s gospel describes the many places where Jesus may be found. He is found with the relief workers among those starving in the famines of Somalia and Yemen, and the countless refugees searching for safe haven. I have met him among the destitute and homeless in St. John’s Kitchen. I have met him ministering within the triage areas of urgent care in St. Mary’s and Grand River Hospitals. I meet him wherever love and tender support embrace those of us severely challenged.
In his classic novella ‘he Little Prince, Antoine de Saint Exupéry writes, “It is only within the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The human heart has been often defined as the core of our being, and has long been associated with our capacity to love. Jesus came to open our eyes so that we might love and promote a more abundant life within creation and within the lives of others. It was his own capacity to love that led him to the cross, where the gospels describe “there was darkness over all the land”. But, “His light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.” It draws us God-ward to the end that we, like him, may dwell eternally with God.
I close with this prayer of Richard, Bishop of Chichester (1197-1243):
We thank you, Lord God, for all the benefits you have given us in your Son Jesus Christ, our most merciful Redeemer, Friend, and Brother, and for all the pains and insults he has borne for us; and we pray that we may see Christ more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen
Carver 26.03.2017 The Church of the Holy Saviour, Waterloo