Reverend Philip Stringer
A blind man could see! The people did not believe that it had happened: “Is this the same man? No, it isn’t — maybe it is — he couldn’t have really been blind.”
His parents know the truth, but they are afraid to speak it because it will offend the hearers and they don’t want to lose favor. The idea of being put out of the synagogue (i.e. — cast out of society) is so terrifying that they throw their own son to the wolves — “he is of age. Let him answer for himself.”
The Pharisees couldn’t believe that it was good: “he did this on the Sabbath — he must be a sinner!” But still, it happened. Perhaps part of what made it so hard to accept was the way that it happened and to whom it had happened.
The controversy is really not about this man’s physical blindness, but over the fact that he is no longer spiritually blind.
This man had been on the bottom of the social pillar — a beggar on the streets, a parasite, unable to contribute anything to society. He lacked both physical and spiritual sight.
But now, suddenly, he had become bold enough to take the highest place in the community — to be the teacher of teachers in the synagogue. The teacher of religious teachers. It has happened because he has not only received what the others have (physical sight) — he has received what they want (spiritual sight). He sees clearly the love of God in Christ Jesus. It is not himself that he proclaims in his sermon to the Pharisees, nor his own wisdom — but only the truth of Jesus. He is the Christ; the son of God. And it is so hard for the people to accept that it is their own blind, parasite beggar who teaches this, that they still cannot see.
Their entire culture was built around the idea that one reaps what one sows. One must strive to be righteous, because God will bless the righteous and punish the unrighteous. They believed that they could see and this blind man could not because they were more righteous than he. So for him to now see more clearly than they, meant (in their equation) that he was more righteous, and this was too much to bear. What they could not see was that righteousness is not something earned, but something given. Righteousness is not something earned, but something given.
The sight which the blind man received — spiritual sight — came in a different way than through behaving righteously. It came slowly as he grew in his understanding that it was in mercy that Jesus had come to him. His sight — both physical and spiritual — was a free gift from a gracious and loving God.
Our reading begins by making it very clear that the beggar did not seek out Jesus. Rather, it was Jesus who came to him without being asked, and placed mud on his eyes, making this man a light to the world, as Paul writes in our text from Ephesians today: “Once you were darkness, but now, in the Lord you are light.”
When the Pharisees continued to reject the truth about Jesus, the man was amazed — “this is astonishing,” he said. “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.” Which is as if he said, “you’re as blind as a bat! It is so obvious. The evidence is right before your noses and still you do not see it.
I think that this is a profoundly powerful passage. He was at the bottom — an outcast. Jesus gave him access to a world and a life that would have forever been off limits to him. But when that world chose blindness he willingly stood up and spoke, knowing that it would result in him being right back where he started in terms of this world. Being cast out of the synagogue was not merely being booed off stage — it was to be cut out of society.
But to him— a man who saw the truth of Jesus clearly — it was a no-brainer choice. He would rather walk in the light of Christ than sit in the darkness of the world.
The people and the Pharisees, even after the sermon from the blind man, do not recognize Jesus — but just the same, he comes for them and dies on the cross for them as surely as he did for the blind man who DID see . . . and as surely as he came and died for us.
So, in this long story of blindness and sight, where do we belong? Who are we? It seems to me that we are not the people, who did not believe, even though they saw — (although we sometimes behave like them). Nor are we to be seen as the Pharisees who wouldn’t believe that it was good— (although we sometimes behave like they did, too). And we are not most closely identified with the parents who didn’t want to see for fear of how it would change their lives — (although we sometimes act like they did). I don’t even think we are most closely identified with the blind man, who believed, and saw.
Certainly, each of us is like all of these. We sometimes think that if we could just see Jesus, all of our questions and doubts would be answered. But in our text today, an entire crowd of people LOOKING for him, had him right under their noses and couldn’t see him.
What we need — and what we want — is spiritual sight. We want what the blind man received. And that is exactly what you have received in your baptism.
Christ has come to us in our baptism — un-asked for, and un-earned – he has opened our eyes and ears to the truth — and because of this I believe we should identify ourselves not most closely with any of these people, but with the mud.
Jesus came without calling to open the eyes of the one who was blind. He gave to him hope, peace, joy, and spiritual understanding — all with the simple act of spit, clay, and his Word. You and I are like that mud – the salve of God on the spiritual eyes of the world. It was not the mud, of course, that healed the blind man, but the words and will of Jesus. So, also it is the truth that we bear about Jesus Christ, and not ourselves, that brings healing to the world.
Jesus said, “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” He did not speak only of the days before his crucifixion. We are in him, and so he is in the world still. In our baptism he has promised to be with us. He has made us (his people) mud – that through us the world might see the love of God at work right under its nose.
Saint Paul wrote “Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light.” Live as children of light.