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Lenten Series: See I Make All Things New
#3 Jesus Encounters the Man Born Blind
Here we have a blind man, blind from birth, totally without sight. No doubt about it, it's a tragedy. But, notice in our story how quickly tragedy turns to theology.
We do this all the time, don't we? Something happens -- usually something bad -- and we try to make some sense out of it all. Something bad happens, and what do we instinctively do? We do theology. We ask, “Why did this happen to us? What did we do to deserve this?” That's theology.
The question here is, "Jesus, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" It's much the same, they're just doing a little theology. It’s apparent to them. He’s blind. Been blind. Blind since birth. He was an object lesson, sitting there by the path as they walked by. How the disciples loved to walk and talk theology with the Rabbi. “Tell us, Jesus, who sinned?”
Jesus doesn’t see what his disciples see. Doesn’t see a theological object lesson. Doesn’t see sin sitting there by the road. Where they see a tragedy to be discussed for their own theological edification, Jesus sees opportunity.
“Neither he nor his parents sinned,” Jesus tells them. “The man was born blind so that the works of God might be revealed in him.” In other words, “he was born blind that we might see God at work.”
And with that, Jesus began to work the saliva in his mouth. Hunched down, and mounded up a bit of dust in the ground. Then spit into it. Mixed it up into a paste, and then smeared it onto the man’s eyes.
Good thing the man couldn’t see what Jesus was doing. Bizarre. The disciples who loved to ask questions couldn’t collectively come up with a single comment. As he smears the mud on the blind man’s eyes, Jesus tells him to go to the Pool of Siloam and wash. And when the man goes and washes, he comes back able to see.
While he was blind, he was the subject of the disciples’ conversation. Now that he can see, he becomes the subject of nearly every one else’s. His neighbors and the townspeople begin to argue whether they could trust their own eyes. Was this or was it not the beggar they all once knew. Some said yes, some said no--though they agreed he could pass for the blind beggar’s twin.
Finally, for the first time, the beggar formerly known as blind enters into the conversation himself. “Yes, I am the one!” Now then...they all wanted to know. How did you come to see?
“All I know, a man some called Jesus made a mud paste, daubed my eyes with it, and told me to go the Pool of Siloam to wash. So I went, I washed, and I was able to see!”
So where is he, who put mud in yer eye?
And the blind man realizes, he never caught a glimpse of him for himself. How could he know. He might be standing right there for all he could tell. “I don’t know,” is all he said.
Of course, someone had to go get the Pharisees involved, something about it being the Sabbath and all. And the Sabbath was not a particularly good time to take the Pharisees away from their prayers. But they had to come and see for themselves what was happening.
The blind man tells his story again, in exact detail.
Then, the Pharisees began to argue among themselves. Like the disciples had among themselves. Like the townspeople had among themselves. Some said “He cannot be from God; he did not keep the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a sinner produce signs like this...we see for ourselves.” So they spoke to the beggar formerly known as blind once again.
“Who do you say that this man is?"
So they grab his parents.
"Is this your boy? The one everyone says was born blind? If so, tell us how come he can see now
The parents are afraid. The Pharisees have that look in their eyes--as if they are about to kick someone out of the Synagogue. They are afraid to get involved. “He sort of looks like our son. But, we don't have the foggiest what he's gotten himself into. He’s a man, let him speak for himself. Don’t get us into it."
Ends up their son doesn’t need their help after all. They ask him again, “Give glory to God, and acknowledge that the man who did this thing is a sinner.”
“I don’t know whether or not he is a sinner,” the man says. “I only know one thing. I was blind, now I see.”
“How did he do it,” they asked.
“I’ve told you already. You’re ears are as stopped up as my eyes were. Why do you want me to tell you again....unless......unless....” he eyes twinkle in sarcasm, “unless....you want to become his disciples yourselves?”
The Pharisees became abusive, yelling, “Uh-uh, you are.” “We are disciples of Moses, we know God spoke to Moses, but as about this man, we don’t know where he comes from.”
Now it’s time for the beggar formerly known as blind to do some theology of his own. “Interesting thing, isn’t it? You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes! Now then, you say, we all believe that God listens to those who are devout and do his will, right? Well, have you ever heard of ANYONE opening the eyes of someone who has been blind since birth? If he weren’t from God, how could he have done THAT? Hmm?”
The Pharisees resort to what many upstanding religious folk do when they can’t win with theology. They resort to making their own holiness the standard by which others are measured. “Are you trying to teach us, you...who we know because you were blind were a sinner through and through ever since the day you were born?” And with that, they booted him out of the Synagogue.
Now the most interesting thing happens. When Jesus hears they have rejected the man from the Synagogue, he goes looking for him. Do you get the full impact of that sentence? When the religious leaders have decided this one is not worthy to be a part of the worshipping community, then, Jesus goes looking for him! When the faith community decides this one is too sinful to be one of them.....THAT’s WHEN JESUS GOES LOOKING FOR HIM!
And he finds him. This beggar formerly known as blind. And he says to him “Do you believe in the Son of man?” It is the only question that matters. The picture John draws for us is one where all of these groups of people are quibbling and quarreling over who is in and who is out. The disciples want to figure out the man’s sin. His or his parents? The towns people want to figure out his identity. Real or Impostor? The Pharisees want to figure out who this Jesus is who has done such a thing. Sinner or Prophet? They finally boot the man out of their way as they continue their arguments, their debates, their dialogues, their points and counterpoints. That’s when Jesus does what he did in the beginning. Went to the man, so that the work of God might be seen.
“Do you believe in the Son of man?” “Tell me who he is that I might believe,” the man answers.
And Jesus says....the most loving words you could ever say to someone who has spent all of their lives in blindness. Jesus says... “You’re looking at him.”
When I was a child, in Sunday School, I learned a little song. It went like this:
I’m on the inside, on which side are you?”
We thought we saw everything when we sang that song. It was good to be in the church. And those who were not in the church, well, surely they would feel shame and guilt when we sang our little song, and come running to join us “insiders.” "Im on the inside," (na na nanana) How blind we were. Teachers teaching little children that song gives new meaning to the old phrase, blind leading the blind.
To be on the inside of the church is good, but it is not license to gloat. For when we do, our eyesight becomes as blurry as the Pharisees’, who allowed in only those who were “fit,” and locked out or threw out any seen as “sinful,” or “unfit.”
Don’t miss the point. The Pharisees may be “on the inside,” but Jesus, God’s own, is on the outside. Looking for the outcasts. Looking for the misfits. And as he finds them...everything is turned upside down. Inside out. The blind begin to see while the sighted find it hard to see. The outcasts are welcomed, while the insiders who lock the doors discover they have only shut themselves up. A Samaritan woman becomes the well spring of the good news, and a world begins to take notice of the Love of God through his only Son. Something new is happening.
Do you see? Can you begin to see?
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