Sunday, March 22, 2020

Fourth Sunday in Lent
Isaiah 42:14-21
Psalm 142
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41

He therefore answered, ĎI donít know if he is a sinner. One thing I do know: that though I was blind, now I see.í

The disciples asked a question that I suppose we might ask, too. Why was the man blind? Was his blindness a punishment for sin? Who was the sinner, his parents or himself? Sadly, there are actually people in our world today who are blaming the current virus on sinful people. The details donít matter; it is the same thing anytime something horrific happens. Someone, somewhere, asks ďWhose fault is this?Ē as if God is punishing us all for someoneís sinfulness.

It was common thought in Jesusí day that those who were sick, we being punished by God, so it is not surprising that the disciples would ask the question. Jesus answered, ďThis man didnít sin, nor did his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him.Ē God is able to use any circumstances to do extraordinary things in this world. In this case, God was going to use the eyes of a man born blind to open the eyes of those who thought they could see. This story is not about the man or his parents. It is not even about the healing. It is about God being revealed to the world.

Jesus said that He is the light of the world. As light, He reveals things that are not seen in darkness. In this story, the blindness of the man did not reveal sin in his life, but actually shined light on the sin in those who thought themselves to be sinless. Their sin was that they did not see Jesus as He is or believe that He the one for whom they were waiting.

The Pharisees were educated and knowledgeable, a class of men who were very familiar with the Law and the scriptures. Their strict observance to the traditions gave them an air of superiority. Their knowledge should have given them insight into what was happening in and around Jesus Christ. There are none as blind as those who will not see. They rejected Jesus because Jesus did not fit into their expectation of the Messiah. They rejected Jesus because He was turning their world upside down; He was casting doubt on everything they knew and believed. Sometimes the people who should know the most are those who have the least knowledge.

Sadly, Godís people have always been blind and deaf. They refused to see or hear that they were not in a right relationship with God. Though they thought they were righteous, they turned the world and Godís Law upside down to appear righteous. They could not see that the Law was given so that they would turn to God; it acts as a mirror to show us our sin which causes us to seek Godís mercy and grace. Instead of being justified by God, they justified themselves by their strict observance of rules, traditions and ceremonies. Jesus was showing them they had it all wrong; their self-righteousness led them far from God.

Once God reveals the reality of our sin and the darkness in which we live, we have to deal with it. We have to deal with our sin. We have to admit our failures and experience His mercy. We see our sin and we repent, turning to God, seeking His forgiveness as He transforms us into the people He has created us to be. It isnít comfortable. We might even suffer. God isnít punishing us, but if we do not repent, weíll experience the consequences of our disobedience. Too many people respond like those in our Gospel story, rejecting Jesus. They continue to walk in the darkness.

This lengthy passage does not focus on the actual healing, which only covers a few verses, but on the trial that came after. First the man was questioned by his neighbors who did not believe he was the same man. Those neighbors took the man to the Pharisees who continued to question him about the healing. The Pharisees went to the manís parents to question them. They had no answers and were afraid so they told the Pharisees to ask him since heís old enough to speak for himself. Through it all, they insisted that Jesus was a sinner and that the man should reject him and give glory to God.

The man said, ďI donít know if he is a sinner. One thing I do know: that though I was blind, now I see.Ē The man focused on the miraculous gift he had received through Jesus while the Pharisees continued to look at this through their misunderstanding of the Law.

This was a troubling miracle for the religious leaders. There was an expectation that the Messiah would be able to accomplish things that were impossible for others. Though they had the responsibility for the spiritual and physical well-being of Godís people, they could not accomplish four things.

The first of the four miracles was healing a leper. Leprosy was punishment for sin, which is why the lepers were cast out of the villages and separated from their people. Since only God could forgive sin, it was taught that only God could heal a leper and in doing so also provided forgiveness for the sin that caused the leprosy. This is why the healed lepers were sent to the temple to show themselves to the priests. They would make the final determination whether those healed could return home.

The second miracle was the casting out of a demon from a mute person. The priests were only able to exorcise demons if they knew its name, and so when dealing with a possessed person they asked the demon to identify itself; then they could proceed by call it by name and cast it out. However, a mute person with a demon cannot speak its name. When Jesus cast the demon out of mute and blind man, the people began to see that He might possibly be the Messiah. After all, the rabbis taught that only the Messiah could do what Jesus did, so they questioned whether He was the Son of David for whom they waited.

The fourth miracle is found later in the story: the raising of a man dead for four days. The reason this was extraordinary is that the rabbis taught that the spirit left the body at three days. The spirit gave life, and if it was gone, there was nothing left to be resurrected. Jesus purposely waited two days to go to his friend Lazarus; he was dead four days when He brought him back to life. Mary and Martha were so upset because they thought there was no hope. The raising of Lazarus showed the people that there was always hope.

The third type of miracle is the one in todayís Gospel lesson. By now the religious leaders were more than curious about Jesus. He was doing what they said the Messiah would do, but they were beginning to see how this might put a damper on their power and control over Godís people. When Jesus healed the man born blind, He showed them that He really could do what they claimed no one could do, and that He was from God. They were desperate to find a way to make the people believe that He was a fake. They questioned the man and his family to catch them in some sort of lie. They twisted the miracle into something demonic. They ridiculed the man for being a follower of Jesus and not of Moses.

Last week Jesus took the woman at the well from fear to hope to faith. A similar transformation took place in the man born blind, but it was brought about by the questions of the Pharisees. As a matter of fact, Jesus disappeared for most of the trial, as the Pharisees interrogated the man about his healing. The more they tried to shake the manís excitement, the more he came to believe that the miraculous experience he had came from God.

The blind man never saw Jesus, so he could not pick Him out of a crowd, but he knows that it was Jesus that gave him his sight. Over and over again, the man told the people that it was Jesus who healed him and how He did it, to the point of frustration. The leaders did not believe him because mixing mud was against the Sabbath law. It would be impossible for a man of God to act unlawfully. Others argued that a sinner could not have healed the man. They turned back to the man who was healed. ďWhat do you think?Ē they asked.

He believed in Jesus, but they could accept the manís story. They questioned him more, insulted that a blind man might act as if he knew more than they did about Godís business. After all, if he was blind, he must be a sinner! They even turned to the manís parents to see if they could give them some answers, but they refused. They were afraid to be witnesses because faith in Jesus meant rejection. They would have been kicked out of the community. It was better to lose a son than lose access to everything they needed for life.

No one in this story wanted to believe that Jesus was the Messiah because His preaching was turning their world upside down. He was teaching a new understanding of God, of sin, of the Law, and of faith. He was healing people without the usual requirements of the Law. He was bypassing their authority. He was claiming to be God.

When the Pharisees hurled insults at the man, ďYou are one of his disciples. We are disciples of Moses,Ē the man answered, ďHow amazing! You donít know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God doesnít listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God, and does his will, he listens to him. Since the world began it has never been heard of that anyone opened the eyes of someone born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.Ē Jesus opened the manís eyes and his heart. He believed in the truth about God, about Godís plan for the world, and about Jesus Christ. The Pharisees claimed to see; yet they were truly blind to the truth.

Unfortunately, the Pharisees refused to see their sinfulness. We understand; it is uncomfortable having our sin revealed. We have a problem understanding it as an act of grace and mercy. They asked Him, ďAre we blind?Ē Jesus answered, ďIf you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, ĎWe see.í Therefore your sin remains.Ē They claimed to see God, to see His kingdom in this world. They believed they knew God better than the others. Yet, they were unable to see that Jesus Christ was the one for whom they were waiting. In rejecting Jesus, they stayed in the darkness that leads to death, thus remaining in their sin and rejecting the forgiveness He so freely gives to those who believe. They used the Law to bind people to their expectations; Jesus held them to the same standard. Since they claimed to ďseeĒ they would remain guilty.

There is an unfortunate reality when it comes to our sin: sin causes suffering. Now, Iím not saying that suffering is the punishment for our sin, but sin hurts others. Sin brings dis-ease. Sin ruins lives. Sin causes men and women to lose their jobs. Sin, darkness, shatters our world.

Sadly, those who should be able to see most clearly are the ones that are most blind. Those who should know more are often the most ignorant. I like to think that I have a solid understanding of the scriptures. Iím not theologically educated, but Iíve spent years reading and studying and savoring Godís Word. I hope I would not reject Jesus if I encountered Him like the Pharisees, but I am a sinner. The truth is that Godís word in Isaiah is as true for me as it was for the Pharisees. ďYou see many things, but donít observe. His ears are open, but he doesnít listen.Ē

Spiritual blindness means seeing Godís grace upside down. Instead of seeing the blessing of the manís healing, they insisted that they were more blessed because they had never been blind. They still did not see the reality of their sin. They were blind to what God could do for them, but claimed they could see. If they were still in darkness, then Jesus would be patient with them, but they claimed to have the light. They refused to see what Jesus was revealing in His light, however. Until they saw the truth, they would continue to dwell in their sin.

We canít live in that darkness and serve God. We canít bear the fruit that comes from holding on to our skeletons and expect to glorify God. Paul warns us that what is hidden will be revealed, that Godís light breaks through the darkness to expose the secrets in our hearts. In Christ we are called to live in that light, not in the darkness of our sin. That means dealing with our sinfulness and using the lessons learned to help others deal with theirs. As the light shines, it will reveal that which is hidden in the darkness, calling others to wake and rise from the dead.

The line of questioning might have been designed to make the man and the onlookers doubt that God was involved in this healing, but it did the exact opposite for the man. In the beginning, he did not even know who healed him. He knew it was Jesus, but he couldnít pick him out in the crowd. Jesus disappeared before he could see. In the beginning of the questioning, the man didnít know anything except that he could see. By the end, he was confessing faith in Jesus. He glorified God by identifying Jesus as the Messiah. ďI was blind and now I see.Ē Whatever the cause of the manís blindness, he fulfilled the very purpose of his life: to glorify God.

The passages for this day help us to see the reality of Godís kingdom in this world. God is not glorified by fulfilling our expectations; He is glorified when He is revealed through Jesus Christ. He shines His light through the witness of those who believe. He reveals what is hidden and we are called to bring His light to this world so that what is secret might be exposed. In seeing our own sin, we can turn to Christ for forgiveness.

What is truly amazing about this story from the Gospel lesson is that Jesus did more than heal a man blind from birth. He healed a man who was suffering something even greater: he believed that he was worthless and hated by God. Jesus did not need to send the man to the Pool of Siloam. He could have grabbed water from someone nearby and splashed his face. He could have made the healing happen in some other way. It was not the water that healed the man; the Word of God did the work.

This man needed far more than physical healing. He needed spiritual cleansing. Heíd been blind from birth, convinced by the world that he was a sinner unworthy of anything spiritual. He would have been healed, but uncomfortable with entering into the lives of the faithful because nothing was changed. He was no longer blind, but how could that overcome a lifetime of rejection?

The Pool of Siloam was located very close to the Temple; it was even connected to the grounds by a road that ran between the two. It was a place for ritual cleansing, used for making the priests clean for their duty serving God. The waters were so pure that it was said that even a leper would be healed by them, yet can you imagine the priests allowing a leper into the water? Social distancing was a part of life even then. The way they looked at illness and disease, they may have thought that someone like the blind man would make their water unclean.

He needed more than just physical healing. He needed cleansing that would purify him before God and make him right with his Creator. Jesus sent him to the Pool so that he could be spiritually cleansed to be ready to live life fully among Godís people. In that washing, a type of baptism, the man entered into the life of the community of faith. Jesus made him whole again, giving him the assurance he never had: that he was right with God.

See, righteousness is not as the religious leaders claimed. Righteous was about being in a right relationship with God. The man did not need to be healed of his blindness to see God properly, but heíd been convinced that he was blind because he was a worthless sinner. In this story we see that he was never worthless, that he always had a purpose. His purpose was to glorify God. His purpose was to help those who thought they were not blind see that they were blind to the truth.

We were once blind, but now we see. We are children of light. Throughout the questioning after his healing, the man discovered what it meant to believe in Jesus. We grow in our faith, too, as we live our life in this world. As we grow in our faith in Christ, we see how we must change to be all that God intends for our life. We see, by His Word, that the things of darkness are not fruitful and so we turn to the things in the light. That is why we practice disciplines like we do during Lent: to grow in our faith and mature into the people God has created and saved us to be. As we pray, study, fast and worship, His light reveals the world as He sees it, so that we might repent and walk according to His ways. The darkness is revealed by the light. When we see the truth, we are set free to live according to Godís Law as He meant us to live: in the glorious light of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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