Sunday, March 30, 2014

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

It pleased Jehovah, for his righteousness’ sake, to magnify the law, and make it honorable.

The disciples were walking with Jesus when they saw a man blind from birth. The disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he should be born blind?” The assumption by the disciples was a common misunderstanding of that time. They assumed that any physical disability or illness must have been caused by some specific act of sin. This is, unfortunately, a point of view still widely held today. Many churches even teach that blessedness is a reward for goodness and curses come upon those who lack faith. Jesus answered the disciples, “Neither did this man sin, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.” This 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 goes on to say that He is the light of the world, and as light, He reveals things that are not seen in darkness. Interestingly, 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 as He is or believe that He would act in the world as they had seen in the healing of the man born blind.

This lengthy passage focuses not on the actual healing, which only covers a few verses, but on the trial that came afterwards. 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 man’s parents to question them about the healing. They had no answers and were afraid so they told the Pharisees to ask him since he’s old enough to speak for himself. So, they insisted that Jesus was a sinner and that the man should reject him and give glory to God.

The man said, “Whether he is a sinner, I know not: one thing I know, that, whereas I was blind, now I see.” 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 particularly troubling act of healing for the Pharisees. The rabbis taught that there were four particular miracles that would identify the Messiah. Now, these were healings that they themselves could never accomplish, so they taught the people that these could only be done by the one whom God selected, to cover themselves from the disappointment of the people. They were always concerned about keeping their power and control, so they justified their failure by claiming it had to be done by the Messiah.

The first of the four miracles was healing a leper. Leprosy was punishment for some 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 priest; they would make the final determination whether those healed could return home.

The second miracle required of the Messiah was the casting out of a mute demon. The priests were only able to exorcise the demons if they knew its name, and so when dealing with a possessed person they asked the demon to identify itself. They could proceed when they knew its name. However, a mute demon cannot speak its name, so they can’t provide healing. 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 the 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 why 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 hope.

The third type of miracle is the one in today’s Gospel lesson. By now the religious leaders were more than curious about Jesus. He was doing what they said He would do, but they were beginning to see how this might put a damper on their power and control over God’s 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. But they had 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.

They didn’t want to believe that Jesus was the Messiah because His preaching was turning the world upside down. He was giving the people 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 him, “You are one of his disciples. We are disciples of Moses,” the man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don't know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Jesus opened the man’s eyes and his heart. He believed in the truth about God, about God’s plan for the world, and about Jesus Christ. The Pharisees claimed to see; yet they were truly blind to the truth. Jesus warned them that if they claim to see, they would be judged accordingly.

Jesus the Light shined in the darkness and revealed that the people who claimed to know and understand God the best did not know or understand Him at all. They used the Law to bind people, to suppress them, to control them. They didn’t understand that the Law was given to make people free.

Since they used the Law in this way, they would be held up to the same standard. Since they claimed to “see” they would remain guilty.

We are, by nature, imperfect, despite having been created in our Creator’s image. We are darkness, with secrets hidden from view. But Paul writes, “For ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord.” Jesus comes into our life, shining His light and revealing what’s hidden in our darkness. This isn’t the most pleasant experience. We don’t like to hear how we are failures. We don’t like to hear that we are sinners. We don’t like to have our skeletons brought out into the open. But unless they are revealed, we can’t deal with them. But that’s how we are… we’d rather not deal with them.

There is an unfortunate reality when it comes to our sin. Sin causes suffering. Now, I’m 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.

We can’t live in that darkness and serve God. We can’t 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 God’s 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 couldn’t pick him out in the crowd. Jesus disappeared before he could see. In the beginning of the questioning, the man didn’t 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. “I was blind and now I see.” Whatever the cause of the man’s blindness, he fulfilled the very purpose of his life: to glorify God.

In his circumstances, the man glorified God and we are called to glorify God no matter what circumstances might be. Our very purpose in life is to glorify God. Whether we are sick or in health, rich or poor, successful or an abject failure, we live in the light and that light is meant to shine so that God will be glorified. Our circumstances are not given for the purpose of glorifying God, but we can glorify God in all our circumstances.

Sadly, God’s 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 God’s 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 God’s mercy and grace. Instead of being justified by God, they justified themselves according to their understanding.

It is uncomfortable having our sin revealed. How is it an act of grace and mercy? Unfortunately, the Pharisees who were listening to Jesus in our story did not see their sin. They asked Him, “Are we blind?” Jesus answered, “If ye were blind, ye would have no sin: but now ye say, We see: your sin remaineth.” They claim to see God, to see His kingdom in this world. Yet, they were unable to see that Christ is 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.

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 isn’t comfortable. We might even suffer. We can respond like the people in our Gospel story that rejected Jesus and continued to walk in the darkness. Or we can live like the man, using all our circumstances to glorify God.

Paul writes, “For ye were once darkness, but are now light in the Lord: walk as children of light.” We were once blind, but now we see. We don’t see by the power of our strength or courage; we see because God has revealed Himself to us in and through Jesus Christ. The light reveals the things that are hidden in our darkness—our sin, our doubts and our lack of trust in God. Paul warns us that what is hidden will be revealed, that God’s light breaks through the darkness to expose the secrets in our hearts. This is a good thing, because when our sin is revealed, so is God’s grace. If we keep it hidden, our guilt will remain.

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. He’d 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? The way they looked at illness and disease, they may have thought that someone like the blind man might 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 God’s 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 he’d 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 God’s Law as He meant us to live: in the glorious light of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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