Listen to the Podcast for Sunday, March 22, 2020 – Lent 4A
Lent 4A – March 22, 2020
1 Samuel 16:1-13 – Humans look on the outward appearance, but God looks upon the heart.
Psalm 23 – The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.
Ephesians 5:8-14 – Live as children of the light. Sleeper awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.
John 9:1-41 – Healing of the Man Born Blind
Amazing Grace (I was blind, but now I see…)
Be Thou My Vision
Psalm 23: Shepherd Me O God, The King of Love My Shepherd Is
This story comes off as a kind of comedy. It’s long. Consider having a group rehearse it and read it:
Shared Reading of John 9: https://bishopmike.com/2017/03/13/shared-reading-john-9/
For another angle on this text, read this article I wrote back in 2011 after the Japanese earthquake: “Is the Earthquake God’s Judgment on Japan?” https://bishopmike.com/2011/03/25/disaster-and-gods-judgment/
There are so many subtle themes in this multidimensional text. Let’s consider the story in five scenes. Any one of them could be a sermon.
Scene 1: It’s dangerous always drawing a direct connection between suffering and sin.
It’s a quandary. If he’s blind from birth, and if the people in Jesus’ day considered disabilities are the result of sin, then who did the sinning? Did he sin before he was born? Or did his parents sin, and he’s paying for it? In short, what caused his blindness?
For more on antiquity’s belief that outward physical appearance and handicaps were a sign of inward spiritual issues, and how Jesus counters this, see Mikeal Parson’s Body and Character in Luke and Acts: The Subversion of Physiognomy in Early Christianity.
Before you laugh, consider the number of children born with AIDS. People always wonder: who sinned that this child was born with AIDS? Before you judge the mother, consider the woman who has AIDS not because of their promiscuity, but because of her spouse’s indiscretions. We move so quickly to placing blame, rather than applying compassion.
Sadly, some disasters are the result of sin. It’s not an entirely unreasonable question. A bus catches fire because a manufacturer cut corners. But what about the person with cancer? Must have been something they ate. The person hit by a car? Must have been walking in the wrong place. We can’t seem to get past the idea of karma: If something bad happened to you, it must be something that you did. The truth is, however, sometimes bad things happen and no one is at fault.
Also consider the Final Solution in WWII. The Nazis felt they could develop a Master Race by exterminating all those with handicaps, diseases, homosexual orientation, and, of course, the Jewish people. There is an insidious view of sickness here that makes some clean, and some unclean. Who sinned?
Jesus seems to discount this explanation. Blaming the victim won’t wash. Suffering is to be met with compassion, not judgment.
Spit and mud. Jesus uses spit in Mark 7:32 and 8:23 as well. We may be seeing through a window into Jesus’ healing style. Using spit was not uncommon among ancient healers. The mud conjures for me God making Adam out of the dust in Genesis. John’s Jesus is one with the Author of Life in Genesis.
There are also themes of sin and baptism. We too are sinners from our birth. We too are called to wash in the pool of Siloam, the waters of baptism.
Scene 2: Compassion and the law.
In verses 13-17 we are informed that Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. So, the religious leaders, more concerned with dogged adherence to the law than compassion for the blind man, bring the man in for interrogation. Their legalism blinds them to the Gospel: the beautiful thing that God is doing in the world.
He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.
This man is not from God. He doesn’t observe the Sabbath.
But if he’s not from God, how can he perform such signs?
What do you say about him?
He is a prophet.
This is an unauthorized healing. Jesus does not have the permission or authority to heal. No one should break the law in such a flagrant way. Luke’s Jesus says, “If one of you has a child or a donkey that has fallen into a well, will you not immediately pull it out on the sabbath day?” (Luke 4:5) Compassion is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10, Galatians 5:14)
Scene 3: Triangulation and exclusion
Enter mommy and daddy. In verses 18-23 the Pharisees, who suspect the whole thing is a hoax, bring in the parents.
Is this your son, who was born blind?
How does he now see?
Dunno. Ask him. He is of age. He can speak for himself. (Snark)
They said this because they were afraid: Anyone who confessed Jesus as messiah would be put out of the synagogue.
Kicked out of the synagogue.
This is not like getting kicked out of a club. This is getting kicked out of ones most central community.
See also 12:42, “Nevertheless many, even of the authorities, believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue…”
And 16:2, “They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God.”
There seems to be a theme here. Some suggest that this was something that John’s church was experiencing: the exclusion of Christian Jews from the Synagogue. These 2nd century Christians resonated with Jesus’ sayings about exclusion.
The list of those who are not welcome in the Temple or Synagogue was staggering. Gentiles, women, the blind, lame, deaf, mute, lepers, anyone unclean. Exclusion became a way to cut people off from community. The law gave the privileged power over others. It is precisely toward these unwelcome outcasts and sinners that Jesus directs his ministry.
To whom is your ministry directed? Who is welcome? Who is unwelcome, explicitly or implicitly? Who are the objects of your compassion? Your judgment?
Scene 4: Who is this Jesus?
In verses 24-34 the investigation continues, preparing us for the punch of the text. The man is grilled again.
This Jesus is a sinner.
I don’t know about that. I just know he healed me. I was blind, but now I see. (Seems like an obvious cue to sing Amazing Grace.)
What did he do to you?
I already told you. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to be his disciples? (More snark/sarcasm.)
You are his disciple. We are Moses’ disciples. We don’t know who this upstart is or where he comes from.
This is an amazing thing. You don’t know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. You say God doesn’t listen to sinners, so…
You were born in sin, and you would educate us? And they drove him out.
Of course they did.
The blind man’s witness may be the most effective. Rather than a creedal formula, and a doctrinal response, we can say: “I don’t really know about all of that, all I know is that he healed me.”
How has God healed you? Where have you seen Christ’s healing presence in your community?
Scene 5: Beware of spiritual blindness.
Two weeks ago Jesus began talking with Nicodemus about being reborn. Nicodemus thought he was talking about a physical rebirth, but Jesus was actually talking about a spiritual rebirth.
Last week Jesus spoke with the woman at the well about water from the well to quench thirst. She thought he was talking about physical thirst, but Jesus was actually talking about spiritual thirst.
This week our story is about blindness. Lest we think the story is about physical blindness, Jesus is probably talking about spiritual blindness.
Scene 5. Verses 35-41 deliver the punch.
Jesus heard that they drove out the man born blind. In character, Jesus seeks him out.
Do you believe in the Son of Man?
Who is he?
I came so that the blind might see, and those who see become blind.
Pharisees: What? Are you calling us blind?
Jesus: Well, if the shoe fits…
If you were blind, you would have no sin, but since you say, “We see” your sin remains.
The Pharisees believe the man’s blindness is an indictment – proof he is a sinner. His blindness is God’s judgment. Therefore, they treat all those with disabilities as being out of favor with God. Jesus does the opposite. Jesus does not view the man’s blindness as judgment, but rather a malady for which we should have compassion. Jesus tells the Pharisees, in essence, you are the blind ones here. If you were physically blind, you would have no sin. But because you think you see, your hypocrisy indicts you.
The Pharisees think the man is blind. But for Jesus, it is the Pharisees who are blind. Spiritually blind.
The real sin, the ultimate blindness, is self-righteousness. Hypocrisy blinds us to the spiritual life. The Pharisees believe that the blind man is a sinner, or perhaps his parents. The blind/outcast/unwelcome man is not the sinner in Jesus’ eyes, but those who judge. This mirrors Matthew 7. Self-righteousness becomes the plank in our eyes, blinding us.
The irony is, the more we try to be good (not a bad thing) the greater the danger of feeling morally superior, which is perhaps the greatest sin of all. A smarter person could come up with an equation for this.
I can only turn to mercy. Grace. Forgiveness. Hope. Compassion. This defines us as Lutherans. While many religions, and various other denominations, define Christianity as a kind of moral contest, the gospel is about God’s love for us in spite of our brokenness.
In practical terms, it comes down to doing the opposite of the world. The world says, mercy for me; judgment for you. The opposite of that is to have very, very high standards for me, and radical grace and compassion for you, and others. This is what Jesus does throughout the gospels.
Don’t worry about the speck in your neighbor’s eye. Work on the log in your own.