March 19, 2023

John likes to tell stories that are a little more involved. We’ve had two in a row now. Last week it was the Woman at the Well, and this week it’s the Man Born Blind.   The central point in all of his stories is the affirmation of Jesus as the Word of God made flesh,  the Light of the world,  the bearer of Eternal Grace. But he always gives us lots to chew on as he fills out his stories with details.

This morning’s story focuses around a man who is blind –but we know John is setting the man’s blindness alongside the myopia of the temple Pharisees. They are the ones who can’t see the forest for the trees. They are the ones who are so focused on the minutia of the Law that they can’t leave room for grace.  In fact, John’s distain for the Pharisees and Temple leaders is quite clear as we move closer to the crucifixion. We have to remember that John is written after the contentious separation of Christians from the synagogue was complete and Christianity was struggling with its relationship with Rome.

Today’s story begins with that age old question “Why.”  -Why does tragedy seem to single out some people in such painful ways?  Is this man’s blindness from birth some kind of punishment, the disciples ask, either of his parents or himself somehow? Jesus absolutely rejects the idea that it is anyone’s fault.

While the disciples seem like they are ready to debate this philosophical/ theological question,   Jesus, simply dismisses the issue of blame and instead focuses on the opportunity to do something good. He is rather asking, “Where can God’s Love come into this situation?” Tragedy is always an opportunity to bring God’s grace into the world for Jesus.

Jesus simply approaches the man and heals him.  And did you notice,  he does so even without the man asking for healing, or the man expressing faith, or saying anything!   Jesus simply responds to the need that is in front of him and turns tragedy, not into an issue of blame, but into an opportunity to highlight and demonstrate God’s grace.

It’s not hard to find a sermon there.  We still live in a world that finds it easier to fix blame than trying to fix pain!  –Perhaps we think that if we can find the reasons rationally enough we can keep such troubles at arm’s length from ourselves.  –Even though we know it’s not quite that simple.  If we were to see life’s sadness less as questions about God’s fairness   and more as questions of us –and our ability to demonstrate God’s goodness wouldn’t the world be a better place?

But this is not just a story about healing, or even about seizing the opportunities for sharing God’s love.  It is a story of spiritual blindness in all its ramifications. It is about the myopia of those who cannot see the bigger picture.  It is about the proclivity of people, even good religious people, to fall victim to their own small mindedness, to become caught in ruts of their own making and to let lesser values trump greater ones.  While John’s main focus is on Jesus as the Word of God Made Flesh, he also wants to make clear that the Pharisees have both misunderstood who Jesus is, and how God’s love is to be lived out in the world.

There is more than one story in the gospels where the Pharisees are opposed to Jesus because he is not following the rules, either about the Sabbath, or hand washing, or eating, or those with whom he shares meals. — Respect for tradition, and convention was important to Pharisees. They were not bad people; they were simply too caught up in the minutia of religion. They sometimes let that override the greater concern for love and caring.

Indeed, they could quote the bible itself and point out that it said, even demanded, that work should not be done on the Sabbath.  —–And they reasoned if this man has been blind for 20 years or more does one more day matter that much?  –Why can’t Jesus just wait a day and heal him when it was acceptable. It seemed perfectly reasonable to them.

The Pharisees were trying to follow one of the Ten Commandments after all!

“Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy.”  It’s the second longest and most drawn out of the Ten Commandments.  –There wasn’t any doubt in their mind where the Bible stood on this issue. Jesus had broken the rules. – They just wanted him to wait for the appropriate time!

–We’ve heard that kind of argument before in our own time.   There have always been those who said to the activists, “Wait a minute, you can’t break the laws, Women’s Rights will come, racial rights will come, Gay rights will come, but you have to follow the rules. You can’t upset things or cause a disturbance.”  –That was basically how the Pharisees thought.  -If exceptions are made for good causes chaos ensues.

So I’m wondering if we’d be any less likely to take offense at someone pushing the boundaries of our sacred cows. –Of course, working on Sunday isn’t one of them for us. –Even the folks who want to post the 10 Commandments in schools would soft pedal that fifth one, about working on the Sabbath.

But Jesus isn’t going to wait when he sees the suffering of a fellow traveler!  –God’s healing and justice shouldn’t be put on hold just to make things more comfortable with tradition, or more in line with the smaller points of the Law Jesus seems to demonstrate.

The Pharisees didn’t see where they were wearing blinders. It’s not an uncommon problem for any of us, no matter how “Right” we try to be.  We might ask ourselves, in fact,  if this passage doesn’t push us in the opposite direction and  remind us that there is a place for Sabbath in our lives. Isn’t life better, and humanity more human, when there is a time set aside to acknowledge the sacred and we step back from the pursuit of business” Aren’t we more whole when we make time to focus on things other than making a living or even the passionate pursuit of recreation.  But that is another issue. It is really not in this particular text. –Let’s deal with it another morning.

In deference to the real central struggle going on here, don’t we need to ask: “Where am I blind to the real possibilities of the work of God’s grace?”  “Where is convention keeping us from seeing how we might serve in God’s name?”    –“Where is our fixation on lesser priorities blocking our willingness to see how we might be sharing the healing and hope of God?”  —Where is our sense of convention and decorum keeping us from our central mission?

I think John wants the church to be asking those questions far more insistently rather than pointing fingers at ancient Pharisees and assuming we are so much beyond them.

In the end discipleship is about journeying with Jesus in our time.

John wants us to see with clearer eyes the issues of our own lives and our own times.

Seeing, in John’s story, and also for us, is not just about having eyes. It’s also about understanding, about perceiving truth. It’s about knowing what the world is like in all its many colors and shapes and finding where God fits.  It’s about not being so locked into our preconceived notions that we can’t let new truth come into our world and have a vision of how God’s love can be more truly made manifest in the world.

We are trying to journey with Jesus in this Lenten season and John would remind us to open our eyes and see how God’s love might be better shared in our world.

[email protected]