Sermon: I Was Blind, But Now I See
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
1 Samuel 16.1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5.8-14; John 9.1-41
“I Was Blind, But Now I See.”
Let’s take a moment and recap our Lenten journey thus far. For Ash Wednesday, we considered the connection between love and grief; we noted the significance of our fallenness, and how God grieves so much that God’s only begotten Son took on human form that all who believe might have eternal life. Because of a storm we celebrated Ash Wednesday on the first Sunday of Lent which is when we would normally have focused our attention on Jesus’ temptation in the desert. Next we examined God’s promise to bless all nations through Abraham – a promise we see fulfilled in Jesus’ birth life, death, and resurrection. Last week we focused on our thirst in relation to Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well; we noted Jesus’ confession to be the Messiah through whom we may drink the living water which springs up to eternal life. We now turn our attention to two of the Johannine signs which attest to Jesus’ messiahship – the healing of the blind beggar and the raising of Lazarus.
The lectionary readings for this week focus on physical and spiritual blindness. We are invited to to see and to walk in God’s light.
Our reading from I Samuel 16 reminds us God sees differently than we see. Samuel is to anoint one of Jesse’s sons to be king. When Samuel saw Eliab, he thought this must be the one, but the Lord told him, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him, for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (Vs.7). The youngest son, David, was selected and anointed.
In Psalm 23, David’s testifies to how the Lord feeds, waters, and revives us; how God leads us in the path of righteousness. Though confronted by death, we have nothing to fear; God creates a table for us in the presence of our enemies. God pursues us with goodness and mercy. Yet so many of us choose to go our own way, to stray from God’s company, to walk in darkness.
The gospel reading begins with a question: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9.2; NRSVUE) The prevailing view held that physical maladies were a consequence of sin. Some still hold this view. But what does Jesus say, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world” (John 9.3-5; NRSVUE). Jesus then spat on the ground, made some mud, smeared it on the man’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. He obeyed and regained his sight.
How are we to respond when confronted by others who are ill or suffering from some physical malady? We may not have Jesus’ healing powers but let us remember Jesus’ actions stemmed from God’s love and compassion. Thus, we are to imitate Jesus, to respond by working the works of the One who sends us by providing care, support, and encouragement.
Let’s continue the story. When the neighbors saw the blind beggar’s sight had been restored, they began to ask if it was really him. He assured them it was and recounted Jesus’ actions. His neighbors then took him to the Pharisees; as these events occurred on the Sabbath, they asked the blind man how he received his sight. He answered, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” The Pharisees were divided: Some said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” while others said “How can a man who is a sinner perform such a sign?” Thus they asked the blind man for his opinion and he answered, “He is prophet” (John 9.13-17; NRSVUE).
The Jews still questioned whether the blind man’s sight had been restored; apparently, they thought some deception was involved so they called his parents and asked for confirmation he had been born blind. They confirmed he had been born blind and he could now see, but they did not know who had healed him. They told the Pharisees to ask their son who was old enough to speak for himself. The account tells us they answered thusly for, given the fact the Jews were expelling anyone from the synagogue who confessed Jesus as the Messiah, they feared expulsion.
Once again, the Jews call the blind man and they say to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner!” Wasn’t he already giving glory to God? The phrase “Give glory to God! In the Old Testament is a call to confession. “Come on! Just confess that you have been deceiving us!” I love the blind man’s answer: “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see!” This was not the confession they wanted to hear!
Once again, they asked the blind man to recount what happened. I suspect he was beginning to get a bit frustrated. Note his reply! “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” (John 9.24-27; NRSVUE). Since the Jews did not receive what they were looking for, they reviled the blind man and noted they were disciples of Moses. They knew that God had spoken to Moses, but they did not know from whence this man had come. The man born blind becomes even more emboldened and builds on his initial confession: “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (John 9.30-33; NRSVUE). With this, the Jews became indignant. This was too much! They told the blind man, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” After all, he was born blind and according to the commonly held belief, his blindness was caused by sin. They then drove the blind man out.
When Jesus heard he had been driven out, he sought him out and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He replied, “And who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him” (John 9.35-36; NRSVUE). The blind man placed his confidence and trust in Jesus, for Jesus had healed him. Jesus then told him: “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” The blind man answered, “Lord, I believe” and he worshipped Jesus. Once again, we see a deepening in the blind man’s confession! Jesus then told him, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see may see and those who do see may become blind” (John 9.37-39; NRSVUE).
When the Pharisees heard this, they said, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus replied, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” John 9.40-41; NRSVUE).
Once again, Jesus was dispelling the notion that physical maladies such as blindness are the consequence of sin. At the same time, Jesus was pointing out that spiritual blindness is far worse than physical blindness. Jesus is the light by which we see spiritually; when we fail to live as revealed by Jesus, we choose to live in spiritual blindness.
With this background, we now turn to a consideration of Ephesians 5.8-14. Here Paul tells the Christians of Ephesus (and by extension, us) we were once darkness, but in the Lord Jesus, we are light and we are to walk as children of light. Furthermore, the “fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true” (Vs. 9). We are not to take part in the works of darkness; to the contrary, we are to expose them. The call to the light is as follows, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Vs. 14). We are to live wisely making the most of our time; we are to be filled with the Spirit, to give thanks to God at all times, and to be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.
It is time to bring this home.
In what ways are we living in personal darkness?
In what ways is our nation living in darkness?
Can we see or are we blind?
Who do we say is the Son of Man?
Remember, as Christians, we are called to expose the works of darkness. “Sleeper, awake!”
We hear a lot about being “woke” these days. Might Jesus have been the first among us to be truly woke? If someone criticizes you for being woke, thank them for the compliment! Make your confession, “I was blind, but now I see!”