St. John's, Centreville
March 26, 2017
Lent 4 A
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
We have just heard the very long story of Jesus healing of the man born blind. As Jesus and his disciples are walking along, they see a blind beggar. The disciples ask Jesus, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus replies, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him."
The disciples question comes from a long-held belief that misfortune or disability were caused by sin. Jesus tells them that that is not the case. Sin is not the cause of anyone's illness or disease or disability. In this life, things happen that are beyond our control, the result of living in an imperfect world.
Think for a moment about what these words might have meant to the man who was born blind as he is overhearing this conversation between Jesus and his disciples. Jesus is asserting that the blind man is here for a purpose. Probably no one had ever said that about him before. He sees himself and was seen by others as a burden, one who had to beg for food, one whose existence meant little to anyone else. Even his own parents could not or would not take care of him. He is left to beg on the streets, to fend for himself, to live at the mercy of others. He is defined by his blindness, and socially isolated from the community.
The disciples see the blind man as a problem to be solved. Jesus sees someone who is hurting and in need to healing. The disciples see a discussion about theology - who sinned, the man or his parents. Jesus recognizes an opportunity for God's love and God's work to be revealed. The disciples are looking for who to blame. Jesus sees a child of God.
Jesus continues his answer to the disciples question about who sinned. "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." Jesus proclaims himself as the light of the world, and while he is still on this earth, he and the disciples must do what God has called them to do. The night that is coming may refer to the darkness of the crucifixion, when Jesus will be taken from them.
After Jesus heals the blind man's sight by putting mud on his eyes and sending him to wash in the pool of Siloam, people who had known this man question whether this is really the blind man or just someone who looks like him. Some say it is, some disagree. They are divided. Some just can't bring themselves to believe this miracle from God, this man who is standing before them, seeing as clearly as others do. While this questioning is going on, the man keeps repeating, "I am the man." In other words, believe me. Believe what just happened. This man, this Jesus, gave me my sight. I am the blind beggar who has been healed. Believe!
So these neighbors take the man to the Pharisees, the religious authorities. We aren't told why, exactly, they do this. Perhaps they want to see what the Pharisees have to say about all this, perhaps he needs to get a clean bill of health from them in order to be socially acceptable. Whatever the case, the Pharisees, too, are divided. Some say Jesus cannot be a man of God because he healed someone on the Sabbath, which is against the Jewish laws. Others said he must be a man of God to be able to heal this man. They cannot agree.
Maybe this man was not really blind. So the Pharisees call in the man's parents. They admit that this man is their son and he was born blind, but they will not say anything about his being healed. They are worried that if they say that Jesus is the Messiah, they will be thrown out of the synagogue. So they let their son speak for himself. They don't want to get involved.
So the Pharisees call the man back in. By now, you can tell he is getting frustrated at having to answer the same questions. How did he open your eyes? What did he do to you?
"Look," the man seems to say, "all I know is that I was born blind and now I can see. God listens to those who follow him. If this man were not from God, he could not have done this. Maybe you want to become his disciples." With that remark, the man is thrown out.
Jesus goes to find the man and asks him if he believes in the Son of Man. He replies, "Lord, I believe." And he worships Jesus.
Jesus came into the world to give sight to the blind - not just physically but also spiritually. He taught his followers about the love and grace and forgiveness of God so all might see - really see - and believe. Those who could see but chose not to were liable for judgement.
What blindness keeps us from seeing - really seeing - the presence and love of God each and every day? What habits and fears keep us from seeing God's grace all around us? What keeps us from seeing God's miracles day after day?
One thing might be our skepticism. God doesn't work like that anymore, we might say. Or we might say that there is too much hate and violence in the world for God to be at work. Or we may take for granted or overlook the small acts of love and kindness that happen every day. But God can and does work in us and through us, if we allow that to happen. There are many examples all around us if we open our eyes and see.
One example is Mercy Ships that one of my cousins served on recently. Doctors, dentists and nurses volunteer for three months to serve on a ship that anchors off the coast of a particularly needy country and surgically corrects cleft palates and bowed legs and other conditions that will greatly improve the quality of life. These volunteers give freely of their time and talent, without getting paid, to help those in need.
Other organizations such as St. Jude's Children's Hospital, where patient's families are not charged for their children's health care; Doctors Without Borders, who bring medical care into remote third world villages; the White Hats who rescue people from bombed out buildings in war-torn Syria; Episcopal Relief and Development who provide aid after natural disasters, are all examples of God working in miraculous ways. Stirring the hearts of those who work for and those who give financially to support organizations such as these is another part of God at work. I see these as God's miracles. And there are many, many other people and organizations who provide miraculous acts of help and healing to those in need. On the news recently was the story of a doctor who was offered a very prestigious position as an oncologist after he finished his medical training. But he turned it down and has been the doctor to hundreds of homeless people in his city for over 20 years.
God is at work in the world around us. When we are overcome by the wars and famines and violence and other problems in the world that assault us every day, don't forget to look at where God is at work in the world, through us, through people of faith, making a difference in the world.
Jesus healed the man born blind. He gave him back not only his sight, but a new way of life. May Jesus open our eyes as well to see a new way of life in Christ and the way God is at work in the world, with us and through us. Amen.