A Sermon for 26 March 2017 – 4th Sunday during Lent
A reading from John 9:1-41. Listen for God’s word to us.
“As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “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?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!
Are you familiar with the story of someone walking on the shoreline? Another was behind at a distance. As the first person walked along, she bent over to pick up something out of the sand then threw it into the water. She did this again and again and again as she slowly made her way down the beach. When the other person finally caught up from all the woman’s pauses, he asked: “what are you doing?” The woman replied: “I am throwing these star fish back into the ocean where they belong so that they don’t die here in the hot summer sun.” The beach was filled for miles with such fish that had washed up with the tide. The man said: “There must be thousands here on the shore. You can’t possibly save all these fish. Why bother?” Picking up another and tossing it into the water, the woman said, “Maybe I can’t save them all. But what I’ve just done matters at least to that one.”
One. One star fish. One determined woman. One skeptical man. . . . Something about this story from the gospel of John keeps calling out: one. One man blind from birth. One set of parents hauled in to be questioned. One angry group of Pharisees and one band of his fellow Jews determined to prove Jesus a fraud. . . . Oh and The One: the Light of the world – the Word of God enfleshed, who happened still to be creating. According to how it’s told here, even on the Sabbath the Eternal Word stooped once again in the mud in an act of creation. At the first bringing Adam (the mud-creature) from the adamah (the ground of the earth). Then on this Sabbath bringing sight to a man whose eyes never had fully worked.
Up to this point, the gospel of John tells the story emphasizing that Jesus was one who really was angering the Pharisees and the temple priests. Time and again he acts, and the gospel of John records that they were enraged – often ending up divided. Here in this section of John’s gospel, Jesus is in Jerusalem on the sly. According to John 7, his brothers were challenging him to leave Galilee to make the five day trek to the Festival of Booths in Jerusalem. They said: “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret. If you do these things” (the gospel of John records “for not even his brothers believed in him”). So if you do these things, they said: “show yourself to the world” (John 7:3-5). Though Jesus protests that it’s not yet his time; the gospel records that he ends up going anyway. And when in the middle of the festival he’s found teaching in the temple, some of the people believe he could be the hoped-for Messiah, while others were sure God’s long-awaited promise NEVER would come from Galilee – the place of Nazareth and the surrounding land where Jesus lived and carried out most all of his ministry (John 7:25-44). The gospel of John even records that Nicodemus, who was one of the Pharisees and a leader of the Jews, challenged the others as he pointed out that their own law wouldn’t allow for the judgment of Jesus without giving him a hearing first (John 7:51). The longer Jesus stays there in the temple teaching, the more division grows among the Pharisees and priests and the Jews present who have been listening intently. At last, they are ready to pick up stones to throw at him. One certainly is upsetting the masses. As if he has one of those Harry Potter invisibility cloaks, John records that Jesus “hid himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:59). . . . And so it happened that Jesus walked along seeing a man who had been born blind.
Now, if it were most of us, we might have high-tailed it out of there. Jesus is causing quite a stir. He knows it’s not yet his time, at least the gospel of John keeps recording it so; so that time and again he escapes the rage of those whose buttons he keeps right on pushing. This one – this one blind man really doesn’t need to slow his progress. He’s blind – in other words Jesus could have walked right by without the man even seeing him. He didn’t have to stop for this one. And yet, one. One matters to this shepherd. One is enough to stop. One in dire need is enough to stoop back down in the mud of the earth to recreate, on the Sabbath, eyes that never worked. Not due to the fault of his parents or of any act of his own. But according to Jesus, this one’s deep need was there, so that God’s works might be revealed in him (John 9:3).
Indeed the One who stops is the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world. The One who once told a story about a flock of 100 sheep from which one got separated. Remember? The Beloved Shepherd leaves the 99 to go after the one. How often we identify ourselves as one of the responsible 99 that stays with the flock so that the shepherd doesn’t have to trek out in search of us. No one wants to be the one whose absence panics the shepherd. We want to keep in line. Stay with the flock, try to be unnoticed so as not to draw too much attention to ourselves. That’s the good Presbyterian thing to do. We may even find ourselves a bit impatient with the one who, we believe, was irresponsible to get lost themselves lost in the first place – as if the one brought it on themselves. . . . In all our responsibility, in all our staying in step with the herd; we fail to see the ways in which we ourselves really need to be found. We end up blind to our deepest needs.
It’s exactly what the good shepherd says that Sabbath on his way out of the temple. Before it’s all said and done, those who think they see actually don’t. While the one who never has seen, looks into the face of the One at whose feet he must fall in absolute, unbridled gratitude. Worshipping the One for whom each one matters. . . . A close reading of this story tells us that the newly-sighted man is thrown out by the others. A commentator writes that as soon as he used the word we, as in “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but to one who worships and obeys God’s will” (paraphrase of John 9:31). As soon as he draws himself into the circle of belief with the religious leaders; they act “decisively in his regard, cutting him out of the we that he had just grafted himself into, peeling him off from them since he could only corrupt them by association” (Journal for Preachers, Lent 2014; Liz Goodman, p. 8). They drive him out. Which is exactly when, “hearing that they had driven him out,” Jesus goes in search of the man; for the man is the only one now able to see. In the words of that same commentator, it is as if “one outcast is picking up another outcast. The Church: a herd of strays claimed by Christ” (Ibid.). . . . I like that, don’t you: one plus one plus one plus one in this circle of Christ’s where every last one of us matters – where there’s always room for one more. Where we become we. If only we could see ourselves as Christ sees us, maybe we’d be a little more eager to open wide the circle. Maybe we’d go in search of those in this world who are hurting deeply. Those who are lost. Those who need to be found. . . . Whether we’re the ones today in need of seeing, the ones waiting to be found, or the ones to go out gathering in one more; here we become ones united to eternally lift our gratitude unto the One!
In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.
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