March 26, 2017 – Vision check

Lent 4 March 26, 2017    Psalm 27, John 9 (v1-12, 13-23, 24-41) Vision check

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I may as well start confessing up front – I once was blind… Very blind. I couldn’t see to save my life. Not that there was anything wrong with my eyesight, other than needing glasses by the time I was in my twenties… It was more like that bad old song said – “Trouble with you, trouble with me – got two good eyes but just can’t see…”

And probably the first thing we should see in our gospel story today is that it’s only secondarily about eyesight. This brief little drama within the larger drama of John’s gospel, told in seven short scenes is really all about checking our vision. (Quick review.)

First, Scene One, disciples walking with Jesus see a blind man, and ask, “Teacher, who sinned? This guy or his parents, that he was born blind?”

We don’t know how they knew he was born blind. Maybe he had a sign by his begging bowl, saying “Blind from birth. Please give generously.” (But we don’t know that.)

With 20-20 hindsight we can see – what an awful thing it is – to assume his blindness is the result of sin. But we should probably give the disciples a little benefit of the doubt – remembering it is written in the law of Moses that ‘the sins of the parents will fall on the children to the third and four generations (Exodus 20).’ Of course its also written in the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, ‘from now on, everyone’s sin falls only on themself.’

But what we should know, most of all, of course, is what Jesus says: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. This is so God’s glory can be seen at work.”

Then he spits on the ground and makes mud – (which kind of seems like a funny way for God’s glory to be seen – unless we remember how God makes that first prototype human from mud in the beginning) – and then, as far as we know, without giving any word of explanation or asking anybody’s permission – Jesus lays muddy hands on the man’s eyes, saying, “go to the pool of Siloam and wash.” Siloam, notice, means “Sent.” Jesus is the Son sent by God the Father. Later he tells disciples, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you…”And the man goes as he is sent – and dips in the pool (some see baptismal symbolism here) and he comes back… seeing.

Scene Two: Neighbors are talking with each other. “Isn’t this the guy who used to sit and beg?” Some say “yes, he’s the one.” Others say, “no, he just looks like him.” The man keeps saying, “I am the man…I am the man…” He keeps saying this, seems like, because no one’s really listening. Too busy talking to each other about him, and asking him intermittently, without listening for an answer, “How did you get to see?” He says, “Jesus told me – ‘go wash in the pool.’ I went, I washed, now I see.” “So where is he?” they ask. “I have no idea,” he says.

He’s got eyesight… Already he’s seeing more than those who aren’t listening… Yet his vision is still a bit short-range and limited so far…

Scene 3: The man who used to be blind is called before the religious council, where he’s cross-examined. Some of these leaders only seem to see that this healing took place on a Sabbath, breaking official Sabbath rules of the day. Others can’t help thinking Jesus has done something amazing. He must be from God. The leaders are divided by this healing. So they ask the man about Jesus, “Who do you say he is?” The man says, “He is a prophet.” Vision much improved….

Scene 4: But this Vision Check isn’t about just one person. Now the council calls in the man’s parents, looking for a second opinion. Did this event even really happen? Or is this fake news? The momentum in the council has swung around in the direction of denial. This unauthorized, unlicensed, healing is an affront to community standards. A purge of Jesus sympathizers is now underway. The man’s parents feel the heat. Under interrogation, they will only say, “Yes, he’s our son; yes, he was born blind. How he got his sight, we don’t know. Ask him. He’s of age.” They fear being driven out of the congregation. Which in those days would also mean being excluded from community life.

The religious leaders’ attitudes towards Jesus have been hardening over the last four chapters. Now those in the council who had been leaning towards accepting Jesus as prophet and miracle-worker, have either changed their minds or been silenced by the council majority. The word’s gone out – toe the line or else.  Now, just as one man is receiving new vision from Jesus – the vision of the religious leaders is growing very dim…

Scene 5: Pharisees call the man back to the witness stand, trying to get him to recant – change his story. ‘Tell the truth! Admit this man Jesus is a sinner.’ The man says “All I know is that I once was blind, but now I see.’ And now, as he sees ever more clearly, he’s boldly giving it back to the interrogators, saying, “Why do you keep asking? Do you want to become his disciples too?” The Pharisees are furious now, as they say:  “You were born entirely in sin…” And drive him out.

Scene 6: Jesus comes looking for the man. He finds him and asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he Lord, so I may believe?” “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he,” Jesus says. “Lord I believe.” And he bows in worship. Excellent vision. Way beyond 20-20.  But…

Scene 7 – Just as we thought we might have an entirely happy ending – here’s Jesus saying ‘I came to give sight to those who don’t see – and so those who do see will become blind.’ Pharisees, overhearing him, ask, “Surely you’re not suggesting we’re blind?” Jesus says, “If you were really blind you wouldn’t have sin. But – long as you claim you see – you’re still blind – and your sin remains.”

Jesus knows – sometimes we need shock therapy.

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“Trouble with you, trouble with me – two good eyes but just can’t see…”

Or, in the words of bible scholar Alan Culpepper: “All are born blind…all are called to believe when… confronted by the one sent from God. Sin consists not in being born unbelieving – but in refusing to believe – when one has seen the power of God at work.”

St Augustine of old said this man born blind stands for every person on earth. We are all that man, blind from birth as to the things of God. I haven’t always agreed with Augustine on everything. But here I’m pretty sure he’s nailed it. At least now the longer I linger in this story, pondering, the more I recognize –

Like the man born blind, I too have been vision-impaired from birth. My eyesight’s alright. But I’ve missed seeing a lot of what God has been trying to do in my life… A lot of what God is trying to do in everyone’s life….So…

I can identify with the man born blind. Like him, it wasn’t even as if I was looking for Jesus. Like him, it was Jesus, looking for me, who saw me first…

Like the man born blind, my faith has grown in times of adversity. Adversity and struggle have helped me learn my need for God. And my need for the company of other believers in Jesus on this journey of faith, with all its challenges and joys…

Like the man born blind, I have come to faith in stages… Slower than this guy, who gets it quicker than I ever did.  (I suppose it’s got to help, having Jesus there in person… Though the bible also lets us know there were plenty of people like the religious leaders in our story today, who were not convinced of God’s presence – even seeing Jesus  at work up close…)

And – I can also see myself in the disciples, with their clueless questions – and yes, sometimes in the Pharisees too. Like them I have also made assumptions about other people – and God – based only on rumors, outward appearances, and my own prejudices and prevailing beliefs. My vision is, I hope, improved (and still improving) – but there are still times when I see very little…

I still struggle with old habits of judging other people based on superficial understanding… People whose beliefs, opinions, and practices are different from mine. Too often I have assumed other people are wrong, just because they see things differently from me. I still struggle with my tendencies to judgementalism… (Thankfully, my wife and daughter are good at correcting me whenever they notice me backsliding… If I’m making progress, its thanks to God and to them.)

I can also identify sometimes with the parents of the man born blind. I too, am sometimes too timid about talking about Jesus and all the content and implications of his radical gospel… For fear of losing friends or parishioners or sleep…

In fact, the only one in the story I don’t see much of myself in is Jesus. When I look to Jesus I see an enormous gap between his all-inclusive love and my fragile fluctuating fickle love… It’s hard to imagine me and Jesus on the same page.

Except, that is – when I see myself together with you, all of us together, the body of Christ… People of God made in the image of God, God’s image restored in Christ…

Now looking to Jesus… Looking to all of us together – I see the family resemblance. I can see Jesus, alive among us – touching the eyes of our hearts with his Spirit… Giving us eyes to see, ears to hear, hearts to love…

Helping us to see as he sees… With the eyes of his eternal love…

By his grace, may we believe, ever more deeply, in ever greater fullness…

And may we know his Spirit at work, among us, always and forever….

For this is his gracious will for us.

Thanks be to God.  Amen.