March 26, 2017 4th Sunday in Easter
1 Samuel 16:1–13 Ephesians 5:8–14 John 9:1–41
Jesus and his disciples are walking along outside the walls of Jerusalem when they see a man who has been blind from birth and they ask Jesus if the man was born blind because of his own sin or because of his parent’s sin.
When I first started to read the Bible, as opposed to Bible stories, I would be trotting along in the narrative and all of a sudden I would read something that would make me go, “SAY WHAT?” I mean, to me the question doesn’t make sense. I get how someone might think that God would punish a couple who had been bad by giving them a blind baby – I don’t agree with it, but I get the logic. But how could a baby be born blind because of something the baby did? The baby wasn’t even born – he didn’t have a chance to do anything wrong.
It wasn’t until later that I learned that while the Jewish tradition doesn’t believe in reincarnation, that apparently it was an eastern concept and a theology about eternal life that was being debated in the 1st century. So this question is probably alluding to that. But Jesus doesn’t get into the reincarnation debate, in fact he doesn’t even get into the debate about the parent’s sins, he just says that the man was born so that God’s work might be revealed in him.
Wow! That is a profound testimony to lay on anyone: That a person was born with the purpose of revealing God’s glory. And the blind man does reveal God’s glory. Jesus takes him to one side, spits on some dirt, rubs it on the man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash his eyes in the pool of Siloam. Now apparently many pilgrims used to wash themselves in the pool as a way of cleansing themselves before they stepped into what was considered to be their Holy City. So the blind man is actually preforming an act of ritual cleansing. And the scripture tells us that the man was then able to see.
Pretty much like every other miracle healing in our Gospels. But unlike the other healing stories where the person is healed and we move onto the next adventure of Jesus, this is when the drama really starts.
Now it doesn’t mention this in the story, but I can imagine that the ex-blind man was elated and that he meant to go straight home and tell his parents what had happened to him. But I am sure that he was wondering around in a sensory overload daze looking at everything, and of course he is going to encounter his neighbors.
Now the neighbors have, what I consider to be, a typical reaction: Oh, my God. You’re the kid who was blind what happened to you? And then other neighbors, who maybe didn’t know him as well said: No, that’s not him. Because of course, this kid has been blind from birth, and now he can see, and this doesn’t normally happen. So let’s give the neighbors their moment of denial because I know that I would have questioned it: Is that him? It looks like him, but he was born blind. So it can’t be him, because these things don’t happen. But it looks like him. Are you him?
This is the first type of unbelief that happens in this story. When we encounter something that is so outside our realm of experience that we just can’t grasp it, and we are torn between denying that it actually happened, and accepting that it is true. And that’s what the neighbor’s do – they don’t believe it happened but they do ask him: How did you get your sight?
The problems is, not only is the event outside the realm of experience and hard to grasp, but so is the answer. The ex-blind man says that Jesus made mud, put it on his eyes, told him to wash in the pool, and now he could see.
The neighbors have gotten an explanation, but they don’t understand the explanation; they need some more concrete proof so they ask the ex-blind man: Where’s this guy who did this to you? And he answers quite truthfully: I don’t know!
Well, that isn’t going to help them understand, so they take the ex-blind man to the wisest authorities that they know – the local Pharisees. Unbelief reaction number two: I don’t understand something so I’m going to ask an authority and find out what’s really happening. Sometimes that’s a good thing to do. Other times, as our unfolding story illustrates, it’s not a good thing to do.
The Pharisee’s question the ex-blind man, who tells them his story. Immediately they start a debate as to whether this is a bad miracle, because it was performed on the Sabbath (Even Holy men aren’t supposed to work on the Sabbath) or a good miracle, because the man was healed and evil people can’t perform miracles of healing. Unbelief reaction number three: instead of accepting that something has happened, even if it is a good thing, debate the validity of it; because if you can disprove it, then it’s not real. The Pharisees tried to disprove the validity or that it had even happened by questioning the ex-blind man, and then calling in his parents.
How do you think his parents felt? They were probably overjoyed that their son was healed but they were probably terrified that he was going to be stoned or banished because he’s someone who has been healed by a possible evil prophet. Unbelief reaction number four: make people afraid of the unusual thing that has happened, that you can’t explain or control, even if it’s a good thing. Then you don’t have to deal with it.
In the end the ex-blind man sticks to what HE knows. He was blind, Jesus healed him, this is a good thing, bad prophets can’t heal, so Jesus must be a good prophet sent by God. If this man were not from God he could do nothing.
In the end the ex-blind man was condemned by the Pharisees. Unbelief reaction number five: Completely condemn that which you do not know, understand, or can control.
But afterwards the ex-blind man goes to Jesus and accepts that Jesus is the Messiah. Probably a lot of people condemned or avoided him from that point on, but he believes, because he knows what he experienced. He is not swayed by the improbability of the experience, the unconventionality of the experience, the validity of it, or of the possibility that he will ostracized because of his beliefs. He knows what he knows.
But I get the unbelief of the crowd, the Pharisees, and his parents. I carry unbelief with me everyday both in things I learn, but more importantly in my personal belief in how God is working in my life. Because really that’s what the denial in the story is about – the unbelief that God can actually work miracles in our lives.
The underlying condition of the blind man is not that he is blind but that he is unaware and blind to the fact that he has been born so that God’s work might be revealed in him. The underlying condition of all of us is that we have been born so that God’s work might be revealed in us, and we are blind to it because of our unbelief.
How many times, when I have been shown my potential of doing good in God’s name have I not believed that I was capable because I just can’t grasp the notion of my potential and I don’t want to try to verify and accept that I can be an instrument of God’s glory? How many times have I hid behind trying to verify what I can do rather than just doing it? How many times when I do verify that could possibly do something do I hide behind authority – I can’t do that – I’m not qualified. How many times have I made myself afraid and not moved forward by scaring myself with all the things that could go wrong, and all the ways I could mess up? How many times have I condemned the possibility that God could work in me by saying: It just can’t be possible, or I am not worthy enough.
I am like the boy’s father, whose son was possessed by a demon, and he begs Jesus to heal his son, if Jesus is able to. And Jesus says, All things can be done for those who believe. And the father says: I believe. Help my unbelief.
Unbelief comes to us as denial, the uncertainty of validity, the authority that says otherwise, the trap of over debating the existence, and the condemning what we do not understand. We keep ourselves blind, but still Jesus is telling us to wash our eyes with the Holy Spirit and see how God’s will is being done in this world. Jesus is inviting us to participate in that will. All of us can when we say, like the ex-blind man, Lord, I believe.
When we open our hearts to the belief in God’s power and Holy Spirit then we will fulfill the destiny that we are all born with, and God’s glory, through our love, will be revealed in each of us, in His world. And then we will become children of light, walking in Christ’s love