The Holy Gospel According to St. John, the 9th Chapter
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “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.” When he had said this, he spat onthe ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
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?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 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.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 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.” 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. 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.” 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 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 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.” 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. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 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.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 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?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and 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.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.
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.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
I grew up in Florida on the Gulf. Kelly grew up in the middle of Alabama and our kids grew up in New Mexico and Colorado... all wonderful places but not exactly ocean front. So, when Kelly became a flight attendant we were able to visit the ocean and I thought I’d introduce them to the thing I loved most about the beach... snorkeling. I thought if I could give them a mask and snorkel they would see in a whole new way.
In a way, that’s what Jesus did in today’s lesson. He gave the man born blind what he needed to see in a whole new way. Now, in the Bible, blindness is almost always about more than just physical blindness... it’s almost always about faith and believing too, and this is one of those stories.
Jesus tells the disciples that the man’s blindness (both his eye ball blindness and his faith blindness) isn’t anyone’s fault. It’s just that the man didn’t have what he needed to see. Just like without a mask you can’t see clearly in the ocean, this man just didn’t have what he needed to see... either physically... or in faith.
Jesus gave him what he needed. Jesus picked up some dirt, spit in it, made mud and smeared it in the man’s face and then told him to go and wash. Imagine being that man. You are blind and a stranger comes up to you without any warning, makes some spit-mud and wipes it on your eyes and tells you to go wash. Would you think it would cure your blindness? Would you go wash because he told you to or would you go wash because some stranger just snuck up on you and put spit-mud in your face! I don’t know what he thought, but he went and washed and he could see!
Now notice... the man didn’t ask to be healed and Jesus didn’t ask him if he wanted to be healed. Jesus just did it! Now remember, this isn’t just a story about a man whose eye balls didn’t work, this is also a story about faith. So what we learn from this lesson is that we too are given sight... given the ability to believe... given the ability to follow Jesus... ONLY as a gift from God. We don’t ask for it, we aren’t asked if we want it, we don’t say or do anything. On our own, we can’t see... on our own we simply don’t have the equipment to follow Jesus... on our own we just can’t believe.
As a good Lutheran, this is where I’m obligated to put in a quick plug for Luther’s explanation of the third article of the Creed. So check it out, but to be honest, I want you to think more about WHY God wants you to have this gift of faith than worry about HOW the Holy Spirit delivers the gift. God wants to give us this gift of faith because seeing is simply better than being blind! Following Christ leads to a better, deeper more abundant life than not following and God wants what is best for us and for all of creation!
So in some way we will never fully get our minds around, we are washed in the Baptismal Font, just like the Man Born Blind and like him we are given the gift of seeing in a whole new way! Well the Baptismal Font is ALMOST the same as the Man Born Blind. The Church, in one of it’s wiser historical moves has eliminated the spit and dirt part! BUT, the washing is still the same and most importantly the gift of faith... the gift of sight is the same too.
The first time I got to take my family snorkeling was in the Bahamas. The waves were a bit large and Kelly’s snorkel filled up with water. The fish were a bit too creepy for Hanna and things didn’t go well for Maggie either and soon all three of them were back in the boat and I was all by myself snorkeling over a reef in the Bahamas. Their experience seeing the world in a whole new way didn’t go as smoothly as I wanted. And to be honest, faith can be that way too. Some preachers might tell you that with faith, your life is magically full of glitter and unicorns, but in my experience faith is a lot messier than that. Faith... seeing clearly... can be filled with some real struggles along the way.
Now, some faith struggles can be self inflicted. Those self inflicted struggles come from insisting that we have to do something to deserve being able to see. “It can’t really be a free gift... that’s just too good to be true!” they will say and so, in spite of being given the gift of sight... the gift of faith... they choose to keep their eyes tightly shut. It’s like being given a vacation but refusing to take it; like having the money to fix the leaking roof but saving it instead for a rainy day!
Other faith struggles though, happen as we honestly try to live into our new gift of sight. As the Man Born Blind tried to live into his new gift, the people around him were threatened by the idea that God was working in a way they had never experienced before. His new sight challenged people’s understanding of God and people don’t like their version of God being challenged! In the end, living into his new gift of sight got him friends that didn’t trust him, parents that didn’t stand up for him, and a community that kicked him out forever.
A couple of years after we went snorkeling in the Bahamas we tried it again in Mexico in a protected little cove. This time the waves were almost nonexistent and the ocean stayed out of Kelly’s lungs. She saw the reef, the fish and even a sea turtle... she loved it! For Hanna, well, the fish still creeped her out and Maggie still wasn’t a fan and you know what? That’s all right. For Kelly it was the right place and time and for the girls it just wasn’t yet.
And that’s just how it works with living into our faith too. We’ve all been given the gift of sight... the gift of faith. When and how we live into that gift is different for each of us, but as we do, we will begin to see the world through God’s eyes. We’ll see more clearly the hurts and the pains of the people around us but we’ll also more clearly see God active and alive in the world calling us to work with God to transform the world into the place God intends it to be.
In the Font we are washed and we are transformed from blindness to sight... from dark to light... from disbelief to faith... from deaf to hearing and from lame to walking. Our sight, our faith, our ability to walk and hear and follow are only and always a gift from God. How we choose to live into those gifts of faith... that is called discipleship. Faith is God’s doing... God’s no-strings-attached gift to us. Discipleship is what it’s called when we decide to respond to that gift, not in fear that it will be taken away, but because we have been overwhelmed by God’s love for us. It’s a big difference. Do you see? Amen.