4th Sunday in Lent

by Crossings

John 9:1-41
(Fourth Sunday in Lent)
analysis by Cathy Amlung

1As he was walking along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva, and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and come back able to see. 9The 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?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He 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.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then 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.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” But the others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So 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.” 18The 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 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind 21but we do not know how it is that he now sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His 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. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24So 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.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see. 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He 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?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and does his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sin, and you are trying to teach us?” And they drove him out. 35Jesus heard they had driven him out, and when he found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking to you is he.” 38He said, “Lord I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “I came into the world that those who do not see may see, and that those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you are blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see’, your sin remains.”

DIAGNOSIS: Are you Blind or What?!

Step 1-Initial Diagnosis: We Cannot See
We all know what physical blindness is often a metaphor for a deeper malady. “I don’t see what you’re driving at,” we may say. Or, “I can’t imagine what she sees in him.” Or, “He can’t see what’s right in front of his nose.” Consider the blind beggar. Even when he’s physically healed, he still can’t “see” who Jesus is. Until Jesus enlightens him further, he says of him, “A man named Jesus; I don’t know if he’s a sinner or not; he is a prophet; he is a man from God.” He gropes ever closer, but even when Jesus is right in front of his nose, the best he can say on his own is, “Sir, who is the Son of Man, that I may worship him?” We’re particularly blind to the relationship between suffering sin, and the presence (or seeming absence) of God. With our limited and fallible insight, we literally can’t see when and how God acts, and we leap blindly to faulty conclusions. Asking who sinned, the blind man or his parents, isn’t much different (or more callous) than telling a bereaved person, “It was God’s will that your loved one should die now.” But on our own, we simply can’t see God’s judgment or glory worked out in our midst.

Step 2-Advanced Diagnosis: We Will Not See
Being blind by nature or circumstance is bad enough. But as a proverb puts it, “None so blind as those who will not see.” The refusal to see what is in front of our eyes — or worse, the deliberate misinterpretation of it — is an ubiquitous failing. Denial, blame, cover-ups, excuses, shifting the subject . . . the list is long. Painful, humiliating, threatening, frightening or just plain weird circumstances cause our mental eyes to cross, glaze over, hallucinate, or look away. Anything beats facing unpleasant truths and unyielding realities head-on. But do we admit we’re willfully blind? No more than did the blind man’s neighbors, parents, or the Pharisees. Consider the wearisome rehearing on whether the man had really been blind at all! The parents were too blinded by fear to look at what really happened. The religious leaders were convinced they knew what this was all about, and had already judged both the beggar and Jesus to be sinners from whom they needed neither instruction nor healing. They refused to see that God might “color outside the lines” which they thought defined His relationship with humanity. And they would tolerate no comparison between their (dim-sighted) discipleship to Moses and discipleship to this charlatan, Jesus.

Step 3-Final Diagnosis: We May Not See
Use it or lose it! Jesus’ words are blunt: I come for judgment. Insisting that your inward blindness is sight isn’t just pitiful, it’s sinful and fatal. I can heal those who know, even dimly, that they’re blind. I can do nothing for those who insist they’re OK, except to make their condition permanent. That false “sight” you claim is a darkness in which no one, not even the Son of Man, can work. And if that Son who is the light of the world should not be at work, then there is no hope, no life, no light at all to see by even if we wanted to. Without that Light, we may not see. We’re as good as dead!

PROGNOSIS: Praise the Lord, I Saw the Light!

Step 4-Initial Prognosis: We May See
But as long as Jesus is with us, he is our light and does the Father’s work. Elsewhere John announces that the Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it (ch. 1). Elsewhere Jesus promises that when he is lifted up he will draw all people to himself (ch. 3). And if Moses’ disciples should remember a certain bronze serpent, lifted up so that those mortally bitten should turn, and see, and live, who knows if they might see the astonishing amnesty this soon-to-be-crucified One might work in them? But closer to the text: Jesus’ judgment is no threat but instead merciful, swift sight. Sin and guilt, however long-entrenched, are abolished as quickly as cataracts! No darkness is too deep to be overcome! And at the heart of it all is seeing Jesus as he really is: not just a man, a prophet, a man sent from God, much less a sinful impostor, but the Son doing the Father’s work and displaying the Father’s merciful glory, answering even the pleas of sinners who have no right to expect a second glance from God.

Step 5-Advanced Prognosis: We Will See
The man born blind fulfills Jesus’ actions: he is an Anointed One (spittle and mud as chrism?!) and a Sent One: first to the pool, then to the Jews, then to us, through John’s telling of his tale. Who knows whether his honest ignorance, artful invitation (“Do you also want to become his disciples?”) and heartfelt worship might yet beguile a Pharisaic heart or two? Who knows whether this man, cast out even as his parents feared, might invite those blinded by The Fear Of What If look past terror to the One whom they might worship fearlessly? When — against hope and the experience of “the whole world since its creation” — God gives us a glimpse of himself in Jesus’ forgiving work, we might be less liable to blind ourselves to painful truths. Those who stand in the Light know that light may be painful at times, but it’s no comparison to being locked in darkness.

Step 6-Final Prognosis: We Can See
At last the beggar can see what’s in front of his nose. Jesus’ word, “You have seen him; and the one speaking to you is he,” have brought it about. He can finally worship: “Lord, I believe.” The threatening words of the Pharisees become no more than truth: “Give God the glory?!” He does! And Jesus’ first words finally come to fruition. Human eyes couldn’t see the relationship between suffering, sin and God. But at the right time, what Jesus saw at work can be seen by those who have walked this harrowing and unlikely path in obedience to him. Those who admit they can’t see the connection and know they haven’t all the answers; those who wait patiently for healing the body and soul: at the right time (and, it should be emphasized, only then) they may, they will, they can see God at work. And, as Jesus hinted and perhaps our friend the beggar proved, they also can work in the light, revealing to others (us?) the source of the healing we still need.


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