By Pastor Steven Molin Dear friends in Christ, grace, mercy and peace, from God our Father, and His Son, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Whew! What a lengthy gospel! I told you last week that these Sundays leading up to Holy Week provide for us some of the longest scripture readings of the entire year. In considering how I might shorten these gospel texts, I was reminded of an internet site called “Book a Minute.” Their motto tells you all you need to know, for it says: “When even Cliff Notes are too long.” So I looked up a few of the edited books on their website, and this is what I found.
Remember Dr. Suess’ story “Green Eggs and Ham”? This is how “Book a Minute” tells it:
Some Creature: I won’t eat green eggs and ham anywhere, anytime, under any circumstances.”
Sam I am: “Here, try it.”
Some Creature: “Yum.”
Or perhaps your children read the book “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing”? Here’s the short version:
Peter the 4th Grader: “I’m going to do something fun.” Fudge, the Little Brother: “Can I come?” Peter, the 4th Grader: “No.” Fudge comes anyway and ruins everything. THE END
And then there is “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens:
Ebenezer Scrooge: “Bah, humbug. I hate Christmas.” The Ghost of Marley: “You’re mean.” Ghost of Christmas Past: “You’re mean.” Ebenezer Scrooge: “Now I have seen the light, let’s dance, here, have some money.” THE END
So I got to wondering, how would “Book a Minute” tell this story of the man born blind who was healed by Jesus? It would probably sound something like this:
Blind Man: “Help, I can’t see.” Jesus: “Here’s mud in your eye.” Blind Man: “So this is what pizza looks like!” THE END
The flaw in the “Book a minute” concept is that most stories cannot be adequately told in a few short sentences. There is always background that must be understood. There are always characters to be developed, and problems to be resolved. And in the case of our Holy Scriptures, there are always minor nuances that have major implications in the story. So as much as I would like to preach a “Sermon in a Minute” and then go home and watch golf, I can’t do it. The story is too involved, the point of the story too important. So you will have to just sit there, and I will have to just stand here, and together, we will try to grasp what the story of the blind man has to do with us.
Being born blind is rare occurrence. In our contemporary culture, less than one per cent of blind people were born in the condition of never seeing light, or color, or people, or things. And while that fact is sad enough, for one to be born blind in Jesus’ day was much, much worse; because in the First Century, blindness was connected to sin. If you were blind, it wasn’t an accident; it wasn’t a mistake; it was God’s justice; it was God’s punishment for sin. But whose sin was it; the parent’s or the child’s? That is the question the disciples were asking Jesus.
I love the answer that Jesus gives! “It was neither” he says. “Blindness and sin are not necessarily related.” But then Jesus goes on to say that, in this case, the man’s blindness would allow the power of God to be displayed. And he spits on the dusty ground and makes mud and spreads it over the blind man’s eyes, telling him to go and wash it off. When he did, he was healed. Amazing!
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Have you ever observed a miracle; a bone fide, honest to goodness miracle? I have. Once. When Marsha and I were first married, her parents had been asked to take in two foster children because their mother had an inoperable form or cancer. It was rampant in her body, and since she only had weeks to live, the girls had already begun spending some week-ends at my in-laws home. All of that didn’t stop this woman, and her church friends, and Marsha’s family from praying for a healing; they did pray, but they also prepared for the worst. And then one day Mrs. Weeks went to the doctor for a sort of final exam, and the cancer was gone. Not just better, not just in remission, but gone, without a trace. The doctor was speechless. He had no medical explanation for what he was seeing with his own eyes. But the patient did; she firmly believed that Jesus had healed her. And everyone who knew her and her circumstance was astonished.
So then we consider the blind man in our gospel text, and how he was healed. All those who knew him were astonished, but the Pharisees were not impressed. Rather, they wanted to know how it happened. “Who did this, why did he do it, when did he do it, and where is he now?” When the blind man first explained the healing, they would not believe him. When the Pharisees realized that the healing was done on the Sabbath, they became more upset. When they asked the formerly blind man’s parents to certify the healing, their answer was vague; “Well, we know this is our son, and we know he used to be blind…but that’s all we know for sure.” It was a kangaroo court in the first order, so when the Pharisees asked the man a third time about his healing, his frustration began reached the boiling point. “I’ve already told you how I was healed, and you didn’t believe me. Do you want to become a follower of Jesus, too?” And now the Pharisees were livid. They didn’t care about the blind man. They didn’t care about his healing. All they really wanted to do was to trap Jesus into saying or doing something that they could use to crucify him…and this was the best chance they had so far. So now they dismiss the formerly blind man with a rather insulting comment. “You were born entirely in sin, and you are trying to teach us? Get out of here!” And they sent him away.
Thankfully, the story doesn’t end there. There is one more conversation left in the story, and from it, I believe, we glean what we are supposed to learn from the healing of the man born blind. You see, Jesus explains to the one who was healed that Jesus’ purpose in this world is “to give sight to the blind, and to give blindness to the sighted.” What a strange thing to say; that Jesus would make some people blind. But it is only strange if we take his words entirely literally. What Jesus, in fact, was saying is this: To some I will give sight, and to others I will take away insight.
You see, the Pharisees thought they knew what was truth. They were absolutely convinced that blindness was evidence of a sinful life; so too was the leper, the deaf mute, the barren woman, paralyzed man and the epileptic child. Their malady was proof of their immorality. It was a black and white world for the Jews; their judgments were rigid and immediate. If you didn’t live like them, and look like them, and worship like them, and believe like them, you were wrong, and they were right, and you were rejected. The Pharisees only saw things in black and white, while the world around them wallowed in the many shades of gray. They became blind to the needs of people, and saw only broken laws and unmet religious rules, and sin.
There are times when the 21st century church looks and sounds an awful lot like 1st century Judaism. We become the Pharisees when we make judgments about people, without knowing the circumstances of their lives; when we insist on simple black and white answers to complicated problems and the very gray issues of our age. We are the Pharisees when rules are more important than people, and when human performance carries more weight than grace and love. And when we become blind to the hurting and the poor and the rejected of our day, then the words of Jesus echo down the corridors of time “I came into the world so that those who do not see may see…and those who do see may become blind.”
Please, I am not saying that as Christians, we should not have convictions; convictions are an integral part of who we are as God’s people. But when we impose our convictions on others; when we insist that our way is the right way…the only way, and those who disagree are absolutely wrong, then we have become blind. Literally, the Hebrew word “Pharisee” means “People who have separated themselves.” I see that happening in Christendom, as we build walls to insolate ourselves from those who are different; the blind, the Muslim, the Black, the incarcerated, the homosexual, the abortionist, the divorced…and the list goes on and on. Like the Pharisee, we claim that we are right because the Laws of Moses and the words of the prophets are on our side. But when I read about the life and the love of Jesus…well…it just makes me wonder.
Several years ago I was preparing to preach a sermon on the rigidness of the Pharisees, and I had folded into each worship bulletin, adhesive labels which said either “I’M ALWAYS RIGHT!” or “I MIGHT BE WRONG.” I asked people to stick their labels on their lapels and wear them during the sharing of the peace, and as we shared the peace, the sanctuary was a-buzz with wonderful conversation and laughter. But on the way home that day, I forgot that I was still wearing my label which read I’M ALWAYS RIGHT! At the gas station I received a rather chilly response from the attendant. When I stopped at Roth’s grocery store, the clerk seemed almost afraid of me, and our conversation was brief and sterile. And it wasn’t until I got home, when Marsha blurted out “You’re not always right! In fact, you’re rarely right!” And then I remembered the gas station and the grocery store, and I realized the power of being absolutely right. It stifles conversation, it eliminates tolerance, and it erects walls of separation. So these days, I wear a different label: I might be wrong. I might not understand it all. Someone else might have something to offer.
People, when Jesus died on the cross for us, he tore down the walls of separation and judgment. He modeled for us how love can be more powerful than judgment. So why would we want to rebuild those walls? Why would we want to separate ourselves from the very people whom Jesus loves? It is a question that Jesus must be asking, each time we proclaim that we are absolutely right. We are blind no more. Once we have seen the Light of Grace, we cannot climb back into blindness. As these days of spring become brighter and longer, may Jesus enlighten our hearts and minds to those who might not be wrong. Thanks be to God. Amen.
— Copyright 2005, Steven Molin. Used by permission.