By Dr. Philip W. McLarty The story of the blind man contrasts those who can see with those who can’t. The irony is those who think they can see are blind, while those who are blind can see.
This is good news for those willing to confess their ignorance. To put it this way: If you’re willing to admit there are a lot of things about the Bible, the Christian faith, and life in general you don’t understand, this passage is for you. Only those who are self-assured and self-reliant need be concerned.
What I hope you’ll out of the sermon this morning is a word of reassurance, that God doesn’t expect you to know all the answers. He is the answer. When you trust him to lead and guide you, God will give you all you need to live a full and abundant life. The story begins:
“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.” (John 9:1)
The disciples asked a question common to Jesus’ day: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)
We ask the same question today. It goes like this: Why do bad things happen to innocent people? Why were thousands killed recently in the big earthquake and tsunami in Japan? Why are some babies born with birth defects? Why does cancer strike some and not others?
It’s an age-old question, and there’s no easy answer to it. Jesus told his disciples,
“Neither did this man sin, nor his parents; but, that the works of God might be revealed in him.” (John 9:3)
That’s not to say God caused it. It is to say God can use the tragic circumstances of our lives to strengthen us and bless others, if we’re willing. Dick Donovan says,
“… the difficult times in our lives sometimes provide us with special opportunities to bless other people. … When we bear our difficulties with faith, the people around us find themselves blessed by our faith — blessed by our courage — blessed by our grace under pressure. Our terrible times can be fertile ground from which blessings spring.”
In the wake of a personal tragedy – and we’re talking two years after the fact – a friend said, “While I’d never wish this on anyone, it’s made me a better man. I’m more patient and understanding and sympathetic toward others who are going through a difficult time.”
The man’s blindness gave Jesus the opportunity to demonstrate the power of God. If you’re willing to trust God instead of dwelling on your losses, God will use your trials and tribulations to bless you and use you as a witness of faith to others.
The disciples couldn’t see the potential. All they could see was the obvious: A poor beggar, blind from birth. They were the ones who were blind. In many ways, so are we.
John says Jesus spat on the ground, made a paste, and put it on the man’s eyes. I wouldn’t recommend doing this. The word in the text is the verb, to christen. Literally, Jesus “christened” his eyes: He anointed the man by the power of his name. Then he told him to go and wash in the Pool of Siloam. (John 9:6-7) Just like that, he could see. It was a miracle.
This set the stage for a second group – those who had known the blind man for years. John writes,
“The neighbors therefore, and those who saw that he was blind before, said, ‘Isn’t this he who sat and begged?’ Others were saying, ‘It is he.’ Still others were saying, ‘He looks like him.'” (John 9:8-9)
Don’t laugh. It’s hard to know what to think when someone you’ve known a long time has a transforming experience: “Gary Don, a preacher! You’ve got to be kidding!”
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Have you ever known someone who, in years past, was wild and reckless, and is now a mature and responsible adult? It happens, thank God. But it’s hard for us to accept. We keep waiting for the other shoe to drop, for them to revert back to their old ways.
The friends and neighbors couldn’t believe their eyes. They were stuck in the past, where the man was blind and knew his place. They couldn’t see the evidence of God’s transforming love. They were blind, and, in many ways, so are we.
The friends and neighbors sent for the experts – the religious authorities – those who are supposed to understand such mysteries. They sent for the Pharisees.
You can guess what’s coming: They proved to be as blind as the others!
The Pharisees questioned the man, and he told them the same thing he’d told everyone else: “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and I see.” (John 9:15) Simple as that.
But things like this are never that simple for religious authorities. They questioned him over and over: What did he do? How did he do it? Nothing he said fit their preconceived notions.
Then it came out: The miracle just so happened to have been performed on the Sabbath. Whoops. You weren’t supposed to do any work on the Sabbath. That included healing. It also included kneading, which is what Jesus did to make the paste. They seized on the technicality. They said,
“‘This man is not from God, because he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.’ Others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?'” So they were divided.” (John 9:16)
The Pharisees tried to force the blind man to denounce Jesus. They said, “Give glory to God. We know that this man is a sinner.” (John 9:24) He wouldn’t budge. His testimony was eloquent in its simplicity. He said,
“I don’t know if he is a sinner. One thing I do know: that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25)
The Pharisees were stuck: God’s Law was clear. There were no exceptions. They couldn’t see beyond the black and white, right or wrong, rules and regulations of the Torah. They were blind to the fact that God’s grace and forgiveness and mercy are unrelenting and unconfined. As God told Moses,
“I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Exodus 33:19)
The Pharisees couldn’t figure it out. So, they sent for the man’s parents.
“Is this your son, whom you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”
His parents answered them,
“We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees, we don’t know; or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. He is of age. Ask him. He will speak for himself.” (John 9:19-21)
You’d think the parents would have come to their son’s defense. Instead, they passed the buck. Why? John says,
“His parents said these things because they feared the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that if any man would confess him as Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue.” (John 9:22)
To be put out of the synagogue was serious business. Can you spell excommunication? If you lost your seat in the synagogue, you’d no longer belong to the people of God.
You could say the man’s parents were blind by choice. They put on blinders rather than testify to the power and presence of God. They were paralyzed by fear.
One of my favorite stories in the Old Testament is where the angel of the Lord told Abraham that Sarah was to have a baby. (Genesis 18:9-15) Sarah was lurking just inside the door of the tent. When she heard what he said, she laughed. She had good reason: Abraham was something like a hundred years old at the time. She was pushing ninety. You would’ve laughed too.
The angel called her hand on it. He said, “Why did Sarah laugh…?” Sarah said, “I didn’t laugh.” And he said – are you ready for this? He said, “Liar, liar, pants on fire!” No, what he actually, said was, “No, but you did laugh.” The writer of Genesis explains, She laughed, “for she was afraid.” (Genesis 18:15)
The man’s parents were afraid of the Pharisees and of the consequences of telling the truth. Instead of standing tall and bearing witness to the power of God, they ducked their heads in the sand. They were the ones who were blind, and, so often, so are we.
The Pharisees finally gave up. They threw the once-blind man out of the synagogue. Not long after, Jesus returned. He found the man and asked him,
“‘Do you believe in the Son of God?’ He answered, ‘Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have both seen him, and it is he who speaks with you.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe!’ and he worshiped him.” (John 9:35-38)
Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgment, that those who don’t see may see; and that those who see may become blind.’ Those of the Pharisees who were with him heard these things, and said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no sin; but now you say, “We see.” Therefore your sin remains.'” (John 9:39-41)
Let’s wrap it up. Four groups, all blind:
• The disciples, stuck on the mundane level, unable to see the big picture.
• The friends, stuck in the past, unable to recognize the transforming power of God’s love.
• The Pharisees, stuck in the Torah, unable to think outside the box.
• The parents, stuck in their fear, unable to speak out.
Each represents us in some way.
The Good News is it’s no shame to be blind. In the eyes of faith, blindness is a virtue. Jesus’ only words of condemnation were to those who claimed to see. To the rest he was patient and forgiving. For example, Mark says,
“But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion for them, because they were harassed and scattered, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36)
What stands in the way of knowing God’s love is not blindness, but self-deception: When you think you’re are strong … when you think you’re righteous … when you think you have sufficient faith and understanding to make it on your own … that’s when you’re sure to come up short.
Only as you’re willing to fall on your knees and rely on the mercies of God will you ever know the peace of God’s grace and love. As Moses told the people of Israel,
“Don’t be afraid. Stand still, and see the salvation of Yahweh, which he will work for you today… Yahweh will fight for you, and you shall be still.” (Exodus 14:13-14)
Here’s the bottom line: If you’re willing to confess your blindness – your lack of faith and understanding – your dependence on the mercies of God – God will open your eyes and show you the way. Jesus said,
“I am the light of the world. He who follows me will not walk in the darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
Look to Jesus, whatever situation or circumstance you face, and he will help you know what to do, what to say, and how to respond, so as to experience the fullness of life and the joy of his salvation. John Stockton has the closing word:
Come, every soul by sin oppressed, There’s mercy with the Lord; And He will surely give you rest By trusting in His Word.
Only trust Him, only trust Him, Only trust Him now; He will save you, He will save you, He will save you now.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Copyright 2011, Philip McLarty. Used by permission.
SCRIPTURE QUOTATIONS are from the World English Bible (WEB), a public domain (no copyright) modern English translation of the Holy Bible.