Gospel John 9:1-41
Jesus heals a man born blind, provoking a hostile reaction that he regards as spiritual blindness to the things of God.
1As [Jesus] walked 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 came back able to see. 8The 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 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 born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but 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.” 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 obeys 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 sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35Jesus heard that 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 with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39Jesus 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.” 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 were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
From the Latin, Laetere Sunday is traditionally celebrated the 4th Sunday in Lent, mimicking its counterpart Gaudate Sunday in Advent. The theme of both Sundays is rejoicing – but while Gaudete is an expressed joy – Laetere means an internal joy – a joy amidst sadness if you will. For those of you playing along at home – that means I wear pink.
Traditionally this Sunday would be the only Sunday in lent to have flowers on the altar – and as you can see we are rejoicing with both the flowers from the funerals of Annamae and Miss Ann. Even in our Lenten journey – in the midst of grief – we are reminded Easter is near!
Easter is nearly here, and the healing of a man born blind in the Gospel of John is a joyous miracle. So why doesn’t our gospel reading feel joyful? It seems more like an interrogation. The disciples themselves start off with a multiple-choice question. There are only two possible explanations for the man’s blindness: it’s punishment for his sins or punishment for his parents’ sins. Jesus promptly fails the multiple-choice test with his answer of “Neither.”
The religious leaders have some questions too. But it turns out that not all answers are acceptable here. The religious authorities note that Jesus has healed on the sabbath, and therefore he has sinned. Sinners can’t work miracles like this. Ergo, the explanation of the man born blind must be wrong. The well-meaning neighbors have a lot of questions. Isn’t he that beggar? How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?
But these were not questions of curiosity, these were questions of condemnation. Because as much as questions can be used to deepen relationships and build bonds – questions are also used to tear down and build walls. When we want to know who is in and who is out. Who is wrong and who is right. Sinful and sinless. They talk past each other, asking questions, and taking sides without really communicating or connecting.
In biblical times people very much believed that physical illness, mental illness, disease, or disability, was a result of someone’s sin. So, they see a theological case study walking down the road – not an individual. But even in the church today, disability is something we struggle with. In the 15 years I’ve been working in the church, we’ve changed our language from disabled, to differently abled, to definitely able, and back to disabled again. We try so hard to label and categorize people that, we focus on labels and categories, instead of well, people.
I’ve just started reading an amazing book called My Disability is Not a Prayer Request. So often in the church and many other areas of our public life together, rather than seeing people for who they are including their disabilities – we see them as lacking, in need, or simply a prayer request.
His blindness is not the point of the story, his call and his God given purpose is the point. His experience and his testimony are the point.
And here’s where our translations and our theology can be equally problematic. According to our translation today, the NRSV, Jesus says – Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. Period. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day, etc. But that’s not what the Greek says – and there’s a different way to translate those phrases. Jesus did not say “he was born blind’ – that phrase is usually added so it makes sense. But try moving the period. Neither this man nor his parents sinned. PERIOD. So that God’s works might be revealed in him, COMMA We must work the works of him who sent me.
Jesus makes a statement about sin in its relationship to illness and disability. And then, he makes another statement about this man’s calling and purpose. Before he has even talked to the man or made him see. This statement would have been enough, but he does heal him, Jesus acts. Bringing light to a man whose world was darkness, and especially in that day and age, giving him a chance to regain full standing in the community.
Author and preacher Rev. Melinda Quivik sums it up nicely in her commentary. “This story has all the people you can find in any religious or secular group: the self-righteous powerful, the rubbernecking neighbors, the ones who want to turn a blind eye, avoid getting involved. The only one who truly receives light is the blind man. He’s the only one who is healed. He’s the only one who names Jesus appropriately.” He’s the one who sees what is happening. This beggar. This guy whose neighbors pretend not to know, whose parents are no help, whose religious community suddenly has turned on him. Jesus does not just restore sight to the blind man but gives him a new identity as a disciple.
Anyone who thinks that they are somehow less than – in the eyes of the church- or in the eyes of God, should pay close attention. Even more attention should be paid, by those who believe themselves to be right and whole and exactly who Jesus should be talking to. Anytime we start to question and clarify with the intent to label and judge who is in and who is out, it seems like Jesus is on the other side.
So where do we end up in this story? What questions would we have? Where have we been guilty of asking closed or multiple-choice questions – when the answer the Spirit gives us is none of the above! Can we see miracles and joy even when we don’t understand? Even when we have questions? Our Lenten joy is subdued, but powerful. As we sing our hymn today, a favorite of mine, notice the melody and chords present a somber mood, steadfast and subdued. The truth of the words gives us another feeling entirely! May we experience the joy of new life, even in the midst of grief. Amen.