Sunday, March 02, 2008

Fourth Sunday in Lent

John 9
As he 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.

The season of Lent is about confronting hard truths. So here goes: everyday, we all get a day older. Even little babies, every day, are a day older.

It would follow that each of us has an anti-aging strategy. I’ve watched television, and I know that there are gels, creams, pills, and certain automobiles that claim to arrest the aging process. I’m not buying.

For me, renewed youth came in the form of my very first Ipod. It’s shiny and small, and contains more songs than I can possibly listen to in any single sitting. But man, do I feel younger.

A week or so after the dawning of the Ipod, came the next episode in my titanic struggle with aging: the eye-glasses. The lovely lady with an alphabet soup of fuzzy letters said “sorry Michael” and gave me these. Will my preaching improve now that I can make out the letters on the page before me? Only time will tell.

Looking closer, my friends at Wikipedia say this, in an article with the rather innocent title “accommodation”:

By the fifth decade of life [eyesight] has declined so the near point of the eye is more remote than the reading distance. When this occurs the patient is presbyopic. Once presbyopia occurs, [the patient] will need an optical aid for near vision.

I wondered why so many at presbytery wear glasses. That was the bad news. Then the good news:

The age-related decline in accommodation occurs almost universally, and by 60 years of age, most of the population will have noticed a decrease in their ability to focus on close objects.

In other words, we’re all in this together. Perhaps you would never describe a phrase like “universal age-related decline” as good news, but there it is. Admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery.


Failing vision was never a problem for the man born blind. He was a young man, and only later would face the “universal age-related decline” that we all face. In his case it wasn’t even sight-restored or vision-corrected, it was sight revealed. And it was also the source of perhaps the most compelling questions in scripture:

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

The answer, of course, is as famous as the question: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

The preacher’s task is to begin in the least comfortable place in the passage and work outward from there. It is hard to fathom a situation where a lifetime of blindness was imposed in order to reveal God’s glory at some future date. Imagine instead a threefold movement in the way this story is told:

Thesis – Argument – Resolution

Our famous question then, rather than revealing some disturbing idea about the ways of God, reveals a thesis that only becomes plain as the story unfolds:

With spittle and dirt, the man born blind receives the gift of sight. Neighbours are confounded, and hear the story of the miracle first. Soon the religious leaders enter, similarly confounded and alarmed that this happened on the Sabbath day. His parents are called to testify, and in their fear can shed no light on the situation. The man born blind speaks again, and argues that only God could be the author of this miracle. He is driven from the synagogue. Jesus returns, and confesses what the young man had already come to believe.

Like all of life, this story is a mixture of what people know, what they think they know, and what they can’t know:

Where is this miracle-man, they ask: the man doesn’t know. We know this is our son, his parents say, and we know he was born blind, but we don’t know how he sees, and we don’t know who did this. The “religious ones” say Jesus was a sinner, healing on the Sabbath, but the man does not know: he can now see. The “religious ones” know God spoke to Moses, but do not know where Jesus comes from. The man replied: “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.”

The thesis is that God’s glory will be revealed through these events, the argument is a detective-like unfolding of the story, and the resolution is Jesus. Jesus reenters the story at the very moment that the “religious ones” reject the man born blind. Jesus reveals himself and names himself “son of man.” The young man can only worship him.

Like the young man, we know what happened, we think we know what it means, and we cannot know why some cannot see. When Jesus comes, the way is revealed, the truth is made plain, and life God holds for each of us is set out. Here is the astonishing thing: he opened our eyes.


Sight was added to the man born blind and he was cast out. Demons leave the girl who practices divination and the town erupts. Jesus eats with tax collectors and sinners and is condemned. It seems that all the miracles and healing and all the reaching out to the least and last brings only trouble and isolation. It seems that everyone who has a direct experience of the power of God present in Jesus becomes suspect. It seems that the world clings to what is obvious and rational and expected and steers clear of the mysterious and irrational and unexpected. It seems that the very people that don’t belong or won’t belong are the very people Jesus seeks out. He seeks them out with one simple prescription: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

Among us some have tired limbs and weary souls: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

Among us some have addictions and afflictions we did not choose: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

Among us some have broken hearts and empty homes: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

Among us some have failing vision and moments of doubt: "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.”

Jesus gathers them to himself. Jesus gathers us to himself. Jesus finds the least and last, the weak and weary and gathers them to himself to be his disciples and walk in his way.

We never learn the name of the man born blind. We never learn the name of Peter’s mother-in-law or Jarius’ daughter. We never learn the name of the man with dropsy or the widow’s son. We never learn their names because they are all of us: met broken and made whole through the attention of the doctor who is seeking us yet, seeking us yet.


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