Sermon from March 30th, 2014. The text for the week was John 9:1-41.
On Believing and Seeing
As the disciples are walking with Jesus, they notice a blind man on the side of the road, and they ask Jesus “Who sinned, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?” Humans are suckers for this sort of speculation. We love trying to explain things we can’t explain. We can’t seem to let something like this happen without trying to find some reason or explanation to account for it.
That’s why whenever there’s an environmental disaster, someone always gets on TV to tell people that it’s because of the nation’s sinfulness. And someone else gets on TV to say it’s because of our mistreatment of the environment (which I guess is just a different way of thinking of “the nation’s sinfulness”). And it’s why whenever a woman reports a rape, people want to know what she was wearing, whether she was “asking for it.” We blame her because it reassures us that the same kind of thing won’t happen to us.
We victim-blame because it gives us the illusion of control. But the truth is that bad things happen to all of us, sometimes because of our mistakes, sometimes because of someone else’s mistakes, and sometimes bad things happen for no rhyme or reason at all. It is a fact of human life that we will all endure tragedy, the only differences are degree and timing. But it is also a fact that a relationship with Jesus will help you endure tragedy and find wholeness and hope. In other words, no, TV preacher, sin isn’t the reason that God sent that tornado. Sin is the reason God sent Jesus.
What Jesus tells the disciples, is that neither the man nor his parents caused him to be blind. In other words, some suffering isn’t caused by sin. And since Jesus knows the mind of God and knows what’s about to happen, he can explain to us that this man was put here so that God’s greatness might be seen through him. But most of us do not know the mind of God, no matter how often we claim to. We simply don’t know why things go wrong. What we do know, is who can take bad things and turn them good. That is something that we can explain. And it’s something to share.
For more on that, let’s turn to the blind man himself. A lot of times Gospel writers use healings of blind characters as metaphors for spiritual blindness. And we let those metaphors bleed into what we think of real blind people. If it is awful and pitiful to be spiritually blind, it must be awful and pitiful to be physically blind. And we start treating blind people (or deaf people or old people or people with Down syndrome) as charity cases instead of human beings, and we forget that every single one of us has gifts worth sharing. Or we think that when we lose the ability to do what we used to do, we no longer have gifts worth sharing. The truth is that able-bodiedness is a temporary state for all of us. We weren’t always the way we are and we won’t always be that way either. So the blind man is not pitiful. He is him and you are you, and there are some things that he cannot do, and some things that we cannot do, and there is no need to think of ourselves as better off and him as worse off just because more people share our disabilities than his.
When Jesus gets to the blind man, he spits in the ground and makes mud, and then places it in the man’s eyes, and sends him to the pool of Siloam to wash. When the man washes off the mud, his eyes are clear and he is able to see. Jesus heals him. Maybe something like that has happened to you. Maybe you’ll live your whole life and nothing this drastic will ever happen to you. It’s just one more thing in our world that we don’t have much control over. What we do have control over, is how we respond to Jesus’ influence on our life. So I want us to see how this man reacts, because he is a model of growth in faith and relationship.
The first thing he does is he tells his story. Every single one of us is here because we have a story to tell. We are here because we have a longing, we feel the need for a relationship with God, or we are here because our encounter with God has so changed our life that we feel the need to do something about it. But each one of us has a story to tell. When people ask the blind man what happened, he tells them. Even when the going gets tough, when he’s being threatened by the authorities, he does not hide it. We can all follow his lead and tell our stories. Even if our stories are filled with struggle and doubt, we need to share them, for silent doubts rarely find answers.
Nor do we have to know everything before we can share our story. When they ask him where Jesus is, he says, “I don’t know.” And “I don’t know” is an okay answer. It is more damaging to the faith to pretend that you know when you don’t than it is to admit that some things are still a mystery to you. All we can share is what we know, and that is enough. Lives are changed when we share with others what we know about life in Christ.
But just because you don’t know something now, doesn’t mean you can’t learn it. As the formerly blind man goes about after his healing, he continues to learn and grow in his faith. Each time we see the blind man, he understands a little bit more deeply about Jesus. At first, he does not know anything about Jesus. Then, he comes to believe that Jesus is special. He tells the Pharisees, “He is a prophet.” When they question him a second time, he says, “why do you keep asking? Do you also want to become his disciples?” So after learning more about Jesus, he wants to become a disciple. And when they push him further, he teaches them, explaining that only through God could such a miracle happen, regardless of whether it occurred on the Sabbath. Every time we see the formerly blind man, he is trying to deepen his faith.
Learning how to be a better Christian doesn’t stop when you’re confirmed, or when you graduate high school, or ever, really. Faith is one of the most important aspects of our life, and part of having faith is trying to become better followers of Jesus each and every day.
And finally, when the Jesus finds the blind man again, he says, “I believe.” And he worships Jesus. Belief and worship are deeply connected. To believe in Jesus is to see everything in the world in the light of the revelation of Christ. To quote one of my favorite Christmas movies, “Seeing isn’t believing. Believing is seeing.” The blind man didn’t believe when he regained his sight. He was still unsure and hesitant. He did not know what to believe. It’s only when he understands who and what Jesus is that he comes to believe. Believing in Jesus isn’t just about having our eyes opened to the world (though I don’t think you can really believe without it), it’s about having your eyes opened to Jesus’ light in the world. Believing in Jesus isn’t about having the right information programmed into our brain, it’s about understanding and interpreting our life through the lens of Christ’s light.
And so when we think about this man, and what he went through, we can see ourselves a little bit. Each of us has seen something that makes us want to be a disciple of Christ. And we can do so, by sharing our story, by continuing to grow in our faith, and be worshipping Jesus in service and praise. We don’t have to be perfect, or to know everything, we just have to be witnesses to what we have seen. And having seen something that led us to believe, we can follow Jesus, hoping that our belief might help us to see.