“Blinded By The Light”
March 19, 2023 Preacher: Minister Thomas Houston
Scripture: John 9:1–41
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.”
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable to You, O Lord, my rock and my Redeemer.
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
There are a couple of reasons why you were invited to sit during the reading of the gospel this morning, and why it was spoken by two different voices. First, it’s rather long, and secondly, because there are so many different theological subjects presented in these verses. And while this may be interesting for those hearing the passage, it does present quite a challenge for the preacher.
There are at least eight separate themes that John addresses in this morning’s passage, and if I were to attempt to deliver a sermon that touched on each one of them we would likely be here until dinnertime.
I promise I won’t subject you to that. But before we settle into the specific theme I thought was the most pertinent and the one I chose to speak to, I thought we might at least review what the other possibilities were, for as you heard, quite a lot transpires in these verses.
As soon as Jesus encounters the man who is blind from birth his disciples ask if it was his parents or himself who was the sinner, and was thus was responsible for the man’s blindness. Well, this question seems to have arisen because of the belief that many in Jesus’ time held, and it may be traced to select verses in the Torah. It was believed that any infirmity, any disability, any illness was the result of the commission of sin. Now, not all the teachers of the Law held the same opinion regarding this, but the fact that the disciples raised the question to Jesus confirms that the view that illness or disability was God’s punishment for sinful behavior, was rather widespread.
And on the extreme end of the spectrum was the view that a person might be punished for a sin even when they were still in their mother’s womb. Thus, the question as to whether the man himself was responsible for his blindness, even before he was born. As you may have guessed, this is one of the themes I chose not to address this morning; a rather wise choice on my part, I think you will agree.
Another topic that lends itself to discussion is Jesus essentially making a mud paste from his saliva and the dirt on the ground, in order to restore the blind man’s sight. Jesus didn’t need any physical substance to perform his healing miracles, so why the use of the mud balm? Perhaps this was intended as a reference to the Genesis account that speaks to God forming Adam from the clay of the earth. Again, let’s leave this one for another time.
The Pharisees rebuked Jesus for healing on the Sabbath, but this topic has been discussed at length before. When Jesus was previously reprimanded for healing on the Lord’s Day he said, “The Sabbath was made for the good of human beings; they were not made for the Sabbath”. So we know where Jesus stands regarding this issue. After the man regained his sight, many of his neighbors failed to recognize him.
Apparently, they knew him only as “the blind beggar” and once he was able to see they didn’t recognize him.
Odd, isn’t it that we so often identify people by their disability or by some other distinguishing feature and we don’t necessarily know them for who they are as simply fellow beings. Something to ponder, but again, not the sermon topic for this morning.
A short time earlier in John’s gospel Jesus was teaching during the Jewish festival of Sukkot, the Feast of the Tabernacles, and the pool at Siloam is thought to have been a “mikveh”, a place where the faithful would bathe to ensure they were purified before attending the several Jewish festivals. And this morning we find that Jesus sends the blind man to that same pool to wash the mud from his eyes, and thus he gains his sight. There’s probably a sermon in there somewhere.
The man’s parents, out of their fear of retribution from the religious authorities try to distance themselves as far from their now-sighted as soon as possible. You may remember Sergeant Schulz from the old TV show, Hogan’s Heroes. Whenever he was asked about anything unusual that was going on in the POW camp, his answer always the same; “I know nothing!” Whenever I read this passage I imagine the blind man’s parents saying these words to the Pharisees and occasionally I imagine them speaking in Schulz’s voice. Families disrupted by the damage that is often inflicted by religious intolerance; it’s a good thing that doesn’t happen anymore.
The Pharisees are so determined that Jesus’ miraculous works are sinful, that, rather than rejoice at the man gaining his vision and welcoming him fully into the community, they drive him out of the synagogue. “We’re not comfortable with this man Jesus and the way he disregards the Sabbath, so even though you have been healed, it was through a miracle of this Jesus; so, you’re no longer welcome here”.
One of my favorite parts of this story is when the Pharisees have asked the man several times how Jesus cured his blindness, he responds by asking them if they now want to become Jesus’ disciples. It seems that the formerly sightless man has discovered his ability for sarcasm that corresponds with him gaining his external vision. Apparently, he was able to “see right through” the Pharisees’ condescending arrogance. Turning the tables on those in power might also serve as the basis of a sermon, but not today.
Each of these themes would probably make for an enlightening sermon topic, but I’ve chosen to focus on the concept of sight; that is, seeing what is right before us and acknowledging that it is truth. Now this ability to observe and know is not necessarily dependent upon literally seeing that which we choose to discern. For instance, you will note that the blind man was given his sight by Jesus but he had no prior knowledge that Jesus was able to perform such a miraculous healing. The man simply washed the mud from his eyes and he gained his sight. He certainly didn’t physically observe Jesus when he was blind, but in some way he “saw” that Jesus was a miracle-worker. This man, even when sightless was able to ‘see’ the truth of Jesus as the Son of Man. On the other hand, the Pharisees, even after witnessing with their own eyes what Jesus was able to do, remained blind to the truth of Christ as God’s Son. “There are none so blind as they who will not see”; how often we humans refuse to acknowledge what is right in front of us, simply because what we see doesn’t conform to what we want. Our attitudes or our arrogance just won’t allow us to acknowledge the truth of what is before us.
Jesus came as the light of the world, yet so many people were unable or unwilling to see this light and believe in the truth of it; so much so that many, even today choose to live in darkness. Even with all they had observed of Jesus’ teaching, the disciples weren’t able to see that God doesn’t punish people for their sins by inflicting them with disease or disability.
The Pharisees were not able to see that alleviating the suffering of someone on the Sabbath was more important than a strict observance of religious laws.
The blind man’s parents couldn’t see that supporting their son and rejoicing in his healing was more important than worrying about what the authorities might do to them for simply acknowledging his miraculous cure.
The blind man’s neighbors couldn’t even agree what he looked like because they saw him only as a handicapped beggar; they didn’t even see that he was a fellow human being. “There are none so blind as they who will not see”.
It often happens that there are situations that we don’t see because we’re just not aware of them; for this we can be excused.
But once we see the truth before us, and we do not act, that is when we become “those who will not see”. We’re blinded by our indifference to suffering if we’re like a Pharisee who doesn’t see that people are hungry. We’re like the blind man’s neighbors if we don’t see that our neighbors are living on the streets. We’re just like his parents when we don’t see that other peoples’ children are in need of warm clothes. It is only when our eyes are fully open to the truth of Jesus Christ as the Son of God that we truly see. It is then that we look upon the world around us with clear vision, and we know that we are no longer blind, but that we live in the light of Christ.
It is then that we see that we are called to feed, clothe, and shelter all who are in need. No mud needed.
Will you pray with me? Good, and gracious, and holy God, we come to you this day with one simple prayer…help us to see. And we pray these things in the name of Jesus Christ, the One who opens the eyes of the world so all may see his light.
God is Good, all the time. All the time, God is Good. Amen.