Now We See
Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago
The man born blind’s move from darkness into light has long been part of the church’s celebration of the power of new life begun in baptism. His expulsion from the synagogue mirrored the experience of early Christians whose families were torn apart by their allegiance to Christ. The blind man’s journey of faith mirrors that of many today who somehow felt they belonged with Jesus before they came to believe, in contrast to when we once assumed everyone believed before choosing where to belong. The blind man’s story also serves as a reminder that faith springs from trust in Jesus before confession of any theological system, religious tradition, or rigid orthodoxy.
Images that depict the blind man’s story appear in second-century frescoes in the catacombs of Rome (as does the story of the Samaritan woman at the well from last week). These stories have been part of our Lenten baptismal liturgies dating at least as far back as the fourth and fifth centuries. The blind man’s words echo in the famous hymn we sing today, “Amazing Grace”: “I once was blind, but now I see.” (John 9:25b)
Christians see things differently. St. Paul encouraged first century Christians living in Ephesus saying, “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light”. (Ephesians 5:8-14) This light gives new sight. Living with the eyes of faith can sometimes make us feel like Don Quixote. But rather than tilt at windmills we confront the gusty winds of fear and anger so common today with the sacred shelter of hope and grace God creates in, among, and between us and our neighbor.
Christians see differently and this leads them to live differently. The light of God calls and equips us to be God people—regardless of your regrets, despite your failures, overlooking the pile of mistakes you accumulated in the past.
We must see and live differently now because each of us may literally be the place where people in the world encounter God. The blind man washed in the pool called Sent. Likewise we are sent into the world to be God people. At the end of every liturgy we are sent out in both to be Christ and to meet Christ. We must help one another across that spiritual threshold as we leave here today.
I remember a time preparing for ministry that opened my eyes to the gift and power of being a God person. It was a horrible scene. After years of addiction, a man was slowly dying, choking on his own blood. An intensive care nurse suctioned it out as best she could through a large clear plastic hose. Yet somehow, because I was there in the name of Christ, the dying man could concentrate on being a husband; and the frantic woman could be a wife; the shocked young people could be children, and they could all be a family together while they acknowledged how much they loved each other and said their goodbyes.
We caught a glimpse of the crazy diverse beloved community of God-people together at Evening Prayer last Tuesday at St. Ita’s Catholic church. The small space between kids and their tutors as they huddle over worksheets and assignments every Monday night is sacred ground. Your warm welcome to guests who come here throughout the week for various programs and ministries engenders heartfelt gratitude among many of our neighbors. Like the man born blind, now we see how much God longs to be incarnated in us and through us, and what a joy it is for us to let God do so.
Our gospel today is such a long story, and yet Jesus appears only at the beginning and the end. Only after hearing the blind man had been driven out, did Jesus go looking for him. It’s not a question of whether we, sighted or blind, find Jesus. Jesus comes searching for us no matter where we are.
Finally, I must say a word about what this story has to say about why bad things happen to good people—and what it does not. (You may want to flip to the back page of your worship folder here.) Many scholars agree it is unfortunate our translation of the bible (the NRSV) adds the words in verse three a “he was born blind,” which is not in the Greek text and tends to suggest the man’s blindness is an “excuse” for God to show God’s power. A more accurate translation would be “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But in order that God’s works might be revealed in him it is necessary for us to work the works of the one who sent me … ” This translation conclusively affirms that, at least in this case, there is no connection between sickness and sin. Therefore, Jesus must do the work of God and heal the man. (David Lose)
The gospel of John tells this story and used these images of seeing and not seeing, believing and not believing, to help an early Christian community “see” themselves more clearly. Where do we see ourselves in this story?
God said to the prophet Samuel that “the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). When we put on the spectacles of Christ, we see that each of us has been clothed in God’s grace. We are now children of God. Once we were blind to this reality, but now we see.