4th Sunday in Lent
John 9: 1-41
“Eyes to See”
In this morning’s reading from the Gospel of John, we have heard the full story of the man born blind and of Jesus’ action in making him to see.
It should be said, first and foremost, that this is a beautiful story:
It is a story about Mercy, about Grace, about God’s only Son noticing one who was forgotten and working a miracle so that God’s works could be revealed in his life.
It is also a story that gives us one of the Christian tradition’s most beautiful statements about faith and restoration in Christ.
“Though I was blind, now I see”
“Though I was blind, now I see”, a perfect description of Grace and Faith that has been repeated many times for two-thousand years; words, I am sure, that have been spoken or prayed, by many of you at the most significant faith-revealing moments of your lives.
Again, I want to say, that this is a beautiful story, about Christ and about His love for the neediest among us.
However, the reason that I want to emphasize the beauty of Christ’s action in this story this morning is because the rest of the story, the disciple’s question, the neighbour’s doubts, the long interrogation by the Pharisees, this is all about our human resistance to this Godly action, and that is where we need to spend the bulk of our time this morning.
As we work through this story this morning, it’s important that we take a moment to remember where we are both in the world and in the story of Christ’s journey to the cross for our sake.
Friends, though the world seems to have changed completely in the last week-or-so with the outbreak of the Coronavirus, even though we are praying and having fellowship through technology this week, rather than face-to-face, it may be helpful to remember what time it is in our Christian community.
We remember that just before the Coronavirus outbreak, we had begun the 40-day journey of Lent. 40 days of studying Scripture and praying through Christ’s reality in the world and in our lives.
However, rather than think that the two (Coronavirus and Lent) are disconnected we ought to consider the ways that they reveal each other:
Just like this particular time in our history (the Coronavirus era), a time when we are more challenged to face our fears and our frailty in vulnerability and isolation.
Lent is (each year) a time of reflection, a time of mental, emotional, and spiritual challenge, Lent is a time of looking honestly at ourselves and at Christ and coming to greater realization of who He is, and what He has done for us at Easter, that indeed, if it were not for Lent, if it were not for this time of challenge and growth and reflection we would simply not be as well prepared to celebrate Christ’s victory on Easter morning.
The truth of Lent and of the Gospel this morning is that long before COVID-19, long before the disruption it has caused (two-thousand years before all of this in fact), Jesus Christ Himself came to reveal to us the truth: the truth that though we are imperfect, though we too often serve earthly powers and principalities, though we even resist the Gospel, Christ has come to us and for us in order to offer salvation.
That just as Christ came to open the eyes of the man born blind that God’s works might be revealed in him, Christ has come to reveal us to ourselves and to open our own eyes for the sake that God’s works might be revealed in us.
This morning, I want to pray through this text with you so that we may all come to greater understanding of not only what Christ has done in Scripture, but what He has done in your lives, and is doing in our very time.
A moment ago, I said that while this story gives us the beautiful image of the man given sight for the first time by Jesus, the bulk of the story is actually about our human resistance to this miracle, I say “our” because we, as Christians, are no less tempted to resist Christ’s Grace and Mercy than the characters in this story.
Like the Disciples, we live too much by the ways (who only wanted to know who was at fault for his blindness)
Like the neighbours, we have doubt of God’s power, even as it has been displayed right in-front of us
And like the Pharisees, we have all practiced faith in a legalistic way, attempting to limit Christ’s ability to surprise us
the challenge of this lesson is that even given a direct and personal display of Christ’s loving action in the world, the truth is that we are still capable of being misled.
Misled by worldly vision.
Misled by doubting what is right before us.
Misled by the insistence that Christ must conform to our standards.
Through this story, Jesus, again and again, comes and shows us that his ways are not our ways. That though we (as human beings) may resist God’s Grace and Mercy, God still gets the world God wants. This is Good News for us this morning.
But there is other Good News as well, the most beautiful thing about this story is that Jesus does not come to prove Himself right and us wrong, rather Jesus comes to Love and to practice Mercy for us, to redeem and reconcile us so that we may see God’s works done in ourselves and one another, and so that we might inherit the greatest gift, which is the eternal life He freely offers.
I want to give just a note about our current situation: rather than go along trying to force our current COVID-19 situation into this story, I want to invite you to let this reality sit loosely. Christ’s lesson this morning does have important things to say about what is going on around us, but our task is not to force the point. Just like Christ’s action in restoring the blind man to sight, the point is not one miracle or one healing that we can cling to, rather the purpose is so that more may come to know the fullness of God, or as Jesus Himself says:
“so that God’s works might be revealed”
And ultimately, as we look ahead to the cross and the resurrection at Easter, so that all of humanity may be reconciled through Christ.
To put this another way, we know that having faith in Christ calls us to be changed. Being faithful calls us into greater prayer, greater confession, greater thankfulness. This faith calls us over and over into the process of coming humbly before God and being sanctified by that process, but it also calls us into something else.
Faith calls us to be witnesses, human witnesses to Christ’s salvation
Faith does not turn us into angels hovering above the rest of humanity, rather it calls us to accept ourselves as God has made us and to accept that God loves what he has created
We witness, not to our own perfection, but to the perfection that is Christ’s perfect Love and Mercy and Grace
We witness out of our humanity to that which is Graceful and Merciful and Beautiful and True, the presence of the risen Christ in our world and our lives.
The lesson that this reading teaches us, in at least three different ways, is that we are greatly tempted.
We are always greatly tempted, especially during Lent, we are a tempted humanity.
The temptation revealed in John chapter 9 is that there are many different temptations the enemy uses to pull us away from our place of being with and accepting Christ in our lives.
Faced with a man blind since birth, the Disciples were tempted by a worldly vision that seeks to name and blame who is at fault for this tragedy.
Faced with undeniable proof of Christ’s miracle, the neighbours of the newly -sighted man were tempted to simply look away, to doubt, to rationalize that because blind men do not regain sight, this man must be an imposter.
Finally, faced with Godly action that was outside of their understanding and rules, the Pharisees were tempted to persecute the wrong thing. Not their own legalism. Not their own lack of imagination and faith, but Jesus Christ Himself. That in their zeal to preserve God’s Word, they were tempted to send the Word made flesh to the cross.
My friends, no matter how faithful we are, no matter how mature we are as followers of Christ, we ought to see ourselves throughout this story.
We ought to see ourselves being tempted, we ought to see ourselves turning away from Christ, we ought to see ourselves hemming in the Word of God and denying its power because these are things that we all do, that we all have done.
We act with the wordly vision of the Disciples, every time that we seek blame in the world:
Every time we ask “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Every time, in turning on the news, we seek to place blame for the calamity around the world.
Every time we ask:
Who was at fault for this accident?
Who is to blame for these economic woes?
Who didn’t do their job in containing this illness?
How will they be punished?
Whose fault is all this?
It is a fallen world that decides “everyone must get what they deserve” without placing ourselves under God’s judgement. It is a fallen world that demands that each blind man must have somehow sinned to be that way, that each victim of every tragedy must have brought it upon themselves, and yet, with the vision given to us by Christ, we can see that this is the world all around us.
We are tempted into desiring that “everyone get what they deserve” according to our imperfect justice.
We are tempted into desiring that every calamity have a reason behind it; someone who was negligent, someone who was at fault, someone to blame.
We may justify this to ourselves by focusing on positive examples: that if “everyone gets what they deserve” (according to the ways of the world) then it also means that those who are successful have earned it. And yet, is that what Christ teaches? Does Christ teach that those who are successful have earned their way, that they are more cunning, more clever, more deserving of God’s blessings?
Truly there is both love and justice in God’s world, but the point this world misses is that these belong completely to God.
Our fallen worldview may be tempting but there is no room for Grace and Mercy in such a world.
I like the definition of these terms that goes: “Grace is getting what we do not deserve” and “Mercy is not getting what we do deserve.”
We have all fallen short in some way or another, we all “deserve” punishment and yet God’s ceaseless Mercy has saved us from even the ultimate punishment.
In the same way, the Grace of God in Jesus Christ is a bounty beyond all reckoning. Salvation and eternal life are gifts beyond anything we can deserve or earn and yet it is freely offered to all.
Through the same sinfulness and forgetfulness of God that tempts us to sit on the judgement seat, we are also capable of being tempted away from even the most precious gift we will ever receive which is faith in Christ.
Like the neighbours of the once-blind man, we are capable of looking at a world redeemed by Christ, looking at our own lives saved by Christ’s sacrifice, and saying to ourselves “no, it must not be God, only a strange coincidence”
This man who claims to see, he looks just like the man who was blind and used to sit and beg, but such things are impossible, so it cannot be.
Even though we desire salvation beyond deserving, both for ourselves and for the world, we are also tempted away from accepting what is right before us.
Given undeniable proof of God’s love for the world in Jesus Christ, we are tempted into turning away, into doubting, into demanding that until God shows up “right here, right now and reveals himself, we will not believe”, and yet even when that does happen in our lives, we are still tempted to turn away.
Gaining faith in Christ can be like going through a refinery.
It can be like having our spirits warmed and melted and reformed, and yet even then, we do not always hold our new shape. The impurities of the world seep in, we lose our lustre, we convince ourselves that the purity we felt, the sureness of salvation and God’s presence in our lives was never really there; faith, we find, takes faith to hold onto, and it is one of those things that the more we do; the more rational and strategic we are about it, the less we are able to let Christ make the change within us.
The final warning on temptation from this reading is the example of the Pharisees.
After the Disciples displayed their worldly vision, after Jesus healed the man before their very eyes, after the man’s neighbours came forward, saw, and yet denied the miracle, finally the Pharisees came forward to investigate.
Because the neighbours could not decide for themselves, or rather, because they were tempted away from believing what was right in-front of them, they took the man to the Pharisees in order that these earthly authorities could relieve them of the need to witness Christ’s miracle for themselves.
As the blind man was brought forward to the Pharisees, he made his case plain. He explained exactly what Jesus had done, how he had used mud and instructed him to wash in the pool in order to give him vision.
In disbelief the Pharisees called the man’s parents, who confirmed the man was who he claimed.
Again, the Pharisees called the man and cross examined him but the man would not recant, this time challenging them in the Truth of the Gospel:
“Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where [Jesus] comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
At this, the Pharisees showed their contempt for being surprised by God and drove the man away.
For as damning as it ended up being, the action of the Pharisees should not appear alien to us. We have all been tempted as they were tempted, tempted to…
…Place a fence around God
…Deny the testimony of Christ’s witnesses
…Demand that even Jesus Christ Himself conform to our rules and regulations
This is the final example of temptation in this story. That coming into the world, and working in humanity (that is to say: coming into our world and working in us), Jesus Christ worked a miracle in bringing sight to a man who had been born blind.
In return for this act of Mercy and Grace, Jesus was confronted by those with worldly vision, those with great doubt, and those who practiced their faith with legalism.
In the end, this miracle, this act of salvation, and the resistance it caused would lead Jesus Christ to be executed, partly, for the crime of healing on the Sabbath.
The sad reality of these temptations is that they had the power to take what was beautiful and good and Godly and to reshape it into the nails used to fix Christ to His cross. An act of betrayal we commit over and over through our sin.
However, even this was turned by Christ into the greatest act of Mercy God ever performed. In the same way that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ became the salvation of all of humanity, Christ’s miracle of giving sight to one man became the means by which he gave sight to all who would listen and turn to Him.
That working through the temptations of humanity, (working through our temptations), Christ’s mission of reconciliation and love could simply not be undone.
Or, as our Lord Himself taught: “I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind”
As we walk through these seasons together with Christ; through the season of Lent and the season of Coronavirus, let us have our eyes fixed on the Lord; let us call upon God for assistance in denying temptation:
Denying the temptation of worldly sight;
Denying the temptation to doubt Christ’s miraculous works;
Denying the temptation to hem Him in with legalism.
That by journeying with Christ and one another through these seasons, we would lose the blindness of temptation, and gain the sight of everlasting life.
Sight which has already been gained for us.
Sight which is freely offered by the Lord.
Sight that has the power to change who we are and how we live so that God’s works might be revealed through all who call on Christ to give them eyes to see.
Finally, let me make the Good News plain: even though the weight of our sin is heavy, it is no match for Christ’s love. That just as He healed the man out of Love, Mercy, and Grace, He too has redeemed us according to his will, for the salvation of those whom He loves.