March 30, 2014

Lent 4A1

There was a man born blind.

On that point, everyone seems to have been in agreement. He had become a part of the scenery, so familiar that people forgot to look at him. As a beggar he received food; but apparently he received little actual attention.

He was born blind. Everybody knew that. And that was how he was to be classified for life. He had been neatly placed in the "blind and helpless" category, so that folks were free to go about other tasks in life.

But all this changed on the day that Jesus walked by. Everybody still agreed that the beggar who used to roam their streets was born blind, but no one could get straight exactly what had happened to him.

Here is how the story is told:

As Jesus walked by one day, he met a man born blind. Immediately, this man became for the disciples an object lesson. They treated him, not as a person, but as an example, or a proof text, for their own theology. "Rabbi," they ask, "who sinned-this man or his parents-that he was born blind?"

Notice how attention is so quickly diverted from the person and his need, to a theological or philosophical argument. We do the same today. We see a person in need and we analyze. How can my belief system account for this phenomenon?

The maneuver is inevitable for most of us. We have belief systems for good reasons. But if we forget the actual person standing right in front of us, then our belief system is useless no matter what our persuasion is.

"Who caused this to happen," we ask, "this man or his parents? Who is to blame here? Why is there blindness in the world? Why is there poverty, illness, or behavior, which does not match mine? Who is to blame, nature or nurture-this man or his parents?"

Jesus, as he so often does, answers with a third option, one that the questioners did not think of. Jesus said, "Neither this man sinned, nor his parents. This man is here, before us blind, so that the marvelous works of God can be shown."

What an amazing way to interpret human need or suffering! When Jesus sees someone in need, he does not use that person's plight to develop a political or moral agenda. Jesus sees opportunity, a chance to recognize God's work. God's work is revealed, not in moral statement, but in an act of mercy, in an act, which pays close attention to the need of the person.

Jesus spits into the dirt, makes a little mud, and then smears it into the man's eyes! Jesus says, "Go wash your eyes." The scene is as if Jesus makes a grimy mud of short-sighted human observation and rubs that mud directly into the affected area of human need, so that it can only be God who can bring clear sight out of the mess.

And God does. The man goes away, washes, and returns able to see. The miraculous deed is done. But the story is still young, for here begins the marvelous comedy of shallow human comprehension. For no one seems able to comprehend this miracle.

The neighbors ask themselves, "Isn't this the man who used to sit outside and beg? "Yes," some of the neighbors claim, "he is the man."

"No, he's not," others say. "He just looks like the same man." And finally someone has the sense to ask the man himself. Again, notice how the neighbors prefer, at first, to talk among themselves, to interpret the event first for themselves, without paying actual attention to the man himself.

And when they finally do ask the man, he responds very simply, "Yes, I'm the man."

"Then how were your eyes opened?"

"A man called Jesus made mud, rubbed it in my eye, told me to go wash in the pool, and I did. Now I can see."

"Well, where is he?" they ask.

And the man replies, "I don't know." Throughout this story, the man born blind represents utter simplicity and elegant truth. He replies to every question honestly and directly. He refuses to speculate about political or theological agendas. He knows only what Jesus asked him to do.

So they took the poor man to see the Pharisees, that devout group of religious leaders who tended to have everything figured out. The man repeats his simple story. The Pharisees argue among themselves. "How can a man heal on the Sabbath?" they ask. He must not be from God at all. And then-again-someone thinks to ask the healed man himself. "What do you think of him?" they ask. It is an afterthought, but the healed man is beginning to get the picture. This guy Jesus, whom I do not even know, must be some kind of prophet.

But the Pharisees are still divided. They decide to get the testimony of the poor man's parents. Maybe the man was not born blind after all; let's get the parents story. The parents tell it in its simplest and most elegant form.

They say, "Yes, we know that this is our son. Yes, he was born blind. But as to how he can see now, we have no idea." They say, "Ask him; he is of age." The person in need can tell us the truth! In fact, that person can reveal God to us, but we have to ask that person, not speculate among ourselves.

So the Pharisees go back to the man. "Give glory to God," they shout out. "The man Jesus is a sinner. How do you now see?"

And, here, the healed man begins to grow bolder. He begins to see all the more clearly. He says, "Whether he is a sinner or not, I do not know. All I know is that I once was blind, but now I see."

The discussion becomes more intense. "What did he do to you?" the Pharisees ask. "How did he open your eyes?"

"I have told you already!" the healed man responds. Do you want to hear it again so that you can become his disciples, too?"

Well, there, the Pharisees become livid. "You are his disciple," they say. "Not us. We are disciples of Moses. As for this man Jesus, we do not know where he comes from."

And the healed man says, "Why, that is an astonishing thing. A man heals my eyes, but you do not know where he comes from. If he weren't from God, could he do such a thing?"

The Pharisees have had enough. They drive him out.

But, finally, at the end of the story, Jesus finds the healed man again. Now comes the time for interpretation and reflection. Jesus asks, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" "Who is he?" responds the healed man, just as honestly as he always has. "I who speak to you am he," Jesus responds.

And the healed man proclaims, "Lord, I believe."

With that proclamation, the healing is complete. The man born blind sees not only the world around him, with utter and complete honesty. The man born blind now also sees Jesus himself, the Lord of life.

Our scattered speculations, emerging as they do only from a need to defend our own agendas, are only as clear as mud in the eyes of God. As long as we seek only to fit the acts of God into our limited picture, we are blind, unable to comprehend what God may doing in our midst.

Some Pharisees question whether they can see at all. They ask Jesus, "Surely we are not blind, are we?"

And Jesus' response is sharp and precise: "If you say, 'We see,'" Jesus says, "then your sin remains."

Be careful, then, whenever we say, "We see." Our human speculation, as fulfilling as it may be, can never comprehend the amazing power of God. We can never enclose the mystery of God. God will burst the boundaries and walls of our personal agendas with new light. And that light is Jesus, the Light of the World.       

Amen.