March 26, 2017

4th Sunday of Lent Year A

There was a man born blind.

On that point, everyone seems to have been in agreement. He had become so familiar that people forgot to see him as a human being. 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.

But all that 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. The story of this dramatic event is one of the most humorous in scripture. The investigation of how this man born blind became able to see sounds like a story line for the Keystone Cops.

Here is how it goes:

As Jesus walked by one day, he met a man born blind. Immediately, this man became an object lesson for the disciples. They treated him, not as a human being, but as 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 need at hand, which is the man himself, to a theological argument. We do the same maneuver today. We see a person in need and we systematize. How can my belief system account for this phenomenon? But if we forget the actual person standing right in front of us, then our belief system is useless.

"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 evil in the world? 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, so that the works of God can be shown."

What an amazing way to interpret human 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 a moral judgement, but in an act of mercy, in an act which pays close attention to the person in need.

Jesus spits into the dirt, makes a little mud, and then smears it into the man's eyes! Jesus says, "Go wash your eyes in the pool of Siloam." 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, washes in the pool, and returns able to see. The miraculous deed is done. But here begins the marvelous comedy of shallow human comprehension or you might say the comedy of blind human mis-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 do finally ask the man, he responds very simply, "Yes, I'm the man." "Then how were your eyes opened?" "A guy named 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 has done for him.

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. They are divided. 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 Jesus, who 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 to tell the truth. Well, the parents do tell the truth, again 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." And then the parents repeat the greatest truth of the story. They say, "Ask him; he is of age." He can tell you the truth, if you pay attention to the person in need. 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."

But, finally, at the end of the story, Jesus finds the healed man again. 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 indeed 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 that world, who can bring clarity even out of the mud made from human spit.

Our scattered speculations 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 human picture, we are blind, unable even to comprehend what God may have for us in the future.

Our human speculation can never comprehend the amazing power of God. God will burst the boundaries and walls of our personal agendas with new light. That light is Jesus, the Light of the World, who shines a new light in our lives. Jesus does that by focusing not on the reasons for illness, not on the philosophical justifications of reality, but by focusing on our human need, our own blindness.                                                                            

Amen.