The Fourth Sunday in Lent, Year A, 2017 – 1 Samuel 16:1-13; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
As a seminarian, the hardest thing for me to do is not preaching or studying, but living my life the way I am taught to live. Human beings are all destined to live the life of Christ. He became human, so that we might become like him. Yet, I often fail to imitate Christ’s life, distracted by the busy rhythm of life. How about you? Do you see Jesus in everyday life? If not, what are the stumbling blocks to experience Him?
Each Sunday we talk about the Gospel. What difference does the knowledge of Jesus make?
In John 9, Jesus appears at the beginning very briefly, cures the blind man, then disappears until later. He comes back at the end of the story to reveal himself to the formerly blind man who was cast out. In the meantime, the gospeller John mostly talks about how people react to the healing of the blind man, creating great tension among people. The blind man has his eye vision recovered, and he is able to recognize Jesus as the Lord, but the rest of the people are unable to see Jesus and remain in the spiritual blindness.
Ironically, the lack of spiritual maturity is demonstrated by the disciples of Jesus, first. They know Jesus and follow Jesus, but they seem to struggle to understand many things. As Jesus is walking along, he spots a blind man. Instead of showing empathy to the man, the disciples ask Jesus: Whose sin is it to be born blind? Looking through the lens of the first-century, it is true that the suffering of the world is the result of the sin which crept in to humanity through Adam and Eve.
In John 5:1-15, the gospeller records another instance about Jesus’s healing a crippled man. In that story, it is clear that Jesus recognizes the cause of the man’s condition as a sin, even though the specifics of it were not mentioned. In that encounter, Jesus tells the cured man to sin no more. In today’s passage, however, Jesus immediately silences his disciples’ irrelevant theological argument, saying that all the sufferings of this blind man have nothing to do with his sin or his parents’ sin.
Like the disciples, we are also blinded by many presuppositions, aren’t we? It is easy to show stereotypes and become judgmental or overly critical based on our presuppositions which are shaped by our education, certain long-standing traditional values, and social norms. People will define disability differently, but in general, any type of disability is hard to bear. Imagine we are blind. We will have to depend on someone else, and our life experience will be limited. We cannot travel around freely by ourselves. Not only that, some people might take advantage of us. Our life will be doomed to live in darkness. But, Jesus says this man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him (John 9:3). He cares about the man in misery, who cannot see, who has been isolated by his people his entire life. Actually, my eldest brother almost lost his vision many years ago, but with God’s grace, his vision was partially recovered by surgery. When he reads the Bible, he has to hold it closely to his face. His poor vision has created another problem in socializing with others because he cannot identify objects clearly, so he suffers from depression, as well.
If we have someone who is willing to share our burdens, and if we have one true friend who understands our isolated feelings, we can gain strength to weather the storm, can’t we? Jesus is that friend who gives us the strength and hope. Jesus looks inside and understands the blind man’s miserable circumstance with a compassionate heart.
He heals this blind man, using common elements of life. Mud formed with saliva, a direct instruction like washing in the pool, and a simple human response to the word are the formula of this miracle.
Some commentaries note that the mud used for this miracle signifies the act of God who created Adam out of dust. God is using simple things to show us a miracle.
Now the formerly blind man is ready to celebrate his new life with Light, but the rest of the people in town become confused. Why are the townsmen perplexed by the miracle? Suppose that someone’s terminating illness has suddenly disappeared. Some people might say that it was just a temporary symptom of a benign disease or that the doctor misdiagnosed the patient.
If we have thrown out all the unprovable things, are we not held back by some sort of bias that rejects God’s divine acts in our lives?
People tend to pick and choose whatever they want to believe, then wander around and doubt. Consequently, people are exposed to a danger of spiritual blindness through which humanism rises as a new religion.
The climax of the story moves towards the Pharisees. They are very agitated by the news about the blind man, and they start interrogating him. The Pharisees are often portrayed as hypocrites, but actually, they are highly respected religious leaders of the time, keeping all the laws in the Jewish society. It is very hard to keep all the laws. A simple rule like no jaywalking is not easy to keep for some impatient people, so you can imagine the strict life style of the Pharisees. But, law-keeping alone cannot save us.
In the story, the Pharisees argue within their own group about the identity of Jesus, whether he is from God or not. If he is not from God, how can an ordinary man do the miracle? So, the healer must be a God. But if he is God, how can He work on the Sabbath? It does not make sense at all to their tradition that God does not observe the Sabbath, a day of rest. Proverbs 23:33 goes like this: “Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind will imagine confusing things.” That is what exactly happens to these people. The blind man testifies to the Pharisees about who opened his eyes and how he performed that miracle. Also, he claims that Jesus is a prophet.
But, the Pharisees simply refuse to believe that the blind man has been healed.
They dichotomize human actions into what is permitted and what is forbidden, and they are unable to see God in Jesus.
But, as in our first reading taken from 1 Sam 16:7, “the Lord does not see as mortals see. They look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”
Unsatisfied with the blind man’s testimony, the Pharisees call the blind man’s parents and do more interrogation, but the parents refuse to admit anything about their son’s vision recovery. They have a fear that they can be put out of the synagogue if they tell the truth. They defend themselves by providing excluded truth. They acknowledge that their blind son now sees, but they say no more. They tell the Pharisees to ask their son for further details. How can they put their own son in such a difficult position, instead of supporting him? Don’t you want to defend your own children? But, on a second thought, it is understandable. If we are at the face of social ostracism, how many of us would speak up and tell the truth? To keep silent would be the best way to survive.
While everyone else is distracted by fear and responds defensively, the formerly blind man makes his affirmation of faith in Jesus boldly, and he challenges the Pharisees, saying, “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.” The Pharisees do not like his teaching attitude, and the man’s testimony results in his being cast out. What did this man do wrong? He has suffered long enough, living in the darkness and under oppression. Praising Jesus for opening his eyes is wrong?
Now he is cast out from his society completely. We do not know where he is now. But, once again, Jesus returns to the story. He finds the cured man and identifies himself to this healed disciple. Jesus asks the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The formerly blind man does not recognize Jesus immediately because he met Jesus while he was still blind, so he asks, “Tell me who he is, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus says, “He is the one speaking with you right now.” The man bows down and calls him Lord.
All of the people in this story, the disciples, townspeople, parents, and the Pharisees, allude to our own characters somehow. Occupied by presuppositions, doubtful of divine power, fearful of the human authority, and blinded by the old laws for right doing than right thinking, perhaps we do not see Jesus.
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch priest who shared the last decade of his life with the mentally challenged, viewed our brokenness and spiritual imperfection as a normative human experience, and he accepted dark moments of life as something to pass through without losing spiritual vision. That is right.
We face hopelessness, frustrations, and confusions now and then when things do not go the way we want, but those dark corridors are the path towards holiness when we walk with the Light.
Once we meet Jesus, our life changes, and the new life is not the same as before. When we experience Jesus’ healing touch, we cannot hold the good news just to ourselves. Like the blind man who became an evangelist, we are also to share with people around us who Jesus is and what He is doing for us in our lives.
Paul says in 2 Corinthians 4:4 that “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” Satan’s goal is to devour the ones who fall to temptation, fear, and worry. Distracted by, worried about, and busy with our present way of living, we end up being pulled away from the place where we belong, and we do not feel at peace. The question is whether or not we have our hearts in the right place to receive the Light and to share the Light. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12).
Have you met Jesus?