"Faces in the Crowd: The Man Born Blind"
This month I return to a favorite series of mine -- "Faces in the Crowd" -- where I use my preaching time to present the stories of some of the Bible's lesser-known people
I've been doing this off and on -- especially in the summers -- for quite a while now, and I'm afraid the characters I'm down to presenting are no longer just "lesser-known" but sometimes downright obscure
Well, be that as it may, I think there's value in telling the stories of these people -- for these are our spiritual ancestors, and when we remember their stories, we remember our own, and the connections and applications that are so important begin to be evident in a way that tall talk and big words can't clarify
Sort of like listening in on the stories told at a family reunion -- not all of them are dignified stories, but they'll teach you more about the way one should maintain one's dignity than any amount of earnest exhortation by those who think you need taking in hand
Well, the Bible -- in addition to being the marvelous presentation of the greatest good news that ever was -- is also a collection of stories from our spiritual family
And today, I want to tell you about the Man Born Blind -- we have no other name for him
His story was so important to the first disciples -- & so complicated to tell (like a lot of gd stories), that it takes a whole chapter of Jn's Gospel
So, I'll dispense with the reading of the whole 41 verses at the beginning, and just give you the text in small doses, as the story develops
And here is the first installment:
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man's eyes with the clay, saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.
The Man Born Blind lived by begging. His parents were still living, so he probably resided with them, but he was unable to work, so he begged for his living -- it was all he could do
Then one day, Jesus and his disciples come along
Now, they had just come from a contentious encounter with some Jewish religious leaders about the advantages of being children of Abraham, so maybe the whole idea of "heritage" or "legacies" was on their minds, but they asked J., Hey -- who sinned that this man shd suffer the misfortune of his blindness -- himself, or his parents?
In other words, whose fault is it?
In asking this question, they are no more than echoing the common assumption -- we make it all the time, too -- that our misfortunes in life have to have a reason -- usually a guilty one
We think God is punishing us when things go wrong -- and if things go wrong for our children, we think it's our fault -- WE shd have done something
Now, sometimes it IS somebody's fault, so this is a tricky question -- and while the disciples cd not poss. have known about the germ theory of disease, it is a fact that the most usu. cause of neonatal blindness (then as now) was venereal infection in the mother, passed to the infant in childbirth -- something almost entirely eliminated in our day and age, by doctors placing silver iodide in the eyes of every newborn -- w/o having to ask embarrassing qtns of the new parents to which they might not get truthful answers, anyway
so, in a world where people argue about 2nd-hand smoke, and sue hamburger joints for making them fat, let's take the question at face value, and ask -- can you always ascribe a person's misfortunes to somebody's wrong actions? Is someone always to blame?
And J sweeps the qtn away -- NOBODY sinned to make this happen, he says -- this man's blindness is there to show what God can do
And he spits on the ground and puts the mud he has made on the man's eyes, and sends him off to wash his face, and the man can see -- simple as that
But let's not get ahead of ourselves -- Nobody sinned to make this happen -- this man's blindness is there to show what God can do
Our misfortunes may or may not have a specific cause -- but God does not punish people in that way for their sins -- and however much our sins offend God -- and they offend him plenty -- he does not lose patience w/us or treat us w/petty anger
God loves us -- and if we will give him our misfortunes, he will demonstrate his power through our weakness
-- even if we don't get a miracle
misfortunes are bad, and I'm not sugarcoating them -- but they are also opportunities to show what God can do in our lives
Anyway, the blind man gets the Cadillac of miracles, and he can hardly believe it -- nor can anyone else, apparently:
The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, "Is not this the man who used to sit here and beg?" Some said, "It is he"; others said, "No, but he is like him." He said, "I am the man." They said to him, "Then how were your eyes opened?" He answered, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash'; so I went and washed and received my sight." They said to him, "Where is he?" He said, "I do not know."
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see." Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath." But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" There was a division among them. so they again said to the blind man, "What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet."
Perhaps the most amazing thing to the people who didn't know the blind man before -- to the Pharisees, anyway -- is that he has been healed w/o any mumbo-jumbo:
no long prayers, no magical formulae, no patent medicines, and w/o any self-promoting sales pitch
This really bothers them, because they WANT J. to be a fraud, and he isn't playing the con man role that they've cast him in
So they decide that they've got to discredit the witness, and they start browbeating this poor guy
When that doesn't seem to be going well, they decide to drag his parents into the situation, and chew on them for a while:
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight, and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself." His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, "He is of age; ask him."
They begin by hinting that the parents are committing a fraud, too -- and they have it in their power to throw them out of the synagogue, which wd make their social and economic lives pretty miserable, not to spk of their religious relationships
and the parents are terrified -- so as soon as they can, they pass the buck back to their son: "He's of age, ask him" -- let him get in trouble, but don't come after us
That might seem remarkable to you: What parent wdn't stand up for his or her child? But in fact, it's all too common, esp. when spiritual growth is at stake
They ought to be glad that their son has been healed, but all they can see is that it has caused THEM a problem -- & behind their obvious fear of the Pharisees, there is more than just a hint of irritation at their son for doing something so inconvenient as actually receiving a miracle from a non-approved rabbi
When I read this story, I can't help but think of the many sad cases I have known where one member of a family experiences a sp. awakening of some sort, only to find that the rest of the family is unsupportive -- or even downright hostile
I've seen it many times in the aftermath of confirmation classes, when yg people stand before the cong. to claim their own faith in Xt -- & then their parents begin to put obstacles in their way to continuing their sp. growth -- the attitude is SS & Church are all very well when you're a kid, but hey -- dontcha wanna play sports, and earn me a trophy? -- for let's be honest, not all the things that compete for our young people's attention do so w/o their parents' approval
I've seen it also in marriages, where one psn wants to get serious about church -- and the other doesn't -- it becomes increasingly difficult for the sp. growing partner to keep up with the new interest -- the same thing happens among groups of friends, where God is seen as a competitor for someone's attention
No, sometimes the people who love us the most don't really want us to receive a miracle -- not if that miracle makes us different from the psn they were used to, and happy w/
I had a parishioner once who was struck by a coal truck -- AND LIVED. He was in ICU for weeks, and therapy for months after that, but he made a complete recovery -- except that his personality changed a bit from having had his brains shook up. Where before he had been quiet and shy, he was now positively chatty -- and it drove his family crazy.
His wife, his sons (who had also survived the wreck), his brothers, even his mother -- cdn't help but tell him that they really preferred the old Mark, and wished they cd have him back
-- & isn't that a heck of a thing to have to deal w/? Whose fault was it, that this man shd come out of his ordeal different from how he went in?
But sometimes the people who love us the most give us the least room to grow into the people God wd have us be
Ya know, everything was just fine before today -- Why cdn't you just stay blind, & keep the Pharisees off our back? Whydja hafta mess w/this Jesus dude?
What happens next is really sad
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, "Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner." He answered, "Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see." They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?" And they reviled him, saying, "You are his disicple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." The man answered, "Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." They answered him, "You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?" And they cast him out.
We tell people that the church is a redemptive community that is eagerly awaiting their repentance -- and it is
but like any human grouping, the church can sometimes tear itself apart with factions and feuds and control issues
And here the man has had hardly a day to get used to the fact that he can now see -- for the first time in his life -- and he has become a football to be kicked around by those who want to use him to win an argument -- because winning has become more important than being right
since they can't punish J, they punish this man -- and he is kicked out of the synagogue -- expelled from the membership
He handles it pretty well, but then, he's probably gotten used to being taken advantage of, of being pitied one moment and shoved out of the way the next
In fact, he shows an amazing integrity -- in all this sorry hugger-mugger of an investigation, he is the only one who keeps to the facts of his encounter with Jesus -- and he insists on them
He doesn't KNOW J. from fried apples -- but he will not badmouth the man who has done him a good deed -- and he will not say obviously stupid things to curry favor with the powerful Pharisees
He is not one of J's followers, but he will stand up for J's obvious goodness -- at least, to him
and for that, he is humiliated and cut off from the company of "decent" people
So he wanders off -- presumably to find better company among the derelicts and petty criminals -- who, for all their sins are at least not hypocrites into the bargain -- when J seeks him out -- prob. in a public place -- like maybe his old begging stoop -- because the Pharisees are also hanging around to overhear:
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you." He said, "Lord, I believe"; and he worshiped him. Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, "Are we also blind?" Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains."
J's qtn about the Son of Man is one which any Jew of that day wd have understood
"Do you believe in the Son of Man" was not just a qtn of theory (i.e., do you believe in the idea of a divine savior coming into the world?) -- it presumes that such a savior is in the world right now -- or has been around recently
J is asking if he is ready to commit himself to following the one sent from God
And the Man Born Blind doesn't kn J is that psn -- he's nvr heard of such a claim, from J or from anybody else -- but he knows the idea of a savior -- he kn. his need for a savior -- and in saying, Tell me who he is, he's volunteering to follow that savior
All he's asking from Jesus is information -- and he trusts that information to be true, because the man who restored his sight must obv. be a GOOD man -- a truth-telling man, and he is willing to commit his soul on the basis of this helpful, kind person's advice (oh, yeah, & the miracle didn't hurt, either)
Even so, it is not our arguments or our preaching or our cleverness that bring sinners to trust in Xt, but the good works we do that gain a hearing for the truth we proclaim
And when J admits that HE is the Son of Man -- something he told very few people, not even his disciples -- the Man Born Blind sees him for what he is, and worships him
The Pharisees are aghast, but then being aghast are what pharisees, ancient & modern, are best at -- J. dismisses them w/a snort -- for all their eyes work, they are the blind ones in this story -- and it is their sin that turns out to be a greater handicap than his previous blindness was to the man born that way
And if I cd sum up the story of the Man Born Blind in just a sentence or 2, I wd say this: There are no sins that can chain you down, but those you insist on calling virtues
never let yourself be argued out of your faith -- faith that God is good, & that he will show his goodness to you, sinner or not -- faith that following Xt is worth all that you have to contend w/ to do so -- faith that every hardship is a chance for God to show what he can do