Richard Maxwell

Lent 4 A
30 March 2014
Grace Episcopal Church

In the Name of God:  Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Light and darkness.  That’s what today’s Gospel story is all about:  light coming into darkness.  Before telling us the about the miracle, the author of today’s story is careful to have Jesus point out the meaning of what’s going to happen.  This is a story of how a man who sat in darkness was brought to see the light, not only physically but also spiritually.  On the other hand, is it also a story of how those who thought they saw – the Pharisees – were blinding themselves to the light and plunging into darkness.

The actual telling of the miracle today only takes a couple of verses:  Jesus spits on the ground, makes some mud, puts it on the blind man’s eyes and tells him to go wash it off.  He does.  And the man returns to his home, able to see.  Rather than the miracle, the real focus of the story is all the questioning and answering that people engage in about this event.  In each of these interrogations the former blind man makes statements that show an ever deepening understanding of who Jesus is.  When his neighbors first discover that this fellow can now see, all he can say about the person who performed this miracle is that he is “the man they call Jesus.”  But then the Pharisees press him, asking more probing questions, and he is able to say that Jesus is a “prophet.”  By the time the Pharisees conduct their final interrogation, this man who has been given his sight is an ardent defender of Jesus’ cause:  he says that what Jesus has done shows that he is “from God.”  And finally, in the climactic scene of the story when Jesus himself questions him, the man comes to see Jesus as “the Son of Man.”

Now, while the former blind man is gradually having his eyes opened to the truth about Jesus, the Pharisees are becoming more and more stubborn in their refusal to see this truth.  In their preliminary interrogation they seem to accept the fact of the healing.  While some of them are offended by the violation of the Sabbath rules – Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath – others seem willing to be convinced about the reality of this miracle, and to hear the former blind man’s evaluation of Jesus.  But in the second questioning those who are the most hostile dominate the scene.  They have begun to doubt the reality of the miracle itself and seek to show, through the testimony of the man’s parents, that he never was blind in the first place.  In their final interrogation of the man, all interest in seeing where the truth lies has disappeared; the Pharisees try to trap the man by having him repeat the details of the miracle.  No matter what he may say about all this, they refuse to accept Jesus’ heavenly origins.  Their legal procedure disintegrates and they simply vilify the witness.  At the end of the story the Pharisees who sat in judgment on the miracle are themselves judged guilty by Jesus.

Look closely at this story sometime . . . the portraits of increasing insight and hardening blindness are masterfully drawn.  Three times the former blind man . . . who is truly gaining knowledge . . . humbly confesses his ignorance.  Three times the Pharisees . . . who are really plunging deeper into abysmal ignorance of Jesus . . . make confident statements about what they know of him.  The story is a beautiful acting out of the triumph of light over darkness.

Try to imagine yourself in this story.  Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be blind?  As children, we all may have played some version of blind man’s bluff . . . we may have toyed with the idea of not being able to see.  I know I did.  A few times in my life I’ve slept in a totally darkened room and, awakening in the middle of the night, have not been able to see – literally – my own hand.  I haven’t liked those experiences.  Some of us may have had an injury or a disease that has threatened our eyesight, and perhaps impaired it, so we have a real knowledge of what it is to be threatened with total blindness.  But for most of us, it’s difficult really to imagine.  And I think it must be IMPOSSIBLE for any of us sitting here to imagine what it would be like NEVER to have seen . . . to have always sat in darkness.

And so I think it’s also impossible for us really to imagine what it would be like, having been blind, suddenly to SEE.  I’ve tried.  I’ve tried to imagine what it would have been like for that man in today’s story to go to the pool and wash off the mud caking his eyes . . . and suddenly . . . to SEE.  To see his own hands.  The muddy water.  When he looked up, what was the first thing he saw?  Someone’s face?  Would it have been possible, when the water became still again, for him to see his OWN face for the first time?  Would such a possibility have even occurred to him?  Would the shapes he saw make any sense to him?  And what about COLOR?  I simply can’t imagine what such an experience would be like.  Although I have sometimes wondered if . . . bewildered by everything he’s seeing for the first time . . . if he had to close his eyes to find his way home.

The transformation would be astounding.  We DO hear in the story, that some of his friends and neighbors don’t even recognize him when he returns home.  I can’t really picture it.

And it seems that lots of other people can’t really picture it, either . . . and don’t want to . . . some of those Pharisees, for example.  Ah, the Pharisees . . . they’re awfully fun to kick around, aren’t they?  So unimaginative, so rigid, so caught up in rules . . . they so carefully codify behavior . . . it’s so clear to them just how a good Jew is supposed to behave and worship.  But you know, they’re not all so bad.  Have you ever tried putting yourself in their shoes?  They’re simply trying to figure out how God-loving people should live out their lives and worship God.  That’s a GOOD thing.  The problem comes when, in trying to set parameters for human behavior, limits are also placed on how God should act.  Just a moment ago I very consciously used the phrase “God-loving people” rather than the more traditional phrase “God-fearing people.”  I did this because when rules and regulations for behavior and worship become too strict, the emotion at work is not love, but fear . . . and this is NOT a good thing.

Remember . . . at the beginning of today’s story, some of the Pharisees seem open to the possibility that Jesus is from God . . . while others are not.  The problem is that Jesus was “working,” if you will, on the Sabbath.  Our text says:  “Some of the Pharisees said, ’This man is not of 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.”  You see, some of the Pharisees are open to the possibility of something new.  It’s just that the more rigid, out-spoken, and fearful among them take the floor and won’t relinquish it.  The others, who are less rigidly fearful, hold their peace and disappear from the scene . . . perhaps literally.  That’s not so uncommon is it?

Light coming into darkness.  How amazing . . . how marvelous . . . how beautiful . . . because everything is new.  Think of the blind man seeing for the first time.  Light coming into darkness.  It can also be profoundly unsettling . . . disorienting . . . even frightening . . . because everything is new.  Think of the Pharisees.

None of us has perfect eyesight . . . at least not spiritually.  That is not a fault.  It simply is true.  It is the human condition to have limited sight.  The question is what do we do with this limitation?  Do we hold onto what we think we see so tightly that we close our eyes to the light of Christ and plunge into darkness?  Or, do we bring our impaired vision to Jesus and wash our eyes of the mud that cakes them?  Come Easter, will we allow ourselves to be dazzled by the light of Christ . . . by the vision of a new world given to us by Jesus, a world of unity and love and peace that we’ve never seen before, but which is ours for the taking?  Will we embrace the light?  Will we walk into the light?  It’s a choice . . . .

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