1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41
“Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?” Jesus said, “You’re asking the wrong question: You’re looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do.” - The Message John 9:1-3
We do that don’t we? We look for whom to blame. We accuse God of inflicting punishment when something goes bad. <story> I don’t believe that God does that. I am not saying that God can’t or that God doesn’t, but I think we blame God for things that just happen. Genetic mutations happen, sometimes for the good and sometimes not so good. And I am certainly not saying that there aren’t consequences to our actions. If I drink or do drugs while I am pregnant then I should not be surprised if my child is born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. We have heard of the tragedy of Thalidomide babies and the sorrow of mothers who thought they were taking a safe medication. Rather than blame we should ask, “How can we learn from this tragedy? What can God do? How can God make good come out of this bad situation?”
Then Jesus heals the man born blind. How amazing this must have been! Even today with modern medicine the recovery of sight is pretty amazing. Just ask any of us who have had cataract surgery. It makes compelling reading to read of doctors’ attempts and successes and failures in healing those born blind. It is not just healing blindness, but the brain then needs to learn what to do with the new information it is receiving, how to interpret it and how to integrate it with other information such as sound.
When the man in our story was healed there was great excitement, but there were those who refused to believe that the man had ever been blind or that he even was the blind man. The Pharisees even call his parents to confirm that he was their son and that he had been born blind. We would have expected the parents to rejoice in the healing of their son, but instead they are intimidated by the Pharisees, acknowledging their son but refusing to comment on his healing for fear of being thrown out of the synagogue.
When they finally accepted that the healed man had been born blind but could now see, the Pharisees refused to see God’s hand in the healing because it happened on the Sabbath. Why was it easier to see the healing as an act of evil than an act of good? The Pharisees refused to see the Sabbath as a gift from God; the people weren’t created for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath was created for the people. God commands that we take a day of rest and that we set aside a day for God, but this does not exclude acts of kindness and healing. It doesn’t matter when we rest or when we worship God. It is a matter of convenience to agree to gather on Sunday morning to worship God. Then we know when to come and visitors know when to come, but God is present when we worship on Wednesday and other days of the week. Some of us work on the weekend and so take our rest on Tuesday or Wednesday. It is not so important as to when we rest or when we worship, but that we do rest and that we do worship in community.
Today’s gospel story is not just about physical blindness but also about spiritual blindness. Some of the people refused to see a miracle, a sign from God in the healing of the blind man. I just don’t understand why they would prefer to see the healing as a work of the devil than as a work of God. The author of the Gospel of John tells us at the end of chapter 20 that he told these stories so that we might believe that Jesus is the Messiah, so that we might believe that Jesus is the Son of God and so that in believing we might have eternal life. John wants us to believe that God reveals himself through Jesus, that in getting to know Jesus, we get to know God, that in seeing Jesus, we see God; that in hearing Jesus, we hear God.
In John seeing is tied to hearing. Jesus sees the tragedy of a man blind from birth. Jesus has mercy on the man and heals him. At the same time Jesus enters into dialog with his disciples, with the healed man, with the Pharisees. They talk about what the blindness and then the healing mean. They talk about how this conflicts with accepted understandings and beliefs about how things work. They talk about how this healing contradicts their understanding of God and how he acts. They talk about how this healing breaks the natural law and God’s law. In the discussion their understanding of who Jesus is progresses from a man to a prophet to one followed by disciples to one from God to one who can be worshipped as God. And for others, they remain blind unable to see the possibilities of God working in their world outside their established beliefs and understanding; they remain blind to the possibility of God making something good out of something bad, choosing to limit the powers of God to what they believe. When tragedy comes to your life, as it will, be prepared to ask what God can do to bring good out of this situation, be open to seeing God active in your life and our community. Amen.