Don't make assumptions. People get resentful about it. They want you to know who they are, they want you to notice them, but only reveal who they are to a point. The rest is for Jesus.
This sermon is quite a bit different from how it was written, therefore, please listen to the sermon rather than read it. The sermon notes which are included for convenience.
Sermon delivered at Lutheran Church of the Cross in Berkeley.
March 26 - 4th Sunday in Lent
"Seeing". Text is from John 9:1-41
Good morning to you my sisters and brothers in Christ, saints and sinners, children of God.
This morning's gospel reading is a pretty long one, one of the longest in our lectionary outside of Christmas and Easter. And it has another remarkable thing about it. Look here, we first have Jesus giving this man eyesight, and then he is brought before the Pharisees, questioned mercilessly... his parents are questioned, they tell them that he's all grown up, he can speak for himself, and then they question him once more and finally when they don't get the answers they want, they expel him from the synagogue.
And after all that, Jesus seeks him out, and finds him. And with all that happens in the interim, it is the longest absence of Jesus in the entire gospel, with the exception perhaps, depending on how you look at it, of the Easter Narrative.
But there is also one other little detail I think I really need to point out. At the beginning of the reading, Jesus's disciples ask him if the man was blind because he or his parents were sinners. Jesus responds, "No, neither they nor he sinned." That's just not the reason that this fellow is in the condition that he is in.
But Jesus says something next, and this is one of those places that our bible translation is just being a little bit too helpful. It reads, "He was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work." If that sounds I little problematic, that God made this man blind so Jesus could come across him at this moment and have a miracle occur, it's important to note that the original Greek doesn't actually have, "He was born blind." That's something the translators here thought to include to help with what they perceived to be ambiguous.
But here's another fact. The original Greek texts from which we have gotten our translations, do not contain any punctuation. We add that later on so we can read it. And so sometimes we have the ability to look at words, particularly ambiguous ones, that may refer to one thing and may refer to another. Bearing that in mind, we can read that like this: "Neither this man nor his parents sinned. In order that God's works might be revealed in him, we must work the works of him who sent me while it is day. Night is coming when no one can work. This man was born blind, because... he was born blind.
It was not a moral failing on the part of his parents or a curse on their house or a setup for Jesus to come along and fix him right up. No, he was a man born blind and happened to be at the right place and at the right time for Jesus to come along when a miracle was needed.
And while "never before had anyone seen a person born blind have their sight restored to them," we cannot say the same now, because thanks to modern medicine, this miracle takes place regularly...if you were born with the right kind of blindness. And while we are focused on the miracle itself, it might not always be easy to read what else is in the text.
This man has his sight restored but as for all of the other problems. The only thing he knows how to do in this world is beg. He cannot go back to that but fully grown, he doesn't have a trade. And whereas he had a community of people before...his family were members at the synagogue...he himself was apparently a member, he's been thrown out of it now. And he still has all the aches and pains and prejudices and personality quirks that some might call character defects, others might call them defense mechanisms. This man, despite being able to suddenly see still has all that.
And because he is faulty, because he is subject to failure from time to time, because although his blindness was not a result of any moral deficiency, this man is altogether too human, just like the rest of us, he still needs a savior. And passage has everything in it, the incredible transformation of blindness into seeing, the failure to recognize and acknowledge the man's identity, the rejection of him from the community of the synagogue...Jesus doesn't leave him to figure everything out by himself, he gifts him faith.
No longer is this mean expected to contend with a transformation that comes from without, because he is now able to see, and yet, this wonder of new sight, for the incredible worth that it is, does not effectively change who this man is. He is still an ordinary man, just now able see around him, and in being able to see, he is suddenly seen as well. Because before he was just generally cast aside and ignored, he was in a world consigned to begging, even his parents wanted nothing to do with him. Now to the Pharisees, he is a threat, a danger, evidence of the mastery that Jesus Christ has in the world...Jesus...A man who was able to perform miracles, even on the Sabbath!
This man's savior is here... a Messiah, who is able to show him a love that knows no limit, real transformation begins. It is the blindness of the Pharisees that becomes underscored at this point. And here, blindness is now figurative. In their "seeing" they presume to know more about the Messiah than the man before him, the one who told the blind man that he was the Son of Man. Because Jesus lays bare who people are.
One of the biggest struggles in my life has been the realization that I do not know everything about everyone. And it has been literally eye-opening for me to have conversations with people who are not lie me in some way or another and to learn what makes them tick. And sometimes, quite inadvertently, what ticks them off.
But I think the worst way to interact with someone is to speak with them while making assumptions about them. It doesn't matter whether the assumptions are based in fact or imagination, people don't want to offer up information that they themselves have not provided. And it is then I have the eye-opening experience of someone's resentment or anger.
But we are revealed to ourselves by the miracle of Jesus' healing. We become the people we are meant to be, discovered and seen by Jesus' healing touch. Once baptized by water and spirit and now anointed by mud and breath, the scales fall from our eyes and we see the lord God and know that all is good. That despite the perceptions of those around us, someone sees us for who we really are, not how we seem to the world to be, nor how we sometimes cover ourselves with our own illusions. Jesus takes the things blocking our vision and we truly see.
And we become his disciples and share this good news with all of those around, in order that His Gospel be proclaimed. We worship God because of all that God has done for us. The Holy Spirit enters us and we become Jesus's evangelists, doing his good works in the universe, while proclaiming Christ our Savior. And we live with him as our king.