Then Their Eyes Were Open
A joke, if you will.
Sherlock Holmes and his pal Dr. Watson went on a camping trip. And after a good meal and a roasting some marshmallows by the fire, they both turned in for the night and went to sleep.
Some hours later, Holmes awoke and nudged his faithful friend.
“Watson,” He said. “Look up and tell me what you see.”
“I see millions and millions of stars.” Dr. Watson observed.
“What does that tell you?” Holmes asked.
Watson pondered for a minute.
He replied, “Hmmm…Astronomically speaking, I suppose it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically speaking, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, I can see that God is all-powerful and that we are small and insignificant. Meteorologically speaking, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Why?” Dr. Watson asked. “What does it tell you?”
Holmes said, “Watson… you idiot, someone has stolen our tent.”
As Sherlock Holmes and his faithful sidekick Dr. Watson tell us, sometimes we can be blind to what is going on right in our midst, right in front of us. And the same can be said for us Spiritually. So, today we will be talking about a kind of spiritual blindness, taking about those moments when we cannot see what God is doing right in front of our faces… and, of course, the implications that this spiritual blindness has on our lives.
Now, let’s walk through our passage a bit. Directly before this morning’s passage (that _______ so patiently read for us) Jesus was teaching in the Temple. And he says something there that was so shocking and blasphemous to those present, that the Jews in the Temple pick up rock ammo and are preparing to stone him to death. But, somehow, he manages to escape (along with his disciples); he melts into the crowd and makes his way off the Temple grounds. Yet, along his escape route, he stumbles upon the man who was born blind, that is the only name that the Gospel of John offers us. So Jesus stops. He is in the middle of a dramatic escape from the Temple mob, and yet he stops for this man.
In this moment of pause, the disciples who are with him look at this man that has Jesus’ attention and they would have seen a beggar (in this day there is no commission for the visually impaired, there is no Braille or educational opportunities for the blind, there is no job-training). They look at this man and they see a hopeless beggar and they see a theological conundrum. Note, that the Gospel of John made it very clear that this man was born blind, that this was now the result of an injury, or accident, or age. And the teachings of the day told people that “the sins of the father… were the sins of the son.” So, the disciples look at the man and they see a question about sin and about punishment. So, they ask Jesus, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
And as an answer, Jesus, looks at this man (the beggar on the corner- an yet still a beautiful child of God) and he tell his disciples what he sees.
Right there in front of him is not just a man afflicted… but an opportunity to show the world what God is up to. Jesus looks at a man burdened with a lifelong struggle, and he knows that the goodness of God can be revealed through him, right here – right now. Even on the fly as he escapes the Temple mob…
So Jesus, casually, as if he does this sort of thing every day, spits on the ground, and makes mud with his spit, and he rubs the mud on the man’s eyes. Spit laced mud is the healing balm of God for today – and then he sends the blind man to a pool called “Sent,” with instructions to wash.
So the man goes… likely carrying a deep since of doubt that anything could possibly heal him, let alone mus… But still, he goes.
And the story follows him as he goes to the pool called “sent” washes, and has his whole world opened up!
With eyes wide he struts back through his neighborhood, grinning ear to ear… seeing shapes, light, color… seeing the faces that match familiar voices… likely leaping for joy!
And as with any community… all the neighbors start talking. “Isn’t that the man that used to sit on the corner begging…? Isn’t that him? No it couldn’t be, he’s blind… this man can clearly see!”
And so enters the next conundrum for the story. At the beginning the disciples had a theological question… and now we see a community that it utterly confused at the possibility of a blind man miraculously healed.
So the interrogation starts. He is asked in at least three different settings to recount and clarify his story. Now, the Gospels are not filled with flowery word, and long pose… they get to the point… So the fact that he is ask repeatedly mean that he was really grilled!
Now the rumbling of the town – all the gossip, is likely to make its way back to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of this community, and true to form, they pull the man that was once blind aside (along with his family) and they join in the interrogations. The Pharisees where the well trained, educated, respected leaders of the community… they were the ones that could speak doctrine and religious law with the best of them… they were known for their status, and (biblically speaking) they often made a good example of hard-headedness, hypocrisy, and arrogance… They did everything they could to try and explain away the miracle, to say that Jesus didn’t have the kind of power to do this… yet the proof sat right in front of them. If Serlock Homes thought Dr. Watson was an idiot for not noticing the tent was go… These Pharisee had a serious blind spot when in came to the work of Christ.
Yet, while being interrogated by curious community members and stubborn Pharisees… we get to hear the fascinating answers he provides! He first says, simply and truthfully, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes He told me to go and wash… so I did… and now I see!” But when he is asked again… and he says, “It was the prophet Jesus.” Then again “It was a godly man Jesus.” His description of the one who healed him grows and changes until he is calling Christ the “Son of man!” and “My Lord!”
We, the audience, we are not just witnessing a physical healing… but we are witnessing something far more important! A slow, but developing, spiritual awakening!
Receiving the gift of sight was just the beginning for this man. It grew into the gift of spiritual sight as well! It keeps growing until Jesus returns to him, seeking him out, and the man who was once blind professes, “Lord, I believe!”
It wasn’t the gift of sight (the miracle) that made this man towards believe… that was just the start of his journey towards spiritual sight! He is kind of like Nicodemus in that his belief was something that took time to marinate and grow before it became a real living and breathing faith.
Then the bombshell of the story is dropped…Christ says “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” In a story of gifting sight… it seems odd that the punch line involves becoming blind.
Now, we all know the words to Amazing Grace, yes? This song is something that we know like the back of our hands: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see.”
But to be true to the text that these lyrics come from they probably should say, “I once could see, but now I am blind.” Doesn’t have quite the same ring to it though…
Yet, Jesus says, “Those who see will become blind…” Let’s unpack this a little.
Jesus is talking here to all the doubters that we encounter in this story. All of those that have blind spots and have refused to see this miracle… The disbelieving neighbors… the mod that had chased Christ out of the Temple… the arrogant Pharisees that was trying to discredit a gift from God… This is a message for all the doubters.
These are the people who assumed that they knew how God worked… those that said the Son of Man couldn’t heal on the Sabbath day because that is what Scripture says… those that doubted that a beggar on a street corner could ever possible be worthy of the healing and blessing of our Lord! This is a message for all those who are spiritually blind! Stumbling in the spiritual darkness of ignorance, hypocrisy, and false assumption.
Jesus says, “Those who see will become blind.” This is a call to confession! These words from Christ are a call to willingly acknowledge that we don’t really know what we are doing in this world. This is a call to surrender, and let Jesus take over.
Because we, often, make a mess out of things when we assume that we have faith, God, the church, our ministry, our lives figured out. Don’t we?
Jesus is asking us to willingly claim that we are spiritually blind – to confess that we have been stumbling around in the dark this whole time. Running into things with our arrogance, knocking tables over with our assumptions, treading on the toes of hospitality, falling down stairs with our own disregard to our brothers and sisters… making a mess out of ourselves and everyone we run into.
We are already blind, but are we willing to admit it?
If, all of a sudden, the sun was to extinguish, the lights shut off, and the candles blew out… and we were cast into total darkness. How would we react? After a few moments of confusion… (while trying to keep panic at bay). We might get up and try and make our way to the windows and the doors. We would reach out for familiar hands, looking for help to guide and protect us…
In total darkness, we would move gently, wouldn’t we? We would get up from our pew… and feel our way around, we would move with caution, we would pause in the parlor knowing that there is a couple of steps to manage before you get to the door. We would check on and call out to our neighbors, hold tight to their hands. We would pray. We would move slowly and tread easily…
To acknowledge our blindness, to wade through darkness, we might be able to learn from it! We would become cautious, we become attuned to each other, in the darkness we admit that we need help.
Have you ever noticed in Scripture that there is this common theme of three days of darkness before important things to happen? Such as: Jonah spent three days in the belly of the whale. Cut off from light. Jesus spent three days in a tomb. A cave of darkness. Paul spent three days blind in Damascus.
I read a sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor this week (a preacher I really enjoy reading) and she mentioned this three days of darkness theme… saying that from the earliest of times people learned that that was how long they had to wait in the dark before the silver of the new moon appeared in the sky. For three days every month people practiced resurrection.[i] Three days of darkness, in hope of a waiting light!
Grace came from darkness. Hope comes from having waited out darkness. True Spiritual awakening comes from admitting our own blindness.
Next week is communion Sunday. Often times we look forward to communion as a time to meditate on our Lord, a time to engage our spiritual traditions. But this next Sunday, lets make communion about surrender. About acknowledging that we need help in the dark… that we need our great Guide to keep us from bruising and breaking ourselves or others as we stumble around. Lets make this next week about acknowledging our Spiritual blindness, in the hope of the light that awaits us.
I read an article recently about the weird things that kids do when being served communion, and how more adults should do these things. The article talked about how kids run down the aisle (eager for the feast to start), how kids bring their stuffed animals with them (because they know that everyone is welcome at God’s table). They drink every drop of juice and they ask for more, they want the big piece of bread. They laugh, they say thank you, and sometimes they even take extra bread for later on or they seek out the left-overs.[ii]
Could you image if we engaged communion with this child like innocence and trust that God’s got us? If we ran down the aisle, knowing what awaits us is a gift? If we laughed and brought our friends with us? If we savored every bite, and then asked for more?
The table of Christ is a place of receiving light, love, and grace.
But to truly come to the banquet feast, having already spent our time in the darkness. Imagine how good that feast of light and salvation will taste!
Three days in the tomb. With the hope that light and grace awaits.
Three days of putting on Blindness so that we can relearn what it is to live with care and concern for our neighbors. Third days in darkness, with the great feast of homecoming waiting for you on the other end.
Jesus said that those who see (or think they see) you need to become blind. To take on darkness, in the hope that light awaits you.
I’ll close out time of message with a passage from Ephesians 5
“For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth). Everything exposed by the light become visible- and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. This is why it is said: ‘Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.’”
[i] Taylor, Barbara Brown. “Light without Sight: A different way of seeing”. Learning to Walk in Darkness.