Preached at St Mary the Virgin, Oak Bay
Gospel: John 9. All of it.
I’d like to invite you to go for a walk with me …
I’m not going to ask you to get up and follow me down to Oak Bay Avenue or anything, but lets go for a walk together in our imaginations…
It is a wonderful day to be outside. Spring is in the air!
Today is a day of rest so no one is working – in fact working today is actively discouraged – and this means that the streets are full, but not overcrowded, with people outside and there is that quiet hubbub of voices filling, but not overpowering, the air around us.
You’re walking with a group of friends and one of them is the group leader. He is wise and you’ve enjoyed getting to know him these last three years. He has done some pretty incredible things over the time you’ve been walking the around countryside with him, and it always seems like there is more to learn.
As you walk along, you see a familiar-looking man up ahead. You’ve seen him around town a lot. He is memorable because he is blind, and you’ve heard that he was born that way.
Because he is blind, the man is not invited to participate in anything in society – and we see this in how the people walking down the street part so as to avoid him, being careful not to touch him lest they become contaminated by him. As if blindness is catching.
Thinking this might be another opportunity to learn something from the wise group leader, you and your friends pause, point to the blind man, and ask,
Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?
It is obvious – someone must have sinned, or else why would the man be blind? Blindness or any other kind of illness or unpleasantness is the result of sin, right?
As far as society is concerned, it is. This man needed to be kept on the margins because he must have sinned. His blindness would be secondary – the fact that he was blind was evidence of sin and therefore of a ruptured relationship between him and God which CANNOT BE HEALED
Our group leader looks at the man who is blind, and then looks back at his group of followers, saying,
Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.
Or, in other words:
Don’t look for a cause and effect between sin and sickness. There isn’t one. Look instead for what God can do here…
Look instead for what God can do.
And as if in demonstration of that statement, our group leader and teacher, our Rabbi, Jesus, turns and stops the man. Then he bends down and spits into the dust on the ground, stirs it around, and makes a muddy paste. He takes the paste and puts it on the man’s unseeing eyes and says,
Go and wash in the pool of Siloam.
The pool of Siloam is over in the area of the temple and so the man leaves to makes his way over there.
I wonder if he had ever been near the pool before?
Some scholars think that the pool of Siloam might have been a mikveh, a pool used for ritual cleaning before going into the temple for prayer so that one might be washed clean before entering the presence of God. It would qualify for being such a pool because it was constantly refilled with naturally flowing spring water that was always moving, always circulating. It was living water.
Living water that cleanses us before God.
But as a blind man, a man considered to be unclean and perpetually in a state of fractured relationship because of his blindness, would he have been allowed to come near the pool?
It must have taken a lot of courage to believe in a man he could not see who told him to go and wash in a place he might get in trouble for being at.
Perhaps he had a well-developed sense of hearing to compensate for his blindness, perhaps he heard something in Jesus’ voice that others did not always hear.
All we know is that he went
And could see
And in doing so he demonstrates that the relationship between him and God, between him and his neighbours, is not broken but is dramatically and visually reconciled and that he should be included in society.
Can you imagine?! Imagine the ruckus that this must have caused! Everyone all around stopping to say – Hey! I know that man! But… isn’t he blind?!?
Naturally, all of the commotion draws the attention of some of the religious authorities.
I mean, a blind man who can now see is noteworthy – is extraordinary. They need to find out who did it. And they need to find out NOW, because whoever it was did an unlawful action on the Sabbath and THAT is the ultimate no-no. No joy for the man-who-was-blind-but-now-can-see, no remarks at his wholeness. Just anger about it happening on the Sabbath.
So they call the man-who-was-blind-but-now-can-see and question him.
And they immediately start from the premise that whoever healed him is a sinner. Because obviously only sinners do things like this on the Sabbath. In a train of thought directly opposite to what Jesus has earlier said to his disciples, these religious leaders have found a cause and presumed the effect and never stopped to think about what God could do.
Not only that but they don’t believe that the man had been blind in the first place. SO they send for his parents.
His parents, understandably, are reluctant to get involved. But they do confirm that yes, he is their son and yes, he was born blind.
So the authorities haul back the man-who-was-blind-but-now-can-see and what he sees is a group of authorities trying to back him into a corner, trying to keep him out of society…
He has found himself in a place that is uncomfortable: he is right with God but is at odds with the powerful, with the status quo, and he has the courage to say again and again that which he knows to be true.
I was blind and now I can see. He opened my eyes. He reconciled me to my community. You say he is a sinner, but how could he do this if he was! No, this man is from God and he has brought the grace of God into my life. I believed his words and washed in living water and I am whole.
The authorities, not liking his statement, throw him out.
But our excitement-filled walk is not yet over.
Filled with compassion for the man-who-was-blind-but-now-can-see, Jesus seeks him out to talk with him.
Do you believe in the Son of Man?
Who is that? I want to know who he is so that I can believe!
You have heard him and you have now seen him. He is the one speaking to you.
Lord. I believe!
Lord, I believe.
Believe is perhaps not quite the right word to be translated here. It needs to encompass a little more strength and a little more relationship.
The man-who-was-blind-but-now-can-see doesn’t just believe in Jesus. He trusts him. He commits to Jesus. He joins his life to Jesus.
If that phrase “I believe” sounds a little familiar, consider the Creeds we say:
I believe in one God, the Father Almighty … and in one Lord Jesus Christ … and in the Holy Ghost …
We believe in God: we trust in God. We commit to God. In saying these words we join our lives to the one whom the words are about.
And, in the manner of our gospel reading, we are making a statement about having sight and our commitment to seeing.
Our gospel this morning closes with a conversation between Jesus and the religious authorities that encapsulates the irony that is underlying this entire story:
The man-who-was-blind-but-now-can-see started off with unseeing eyes but with a sight that sees who Jesus really is and understands faith.
The religious leaders are proud of their seeing eyes but fail to see and understand who Jesus is and what he is doing.
The one who is blind has sight. Those who can see are blind.
Surely we are not blind, are we?
Look for what God can do…