Christ is risen!
In this morning’s Gospel reading, St. John tells us about a blind beggar whose only source of income was the alms collected while begging at the roadside, where travelers came and went. As Jesus approached, he paused and engaged the beggar in conversation. As Jesus was speaking to the beggar, His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be made manifest in him” (John 9:3). Jesus then spit on the ground and made mud from the saliva and clay. He put the mud on the man’s eyes and told him, “Go wash in the pool of Siloam.” So we understand, the beggar was not going to receive his sight until he went down to the pool of Siloam and washed. In other words, he was granted a wonderful, powerful gift but if he was to choose to accept the gift there was an act of obedience that needed to be carried out.
God created us all with free will. What this means is that we can say “yes” or “no” to anything He proposes to us or asks of us. Yet, God makes it very clear that He desires our obedience. How often do we struggle with that one?
The beggar of whom we hear about this morning was born physically blind. However, we are all born “spiritually blind.” Whatever knowledge and experience we receive early on in life is what we are taught from the cradle. So, if we are born spiritually blind, we are born into spiritual darkness. If we live in spiritual darkness, where, then, does the Light of Knowledge and Salvation come from? The answer is simple. It is the same exact source that granted the beggar his physical sight: Jesus the Christ.
The beggar knew that he was blind and he knew that he wanted to see. But all he could ever do was sit at the roadside, begging for alms. What else could he do? Then Jesus comes along and engages him and offers him his sight. Why did Jesus stop and minister to this one particular man? That becomes obvious. It was a divine appointment. Jesus was compelled by God the Father to engage this one man in the same way He was compelled to minister to the Samaritan woman at the well. It was a divine appointment.
St. John does not tell us that the beggar was the only person that Jesus ministered to; so, it is fair to say that in all probability Jesus ministered to a number of others while he was in town. But, there was a reason that Jesus stopped to speak and minister to the blind beggar. And that reason was not just physical blindness, but spiritual blindness. Spiritual blindness is something that afflicts more people than even physical blindness does. And this is the point Jesus wanted to bring to light, so to speak.
What we see is the omniscience and omnipotence of God at work. He knows the spiritual and physical condition of every person all the time and every time. Just as when Zacchaeus was up in that Sycamore three when Jesus passed by, Jesus knew he was there and knew that Zacchaeus had a strong desire to see Jesus. We might be short in stature and unable to see over the crowd but Jesus sees every one of us no matter what.
When mankind exists in a state of darkness, that is sin, he cannot know the Spirit of Truth and love which comes from God. In a state of darkness, we can easily fall prey to false teachings and false pathways of life which lead to a state of being lost. Man cannot live simply by his own decisions and conscience. One’s conscience must be formed by faith, within the light of Truth, which is Jesus Christ. Then, and only then, can man trust his decisions, knowing that they have been made in the light of the Living Truth which leads all men to true holiness, righteousness, and salvation.
I am a great fan of mysteries and enjoy watching television shows like Columbo, the Hercule Peroit and Miss Marple mysteries and the more contemporary television series like Law and Order and NCIS. Having worked closely with law enforcement as a chaplain for many years, I find myself trying to solve these mysteries based on the clues that are shared before the final solving is made clear. I enjoy a better than average success in doing that. Of course, it is just entertainment. But what it says to me is that we fixated on a path that leads to an unknown. If, at some point, it becomes obvious that it leads to a dead end, we have to go back and pick up another clue or two and follow its path. The important thing to remember is not to follow a false lead that can have many pitfalls along the way.
God is so good that he provides us with a safety net when we get off track. All we need to do is ask HIM and He will put us back on the right track. The paths that lead to dark spiritual places are all paved with temptations. Some powerful allures lurk all along the way. To name a few: sex, money, lust, pride, fear, shame, lust for power and position, greed, etc. These all can be very powerful temptations and even motivators which can easily set us off in the wrong, and oftentimes, disastrous direction.
As we draw near to the close of the Paschal season, I look back to Good Friday and remember the three hours of total darkness that God cast upon all of His creation as His beloved Son hung dying on the Cross. Three hours of darkness with no light of any kind; no ambient light from sun, moon or stars. Certainly, no artificial light! People had no idea whether the world was coming to an end or not or whether they were going to spend the rest of their natural lives in complete and utter darkness. It must have been a very frightening experience, to walk around in complete darkness, not being able to see where one was going. It was also very dangerous, I believe, because without light, a person could fall and get seriously hurt.
That is what it is like to walk around in spiritual darkness, frightening and dangerous. God does not want harm to come to any of His children but He does not force us to do His will or take His advice. He leaves the choice up to us. If we choose to continue living in spiritual darkness then it certainly is our choice. Our choice to do so may sadden God but He is not going to force us to do otherwise.
I do not have to tell you that blindness is a terrible affliction. Our sight is central to so much that we enjoy in the world. Whether it is the beauty of nature, or the smile on another’s person’s face when they see you coming; whether it is the control it gives you over the world around you, or the freedom that it allows you; or simply the awareness of what is going on around you, your sight is vital to you. So, when someone loses their sight, it takes a lot of adjustment. A blind person has to rely on their other senses. Blind people sometimes have to depend on others for things that the rest of us take for granted. If you know someone who is blind or who has failing eyesight, you have an idea of what kind of restrictions they live with. It is not easy.
While physical blindness cannot always be healed, spiritual blindness can be healed. And there are more people who are spiritually blind than there are people who are physically blind. As Jesus heals the beggar’s physical blindness, we discover in the spiritual blindness of some of those who saw and heard about the miracle which Jesus performed.
Light versus darkness is one of the prominent themes that run through St. John’s Gospel and linked with that theme is that of judgment. For example, in the third chapter of John’s Gospel, the Evangelist explores the idea of light and darkness and how it is linked with the true nature of judgment. “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:19-21) Can you see the connection between this theme of light and darkness and blindness and seeing? It is a connection that comes out more strongly as the story in this morning’s Gospel unfolds.
When Jesus tells His disciples that the beggar’s blindness was caused neither by his sins or those of his parents, He actually pointed out their own spiritual blindness. Their presuppositions that the man was born blind because of his sins or those of his parents blinded them first to the possibilities of the situation, and second, to their purpose for being there. Their understanding of the man’s blindness is in fact no different from that of the Pharisees. Their understanding of the world is one of cause and effect. In other words, illness and sickness must be the result of God’s judgment for sin. In the eyes of the disciples and the Pharisee’s whether it is the person’s sin or his parents’ is of no account, but clearly sin must be involved.
This is actually an attitude that you still find among many Christians today. Some people still attribute suffering and illness to sinfulness on the part of those suffering or those who are close to them. But Jesus blows that idea out of the water. He says that the only thing God intends with the beggar’s blindness is that God’s works might be revealed in him. There is nothing sinister about this man’s illness. There is no sense of retribution or punishment associated with it. It is just the way things happen sometimes. But in this particular case, God is going to use the man’s disability to reveal His glory.
Let us not overlook the rebuke Jesus gives His disciples. He says, “We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” In other words, do not let your presuppositions deflect you from the opportunities that God provides for ministry.
How often do we analyze and dissect what we should do instead of acting to bring God’s light into the world? How often do we apply our minds to finding someone else to blame for what we did or getting someone else to do something we should have done? Well, Jesus knows what to do. He spits on the ground, makes some mud and uses it as a salve for the man’s eyes. He then sends the man off to the pool of Siloam which, John tells us, means “Sent.” Perhaps St. John wants to remind us that Jesus is the one who was sent by the Father. So the man goes and washes and we are told that he comes back from the pool with his sight fully restored.
Well, as you might well expect, this causes something of a stir. Everyone who witnessed what took place had known the beggar all his life. He had been blind since birth and now he can see! And so, they all want to know how such a thing came to pass. “Who did this thing?” they ask. And the man tells them that is was Jesus.
If this happened today, most of us would scoff at the idea of a miracle. Miracles do not happen. Claims of miracles are just in the minds of religious fanatics or weirdos; people who are not all there. Most of us would try to find some natural reason for what happened or we would just ridicule the man. That is what happened back then. The people did not know what to believe. Was it something supernatural or was it just a fluke, some kind of extraordinary natural occurrence? To find out, the people take the beggar to the Pharisees to get their “expert” opinion.
And here is where spiritual blindness comes out in full force. The Pharisees, of course, know all about Jesus. They have already formed their opinion about Him and even passed judgment on Him. It does not take them long to accuse Jesus of more wrongdoing and leading the people astray. Now, they accuse and chastise Him for healing on the Sabbath. Even to the extent of making mud in order to do it! So, what is their verdict about this latest offense? Well, they cannot deny the reality of the miracle, no matter how hard they try. The man can clearly see. Though they try their best to find some loophole, some explanation other than a miracle to explain why a man born blind now sees as clearly as they do, they fail in their attempt. So they take another path. They accuse Jesus of violating the Law, saying, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” I think we have heard that one many times before. Their position is fixed and quite clear. It is all about the Law. In their eyes, Jesus cannot be from God because He does not follow the established Law.
We begin to see how their traditions, their age-old interpretations of the law, bind them to reality. In fact, as the interview continues, the contrast becomes even more apparent. This simple beggar, who is presumably without any education, can see clearly what has happened. He says to the Pharisees about Jesus, “He is a prophet.” But the Pharisees rebuke him, falling back only upon what they know. “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man responds in amazement: “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where He comes from, yet he opened my eyes. WE know that God does not listen to sinners, but He does listen to one who worships Him and obeys His will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this is not from God, He could do nothing.”
The reality of Jesus’ origin is blatantly clear to the man born blind and now healed, yet the Pharisees refuse to acknowledge it. Faced by this rebuff from an ignorant peasant they snap back, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” Like the disciples, they believed that blindness is the judgment of God on sin, so they can dismiss everything the man says because obviously he was born in sin. But were they not also born in sin?
So here we have a man who was born blind but now can see, but whose ability to see clearly goes beyond the physical to the spiritual, while those who are meant to be the spiritual guides of Israel are shown to be spiritually blind. Bu that is not the end of the story, is it? There is more to come, as we discover the relationship between sight and belief, blindness and judgment, and guilt.
After he heals the beggar, Jesus goes looking for the man and when he finds him, asks him not whether his eyesight is better, but whether he believes in the Son of Man. You see the discovery that he has made, that Jesus is a prophet sent from God, needs to be grounded in the full reality of who Jesus is. He is the Son of Man, the one who, in the Book of Daniel, is given all authority and dominion; who in the Gospel of St. John is the one who will be lifted up, and who will judge all the earth. And it is important that he does not just acknowledge that the Son of Man exists but that he puts his trust in Him.
The response of the man is not only to acknowledge his belief in Jesus, but to worship Him. His eyes have been opened to the whole reality of who Jesus is. His worship, in fact, is a sign that Jesus is not just a prophet, but truly the Son of Man, the one whom all peoples will worship on the last day. Jesus’ response is to say, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do not see may become blind.”
Some of the Pharisees who were listening at this moment understood what Jesus was saying was directed toward them. They ask Jesus whether he is accusing them of being blind. His reply is enigmatic: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” They are blind, in fact, but their claim to be able to see establishes their culpability. The Pharisees claim to be able to see, to have not only physical sight but spiritual sight as well, but when the light of Christ comes into their midst they run from it. Jesus’ very presence among them blinded them to the things they should have been able to see all along, even as it opened the eyes of others who perhaps did not have the enlightenment of the learned Pharisees.
The message we should take from this morning’s Gospel is first to think about the way we see things. That is, how is our spiritual vision? Are we open to seeing God at work in every circumstance or pour we blinded at times by our theological, professional or rationalist presuppositions? Is our spiritual sight blinded by the various traumas of life we have experienced over the years? It is easy when you are strongly convinced of your own position to close your mind to anything that falls outside the familiar. So, for example, those who come from a well thought out evangelical tradition may have some difficulty with the experiences of the Church’s liturgical worship or Her various traditions. Conversely, those who are members of the Church may question the rock and roll flavor of evangelical Protestant worship as being inappropriate for the worship of God. We know, of course, and without any doubt, that the most perfect worship of God is found in the Divine Liturgy; it is also the most perfect prayer to the Almighty. This we know to be true because we let the facts speak for themselves.
The danger we live with today is that we frequently form our opinions or make judgments based upon precedent rather than from reality. We judge from what we have been taught, or from what we have worked out by our own reasoning, rather than letting the facts speak for themselves; or holding off judgment until all the facts become evident. That is the contrast into today’s Gospel message, is it not? The Pharisees looked at what happened and got out their law book to help them pass judgment, while the beggar looked at what happened and let the facts speak for themselves. And what was the end result? Judgment was passed, but it was not the judgment that the Pharisees had in mind. The judgment that was passed was that those who were blind regained their sight, while those whose eyes were closed to the reality of Jesus’ work, had their guilt made visible for all to see.
Is seeing believing? What do you do when the truth is staring you right in the face? Do we believe or do you continue in your disbelief? Are you looking to see God at work in the world or do you stand firm in your refusal to acknowledge His presence and work among us? Are you content to remain in spiritual darkness or are you going to take action and seek to become children of the Light as God desires us to be?
Think about these words of Jesus which He spoke to His disciples: “We must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” They are His words to us as well today. Consider this interpretation of them, if you will: We must do the works of the Lord while we have life for when we are dead, no one can work. Today’s Gospel message is not just about light and darkness, or blindness and sight; it is about life and death as well. Doing the works of God gives life. Not doing the works of God brings suffering and death, spiritual death, to those who ignore the Word of the Lord.
Let us not remain in spiritual darkness, brothers and sisters. Let us, like the blind man, receive the healing of the Lord, wash our eyes and open them so that we may see the reality of God’s presence and work in our lives, the community in which we live, and our world. Then, let us carry on the work of the Lord while we still have the time, for death can come to any of us at any moment and there will no longer be any opportunities to do good; all there will be at that point is judgment.