Lent 4: “Seeing”
March 22, 2020 – John 9; Ephesians 5.
Based heavily on a work by Rev. David Schmitt.
Have you ever noticed how John, in his gospel, takes us into small personal encounters with Jesus? Rather than give us an overview of Jesus’ ministry, listing regions and various kinds of healing, John takes us into the heart of Jesus’ work, asking us to meditate on how He interacts with people: Jesus and Nicodemus, Jesus and John the Baptist, Jesus and the Samaritan woman, etc. Today, it is Jesus and the man born blind. In these small intimate moments, John offers us a vision of how God works, personally, individually, then and now in the world.
The story begins simply. “As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth.” Jesus sees a man. I would like you to stop and think about how profound this is. Jesus sees a man. Sometimes, it is so hard for us to see a person. We see things not people. We see the Rolex watch but fail to see the broken marriage. We see the nose ring but completely miss the lifetime of childhood abuse. We see the permanent smirk or the broken smile. We see things but do we really see people?
It is hard for us to see a person. When the disciples see this man, what do they see? They see a problem, not a person. Listen to what they say to Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” For the disciples, he is a teaching moment, an educational instance that has reduced this human being to a theological dilemma.
The disciples think they are practicing theology, meditating on great theological questions. Yet, their theology takes them away from the world. So, they stand at a distance from a person, observing the man, but not seeing him. Talking about him but not with him. They do not see him. They do not speak to him. They do not touch him. They do not put shoes on his feet or a piece of bread in his lap. They do not grasp his hand and lead him to Jesus. They stand apart from the world and talk theology with their teacher.
But Jesus… Jesus does something different. Jesus sees the man. And Jesus sees this man as part of a greater story.
The disciples had written a story that was too small. It was a story of sin and punishment from God. This man was blind, and someone had sinned. Either he did or his parents and God punished the sin with blindness.
I do not know if you have ever encountered people who tell the Christian story this way. It is just a story about sin and an angry God. We become the morality police in the world. We are there basically to tell the world how everyone sinned, and God is punishing them. We are there to discipline rather than disciple. We police the world rather than participate in the good life God has given. We say, who sinned, us or China, that we now have this coronavirus spreading among us?
Jesus, however, sees this man as part of a much greater story, a story of creation and restoration. Jesus knows a greater story. It does not begin with sin but with creation. It does not end with punishment but with restoration in Him. When the story begins, not in sin, but in creation and ends in restoration, not in punishment, all the moments in between are filled with the works of God. God who comes to take His broken creation and fashion it into a new creation. To heal and restore.
So, Jesus looks at this man and sees him as part of a greater story. Jesus says to the disciples, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in his life.” Then Jesus stops talking theology and starts living it. He kneels on the ground and begins to create again. He spits and makes mud from the dust of the earth. Forming it. Fashioning it. Putting it on the man’s eyes. And then He speaks to him and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam.
This one who said, “Before Abraham was, I Am,” now shows just how far back He goes. He was there at the first creation, forming a world that was beautiful and fashioning beautiful creatures to live in the world. The One, who was there at the original creation, has come into creation again and is going to work to bring His broken world back to restoration. He will take this man and give him sight. That is His work. And He is willing to die to do such work.
In fact, by dying He will do even greater things than these. Jesus did not come to condemn the world to sickness and death but that the world might be saved through Him. He will catch our sin and put our sin, our sickness, to death in His death – and then He will rise again to create healthy new life. Life for this man. Life for your neighbour. Life for you.
He gives life to us now by our baptism, by His forgiveness, by His body and blood to eat and drink, and by His precious Word which tells us about all these things.
What a blessing for Jesus to reveal Himself like this today. How easy it is to reduce God’s story to sin and punishment; to see problems, not people. To see virus and not victim. To take a colourful world and reduce it to black and white until the only thing people hear from the Church is sin and punishment.
But Jesus comes today and gives us a glimpse of a much greater story. Baptized into the death and resurrection of Jesus, you are children of God. You are forgiven. You are healed.
You are dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ.
You are not slaves to sin, but children of God, servants of His righteousness.
While we’re stuck, blind, with our heads in the sand trying to figure out who is the sinner, Jesus opens the door of His Father’s Kingdom and gives us a glimpse of His greater work. He teaches us to live, not by the littleness of our minds, and judging others, but to live by the greatness of His Kingdom. He opens our eyes through forgiveness to show us how to work for others so that “the works of God might be displayed.”
Jesus sees you. In your judging. In your panic over COVID-19. In your hurting others. He SEES you, and He forgives you.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.