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Opening Blind Eyes 
By Dr. Todd B. Jones
04/03/11

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH, NASHVILLE
DR. TODD B. JONES
APRIL 3, 2011

Opening Blind Eyes
John 9:1-41


All four Gospel accounts, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, include stories of Jesus restoring the sight of a blind person. Two stories are in Matthew, two are in Mark's Gospel, one is in Luke, and this one in John. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that John's account is different from all the rest. It is singular in so many ways. First, this man, though he is described later in the account as a beggar, does not even ask to be given his sight or to be healed. Second, in this account, no one treats this man born blind with decency or respect or basic humanity.

The disciples begin violating this man's humanity by talking about him as if he isn't even present. You heard the question: "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus says, "Neither. He was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him."

Then Jesus, having uttered for the second time in John's Gospel, "I am the light of the world," spit upon the ground, and with His hand kneaded the spit and mud, created a solution and rubbed it upon the man's eyes, then sent him to a pool called Siloam and said, "Wash in the pool and you will find your sight." The man did exactly as Jesus instructed and he was given his sight. Make note that the man hears Jesus' word before he ever sees Jesus!

The man returns to his so-called neighbors only to discover that some of them doubt that he is the same man who has been in their presence since he was born blind. My guess is most of them had never even noticed him for long; they probably tried to avoid him like the plague. And so with him present, saying, "I am the man," some believe that it is the same person and others are not so sure. The man tells his story to them just as John has told it. Jesus spits on the ground, creating mud, rubbing it on his eyes, and sending him to Siloam. And as he tells his story, he says that this was done by "a man they call Jesus." 

His neighbors, having not been so neighborly to him, take him to the Pharisees. The Pharisees are unhappy apparently about what has happened to him because they fix on the fact Jesus has done this on the Sabbath, when there were clear dictates against kneading anything – bread or mud – on such a day. They are so threatened by what Jesus has done or purported to have done that they treat this man born blind, who has just found his sight, with utter contempt. Finally, the Pharisees say, "He opened your eyes, what have you to say about Him?" This time the man says, "He is a prophet." 

The authorities do not believe him, no one takes him seriously, so they go to visit his parents. His parents attest to what happened, that indeed this was their son who was born blind who now somehow, someway can see. But out of fear, we are told, of being "put out of the synagogue," they say as to how this happened or who performed this deed: "We cannot say. Our son is of age, go ask him, he will tell you."

So for the second time the Pharisees, the Rulers among the Jewish people, the controllers of religion in Jerusalem, visit this poor blind man, whose only sin that we can see is his insistence on attesting to what had happened to him. He simply will not tell anything other than what it is he has experienced. There are those who do not want to hear the truth in this instance. 

And so they proceed to denigrate Jesus himself. They say, "We know that this man is a sinner!" I love the man born blind's response. He said, "I do not know whether He is a sinner. But one thing I do know, that once I was blind, but now I see." He said, "If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." Note that the man born blind does not try to explain what has happened to him, to explain the miracle. We never know adequately how to describe the work of God in our lives. Rather, all he can do is be a witness, to tell the truth we know about what God has done. And for telling the truth, for sticking with his convictions of what he knows happened to him, no matter how much pressure is put on him to change his story, he is thrown out of the synagogue.

Jesus' disciples do not treat this man well, his neighbors do not believe what he has said, the religious authorities do not treat him with anything other than contempt, even his own parents throw him under the bus (Well, maybe under the camel!). When Jesus hears that the man has been cast out of the synagogue, exiled from the only community he has ever known, Jesus finds the man who has been born blind and says to him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" 

The man replies, "Tell me, so that I may believe."

Jesus says, "You have seen Him, and the One speaking to you now is He."

The man born blind says, "I believe." He calls Jesus "Lord" and proceeds to worship Him.

Note this man's journey: He begins by describing Jesus simply as "the man named Jesus." He proceeds from that to affirm that Jesus is "a prophet." Then finally, he hears Jesus' words and he affirms Him as "Lord." Indeed, he worships Jesus. Please do not miss the irony that is shot through this entire story: The people who ought to know, the people who are capable of seeing, are utterly blind to what has happened, blind to who Jesus really is. And the man who has been born blind is the one who sees clearly who Jesus is.

Everyone fails this man – the disciples of Jesus, the Jewish authorities, his parents, his neighbors. Everyone except Jesus. Jesus opens his eyes. Jesus heals him. Jesus enables him to see. And best of all, when everyone else has exiled him and he is isolated, Jesus seeks him out and stands with him. Jesus always does. That is why we sing that song so often in church: "What a friend we have in Jesus, All our sins and griefs to bear!"

Jesus can open the eyes of the blind to see. But the opposite is true as well. Jesus can cause people who see to be utterly blind to the truth. That is the troubling double word that this passage holds for us. History is full of people who had physical sight but for whatever reason were utterly blind to the truth. Good people. Some of the people I admire most were the Founding Fathers of this nation. They were visionary men, yet as they received this vision and laid their lives on the line for a vision of a nation where liberty would be proclaimed throughout all the land, so many of them remained utterly blind to the contradiction in their midst known as slavery. It is easy, without intending, to miss the most obvious truths in front of us. It is one of the many reasons why we need to be open to Jesus helping us to see. Or I think of all the Christians in Germany who said nothing while millions of Jewish neighbors were literally murdered in the name, somehow, of some sick, perverse notion of what it means to be Christian.

John Henry Newton was an Anglican priest in a small parish in Olney, England. He wrote a song about how Jesus opened his eyes and enabled him to see. He had been on a slave ship, part of the crew engaged in that heinous practice. Of course you know the song, don't you? It is one of the best loved songs that the church sings around the world today: Amazing Grace. There is one line in that hymn that is drawn from two of the great stories of the Bible: "I once was lost, but now am found" – a reference to Jesus' parable of the prodigal son – "was blind, but now I see" – a reference to the man who was born blind, whose eyes Jesus opened.

One of the best people I have ever had the privilege of knowing was a member and an Elder in the last congregation I served. He was a third generation member of a family that had run for those generations a textile mill in the upstate of South Carolina. He felt an awesome responsibility for the fifteen hundred employees and their families during a very difficult time when the world's economy threatened the business that had fed these families and provided jobs in the communities where this textile company did business. He told me once that every morning when he shaved, he looked into the mirror and said: "Lord, help me to see today what I am supposed to see. Keep my eyes open."

"Jesus, open our eyes, that we may truly, really see!"

AMEN.
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