Text: John 9
Date: Lent IV + 4/3/11
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
So far each of our Lenten visitors are different, but they are also the same. Nicodemus is an important man of the Pharisees, but he visits Jesus in the dark of night and does not understand Jesus’ talk about being born again. The Samaritan woman is an outcast even among her own people not to mention the division between Jews and Samaritans, yet she, too, doesn’t understand that Jesus isn’t talking to her about ordinary water. And today a man literally dwells in constant and deep darkness, without physical sight from birth. Though he is given the miracle of physical sight he never sees or knows Jesus until the very end of the drama. Only then, at the Word of Jesus, he is the first of these to give evidence of coming to faith. In all of these we are to learn that regardless of status in this world, we all dwell in spiritual darkness, incapable of understanding until we encounter the light and the enlightenment of God’s Word and Spirit. That encounter happens in mysterious ways, seemingly by happenstance from our perspective, but always at the direction of God. “You must be born again by water and the Spirit.” “I will give you living water.” “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” Water is the means by which God shows that His salvation is for the body as well as the spirit. As water was a prime element at the creation, so was the first of God’s commands, “Let there be light.” Today Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” So the new birth we look for through baptismal water will also be the enlightenment of our minds, hearts and understanding, and Easter will truly be the sunrise of our life.
The conversation begins with God. The conversion begins with God. Did the man born blind overhear Jesus and His disciples talking about him? Is blindness or any malady for that matter some sort of divine punishment for some sin? It is the old question, “why do bad things happen to good people?” But did the man himself think that his blindness was all that bad? I don’t imagine that blind folks go around every minute of every day cursing the darkness or thinking about seeing with the eyes. I wonder if they can even imagine, really, what seeing is like. In this way the repeated emphasis these past three weeks of the spiritual incapacity of our fallen, sinful nature is heightened to tell us we really don’t know what we’re missing, yet. St. Paul quotes the prophet Isaiah, saying, “But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory…. As it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Cor 2:7, 9). The confession of the last part of the Creed, “I believe in the resurrection of the body,” will, for all our days now, always be shadowed by the mystery, as St. John said it, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2)…whatever and however that may be.
So far in our Lenten journey we have been impressed with the need of repentance of sin, confession and forgiveness of sin and our need of spiritual rebirth. Then last week we took notice of the Samaritan woman at the well and her limited confession of Jesus as “a man who told me all that I ever did” (Jn 4:39). So we added to our Lenten preparation not only the receiving of the gift of saving faith but also its confession before the world. We then suggested that that confession will, variously, be received by some, ignored by others and even rejected by still others. The story of the man blind from birth describes the opposition of the world to your confession of faith. It is as St. John began his Gospel, saying, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (Jn 3:19). To be baptized into Christ, to become a Christian, a disciple means in part to engage in the spiritual battle of the light of Christ against the darkness of the devil, the world and our own sinful flesh and this evil age. The apostle Paul warned, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” (Eph 6:12).
After Jesus had smeared mud on the man’s eyes and ordered him to go wash in the pool of Siloam the miracle is simply told, “he went and washed and came back seeing.” We’re not told anything the man did when he came back seeing. He certainly must have been happy, or at least in awe and wonder over this new experience and reality called sight! But his neighbors noticed, and those who knew him as a blind beggar. His “confession” wasn’t even in words at first, just the miracle itself, and it caused division. Some said he wasn’t the same man. Some said he was. Others said, “No, but he is like him.” He kept saying, “It’s me! It’s me!” Then the logical question was asked for the first time, “Then how were you eyes opened?” And he told them the facts. He credited “the man called Jesus” with the miracle.
An obviously religious happening they took the man to the religious authorities, the Pharisees. So the questions started again. And he told them the facts again. (Here’s where the hymn “Amazing Grace” was written; at least those words, “I once was blind but now I see”). More questions caused more division.
Now it seems, when all else fails, the easiest way to get rid of a problem (or a mystery!) is just to deny that it ever happened in the first place. So they questioned whether the man ever had actually been blind at all. They called his parents and quizzed them. They weren’t of any help, so they asked the man again a second time about Jesus, and a third time. He answered them, but it wasn’t the answer they wanted to hear so they finally threw him out of the synagogue. What did Jesus say? “They will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness…. You will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives” (Lk 21:12-13, 17-19).
The Pharisees cast the man out. But Jesus has said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out” (Jn 6:36-37). So Jesus found the man and asked, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” It is interesting that in the following words the man calls Jesus “kyrie.” But the first time it is translated only as “sir,” “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” The second time, however, it is translated “Lord.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Kyrie, Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. This is the goal of our Lenten journey, of your baptism and instruction: that the Holy Spirit bring you to the confession, “Lord, I believe,” and to worship Him.
Lord, I believe. This faith and worship is in response to not only a sign or miracle but to the fact that this Lord loved you so much as to shed His blood for you. By His blood shed on the cross, there your sin was atoned for and your guilt taken away. There His Word and your baptism have their power to inspire you to confess:
Lord, I believe Thy precious blood,
Which at the mercy seat of God
Pleads for the captives’ liberty,
Was also shed in love for me.
Lord, I believe, were sinners more
Than sands upon the ocean shore,
Thou hast for all a ransom paid,
For all a full atonement made. (LSB 563:3-4)
All who believe and are baptized
Shall see the Lord’s salvation;
Baptized into the death of Christ,
They are a new creation.
Through Christ’s redemption they shall stand
Among the glorious, heav’nly band
Of ev’ry tribe and nation. (LSB 601:1)