Text: John 9
Date: Lent IV + 3/26/17
“The neighbors and those who had seen him before…said to him, ‘How were your eyes opened?’” The Pharisees “asked him how he had received his sight.” The Jews asked the parents of the man, “How does he now see?” Once again the Pharisees asked in frustration, “How did he open your eyes?” Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
With Nicodemus we heard that because of our sin from the very first moment of our existence we must be born again washed with water and God’s Word, the Holy Spirit igniting the divine gift of faith. With the Samaritan woman at the well we were told that the baptismal waters are living waters gushing forth from inside of us. Today with the man born blind we are asked, “How Were Your Eyes Opened?”
So how were your eyes opened? Oh, hardly any of us are born physically blind. And we’re not talking about opening our eyes waking from a night of sleep. We are talking about how we with all sinners are spiritually blind from birth. It is true of all of us as St. Paul said, “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ…. For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:3-6). Today we learn that through the water and word of Holy Baptism we are not only cleansed from sin and renewed from within but the eyes of our hearts are opened that we may see Jesus our Savior.
When we ask how your spiritual eyes were opened it is assumed that they have already been opened. So it is the same thing as if we asked “When did you first believe?” or “When did you first become aware of putting your faith in God?” To some like the Apostle Paul it may have happened in a moment at a dramatic event. To most, however, faith or spiritual enlightenment happens in a more gradual fashion maybe accompanied by a variety of moments of spiritual awakening.
For most of us the gift of faith began before we even knew it, baptized as infants by faithful Christian parents. As our catechumens prepare for baptism and as we consider our renewal in our baptismal promises, we need to know that “baptism isn’t magic.” It is rather the sign and seal of God’s own promise and action.
The risen Lord Jesus promised to His disciples, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned” (Mk 16:16). Faith in God’s baptismal promise to you is the important thing. In this way, in the words of St. Peter, “Baptism now saves you” (1 Pet 3:21). “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved.” But notice what is missing in the second half of that sentence, “whoever does not believe will be condemned.” Baptism is not mentioned. So we say again, baptism is not magic. One can fall away from faith whether they are baptized or not, which is the biggest reason we the baptized are again accompanying the catechumens to the font.
Have you noticed that on the one hand we baptize infants and then later teach them what their baptism means while on the other hand we teach adults about baptism before we administer the sacrament? So we ought to say that a person can come to saving faith also before baptism. So we say, and this is of special comfort especially to parents who lose a child before baptism, “it is not the lack of baptism that condemns but it is the despising of it.” In other words God the Holy Spirit works through the Word of God in whatever form it comes. So St. Paul says, “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent?” “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:14-17). The baptized spend all their days hearing, always hearing the Word of God. Those who believe before baptism will desire to do what Christ has commanded, namely, to be baptized “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Mt 28:19).
Remember the detail of the man born blind, now able to see. After his testimony of Jesus’ work of healing, remember that still he wouldn’t know Jesus if he saw Him. For he never yet did see Jesus. So Jesus came and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” But he needed further instruction as he asked, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus answered, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” And at that word, that revelation the man confessed, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped Him.
There is one more very comforting detail in today’s Gospel. It was at the beginning when the disciples, taking notice of the man born blind, asked Jesus, “who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Why are some born blind? or deaf? or both? or with other disabilities? It is not as punishment by God. It is part of our fallen, deadly disordered condition as sinners. You and I can count ourselves among those even though our disabilities may not be so apparent. No, not because of a sinful act or of his parents, but, Jesus says these words, “but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” So we should say of every child born regardless of physical maladies. So we should say of you. You were born into this sinful world, of sinful parents, a sinner in order that the works of God might be displayed in you. And what are those works? In rare cases it could be a miraculous healing. But in all cases it is the miracle of becoming a believer, of being born again, of receiving Jesus who becomes living waters in you. And as Jesus said to the Apostle Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn 20:29). For believing is seeing.