Pastor Chico Martin
March 26, 2017 The Fourth Sunday of Lent
Today’s Gospel tells the story of the man born blind; it’s a story that we all share and love to sing about:
“Amazing grace! How sweet the sound. That saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found; Was blind, but now I see.”
When John Newton wrote this song, he was writing about his personal experience, and when we sing this song, we’re singing about our personal experience. That is, we’re all born blind, and now we see.
The details are different, of course; but conversion stories follow a pattern:
“’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
and grace my fears reliev’d;
How precious did that grace appear,
the hour I first believed!”
Briefly, this is John Newton’s story. He became a seaman at an early age, and as a youth, he was forced to join the British Navy, because of his disreputable behavior. It wasn’t long before he deserted, was publicly flogged, and signed on with slave traders. He didn’t get on with slavers either, but in time, he became a captain of his own ship. He made several trips between Africa and North America, before he quit sailing, for health reasons, at the age of thirty. Then he settled into the life of a cargo inspector, on the docks in Liverpool, and with his wife became active in the church community. On his own, Newton studied the bible, its languages and its theology; he and his wife, Polly, held church meetings in their home. Eventually, with the encouragement of friends, including John Wesley, John became an Anglican priest. He said his mission was “to break a hard heart and to heal a broken heart,” and from the pulpit he often contrasted his old life of sin and his new life of grace.
John Newton was born again. In today’s Gospel, we hear the language of blindness and sight used to describe the old life of sin and the new life of grace. Jesus passed by a man blind from birth. He made a mud paste and rubbed it on the blind man’s eyes. And then Jesus told the man to wash in the pool of Siloam. When the man came back able to see, his neighbors were confused. Was he the same person, or someone else? Being born again, it seems, will change you.
But that isn’t the end of the story. The Jewish authorities interrogate the healed man, because Jesus healed him on the Sabbath. They condemn the healing and banish the formerly blind man. Jesus hears what they have done, and goes looking for him. He does what a shepherd would do; he looks for the lost sheep.
Please close your eyes. I’m going to ask you a question, and I want you to keep your eyes closed until an answer comes to you. Then I want you to fix the answer in your mind. When you’re done, you can open your eyes again.
Here’s the question: what is the most tender moment you can remember personally experiencing?
I’m won’t ask you to share your memories, but I do what to point out that this is a very tender moment in the life of the formerly blind man, when Jesus brings him solace. In ancient times, being banished meant you were entirely cut off from everything you knew. Think of it: you’ve been blind all your life, then miraculously, your sight is restored. This is the best thing that has ever happened to you! And suddenly, you’re cast out of society; even blind, and a beggar, you at least belonged to a community. Now you are utterly on your own, in an unforgiving world.
And then, behold, Jesus seeks you out, and you experience a tenderness you have never known. Someone has come looking for you, to rescue you. When the man asks, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” you put all your trust in him; so much so, that you fall before him in worship. You believe in him!
What do we know about the blind Man? Just that he was blind from birth. John doesn’t give us any personal information about the man, not even his name. Other than the fact of his blindness, John gives us only one more piece of information: this man is as he is so that the works of God might be displayed in him.
Let’s stop and consider this for a moment. We don’t usually view the world’s activity as a display of God’s works. How often have you sat by your kitchen window looking out on the street at the passersby, or in a car in a parking lot, watching people going in and coming out of a supermarket, and thought to yourself, this is God, displaying his works in these persons?
To be sure, there is something less dramatic about these scenes than the one recounted by John. Or maybe, if there isn’t some drama to focus our attention, we just overlook the significance of what’s going on around us.
Let’s go back to the story. Notice the first question the disciples ask: whose sin caused this man to be the way he is? The disciples have been walking with Jesus; they’re not, as we might say, babes in Christ, yet their question betrays a fundamental reluctance to believe what Christ is showing them to be true: God is sovereign of the universe, and we are the way we are because of God’s purposes for us.
Now, this might sound okay in the abstract, but what is the meaning?
Take the blind man. He’s not blind because of anything that anyone has done. He’s not blind because God’s plan predetermined that a blind man would be at this spot on the road on a day over 2,000 years ago just so his Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, could heal him of his blindness. The point is, at any moment in our life, just the way we are, no matter how we got where we got to be, God can and does use us for his glory: so we and countless others over the course of centuries can see the glory of God displayed.
In today’s Gospel, God displays his glory through the tenderness of Jesus’ response to the man born blind.
What has Jesus done? He spits. He spits on the ground, which is just dirt, and he mixed up the dirt and his saliva, making a paste, and he put the paste on the man’s eyes. Then Jesus told him to go wash in a nearby pool. Then the man does what Jesus tells him to do. Would we? John doesn’t tell us why the man obeys Jesus, but we can speculate. Maybe he was hopeful, or desperate, or trusting. We really don’t know, and John doesn’t tell us, because it doesn’t matter; what matters is what God is doing and how we respond to God.
“Go,” Jesus tells the man, “wash in the pool of Siloam.” John tells us that the meaning of the word ‘Siloam,’ is sent. Why sent? After all the details that he doesn’t give us, why does John stop here to tell us “Siloam” means sent.
The answer, I think, is this, as Thomas Aquinas wrote, “the sending of the divine persons leads us into perfect happiness.” God the Father sends the Person of his Son to be with us; God the Father and His Son send the person of the Spirit to be with us; and the Son with his Spirit sends his disciples out into the world. Every disciple – every Christian – is a sent person. And just as the blind man who is sent is healed by his obedience, so are we healed by trusting and obeying. The person who has done what Jesus tells him to do will achieve this happiness.
Christ will heal us, and the Spirit will comfort us, and the once-blind man will return from the pool called Sent twice-born and seeing. He is saved, by water and the Spirit, and his salvation is the mighty work of God.
When we take refuge in Jesus, we will never be abandoned. The man born blind is saved, only to be banished by his people. And for a second time in one day, God displays his glory, tenderly. This time, Jesus is not just passing by the man born blind; instead, he goes looking for the man, and in a very personal encounter, once again he restores him.
Let us close with this thought: When we are saved, we are also sent. When we are born-again, we are changed, because we respond differently to others.
Today Jesus offers us the example of tenderness. When we try a little tenderness, we display the mighty works of God, through the comfort and calm we offer from our hearts. These are the very same hearts that were hard before they were broken and healed by God.
And all the people said, Amen.