This sermon was delivered on March 30, 2014, at Lufkin First United Methodist Church.
9 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”
3 Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. 4 While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. 7 Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.
8 The man’s neighbors and those who used to see him when he was a beggar said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”
9 Some said, “It is,” and others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him.”
But the man said, “Yes, it’s me!”
10 So they asked him, “How are you now able to see?”
11 He answered, “The man they call Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go to the Pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 They asked, “Where is this man?”
He replied, “I don’t know.”
13 Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. 14 Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. 15 So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. 17 Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”
He replied, “He’s a prophet.”
Conflict over the healing
18 The Jewish leaders didn’t believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents. 19 The Jewish leaders asked them, “Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?”
20 His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. 21 But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they feared the Jewish authorities. This is because the Jewish authorities had already decided that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That’s why his parents said, “He’s old enough. Ask him.”
24 Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.”
25 The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”
26 They questioned him: “What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?”
27 He replied, “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
28 They insulted him: “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man is from.”
30 The man answered, “This is incredible! You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes!31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will. 32 No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.”
34 They responded, “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?” Then they expelled him.
35 Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Human One?”[a]
36 He answered, “Who is he, sir?[b] I want to believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 The man said, “Lord,[c] I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.
39 Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”
41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Houston. Sweeney. Pasadena. Dayton. Seabrook. San Marcos. Liberty. Dallas. Canton. This is the list of places that I have to say every time I am asked the relatively straight forward question: So where are you from? True, it’s probably not as long or as exotic as some people’s lists of hometowns, but it’s still kind of an arduous task to explain that I moved around a lot, that I don’t really have a hometown that I can claim as my own. The closest thing that I can claim as a hometown is Houston, considering most of the places I lived seem to orbit the Bayou City. For brevity, I will often say Houston is my home town. However, the truth remains that my background of geographical origination is more complex than most.
I bring this up, partly because I keep getting asked this question and I want everyone on the same page, and partly because I find it an interesting opening into the ways in which our minds work. If we can know where a person comes from, we know something about this person that is concrete, something that tells us about the kind of place in which we were raised, what values were kept there, and how a person operates. Don’t worry—I do it too! I won’t deny that knowing the region from which a person comes is a helpful tool in understanding someone, if for no other reason than to make stereotypical generalizations about said person. You know the ones I’m talking about. People from California are crazy hippies. People from New York are rude business-people with one evil baseball team and one that is an exercise in disappointment. People from the South are all crazy rednecks. People from Texas all ride horses and talk like J. R. Ewing. We all do it!
Why do we do this? Because humans like to put things in little boxes, categorize things, in order to make them simpler, less complex, and more concrete. We want to be able simplify enough to make someone more 2 dimensional than 3 dimensional, and if we’re lucky, maybe even 1 dimensional. It’s a nasty habit, because when we do that we discount all the other influences and experiences that make that person unique. They cease to be a person, and are reduced to an object. Taken to its extreme, it can often lead us down a destructive and harmful path, both to other and ourselves.
This is the issue I want to approach today, given our lengthy, but important, scripture on the healing of the man blind from birth. As intricate and as complex as it is, with many characters, viewpoints, and events going on, it is easy to get lost in the story and come away without a central focus on it. It’s easy to get lost in all the details when it comes to scripture—I often do, as some of my sermons will attest! My case for this passage today though is that is exactly the problem the Pharisees have. They are getting caught up in nonessential details that distract from the true miracle that is Jesus healing a blind man. The chief question they ask to do this is the one that I started with: Where does this man come from? They make a point to say that they “don’t know where this man comes from”—meaning to me that they don’t understand this man’s actions, that they can’t seem to reduce him to a 2 dimensional person. They ask this question because of three attitudes I think we should do away with: Insider/outsider thinking, harmful theology, and refusal to listen.
The first of these, Insider vs. Outsider thinking, is perhaps the most common among Christians, which I find odd, considering how victimized we were by this thinking in the beginning. In the story, we see the Pharisees exhibit this thinking throughout the story. Everyone who is not a part of what they believe is of their “right teaching” is not from God. Sinners are to be rejected outright, they seem to believe. This is somewhat understandable; this Jesus person has, at this point, been getting a sizeable following by rather questionable people. He speaks and accepts the poor, the sick, women, and sinners—even tax collectors! These people are not the people a person who calls himself “holy” would be with. If he was truly holy, he would be in the synagogue, reading the Torah and learning from the high priests, the ones who have authority, not going out into the fields and doing whatever he pleases. He’s not one of us, they think. We don’t even know where he comes from.
That right there, that attitude of insider vs. outsider, a toxic. It poisons and defiles the people who espouse it much more than whatever the “other” people are doing that defiles them, because it breeds contempt, hatred, pride, and malice. I don’t remember any of those things being one of the “fruits of the spirit.” And yet we, who are supposed to be followers of Jesus, tend to do more insider/outsider thinking than anyone else it seems, even though it was we who were the “outsiders” in the Gospel of John. It’s funny how power and time can erode our memories. Over time, this community of outsiders has become a hundreds of communities of insiders, who wave our denominational brands all over the place and exclude over little things that in the end don’t really matter all that much. When we get caught up in the insider/outsider mentality, it’s easy to forget the amazing thing that this story keeps reminding us: Jesus healed a man blind from birth and made him able to see. That is the miracle. That is the point. Jesus heals, no questions asked, no litmus test needed, save for the desire to be healed. The insider vs. outsider mentality is the first attitude that needs to go.
The second attitude is harmful, weaponized theology. The people who first show this attitude isn’t even the Pharisees; it’s the disciples, Jesus’s friends and followers. At the beginning of the story, the thing that gets Jesus to focus his attention on the blind man is the disciples asking “Who sinned in order for this man to be born blind; was it his parents, or was it the man himself?” The truth is, neither of those things are true. This man was not born blind for any sin—sin does not cause physical disabilities. People who are disabled in any way, shape, fashion, or form, are not less than human. They are human. Period. End of story. They deserve just as much love, care, kindness, and respect as any other human being, be they child or adult, man or woman. That we might exclude them, pity them, or ignore them because of their disabilities is shameful; to bring God into the equation and say that it’s because of a sin is downright evil. Jesus lets them have it when he corrects them, and turns the giving of sight to the blind man into a moment in which God is glorified. Jesus counteracts their harmful theology with true righteousness and good teaching.
This is something we can learn from. There is so much misinformation about how God acts in the world, that it makes me sick. When we take communion, we are reminded: Who is in a position to condemn? Only God, and God sent Jesus for us so that we might be saved. That right there—that’s the point of all this! We easily spew poisonous theology, poisonous thought about God, and these words can drive people further away from God in their moment of need. The Pharisees repeatedly discount the man born blind because he’s been “born in sin”; they discredit Jesus because he healed on the Sabbath, violating their thoughts on how the law is to be lived out, ignoring the miracle of sight that was given! This is our challenge, to not let our interpretation of the law, the scriptures, the faith that is handed to us, get in the way of seeing what God is doing out in the world, perhaps among people we might consider outsiders. The Spirit goes where the Spirit will, and nobody knows where it comes from or where it goes. Do not let your faith, your self-righteousness, become a weapon when we know that God does more than we can imagine.
Finally, the last attitude that needs to be done away with is refusal to listen. Note what I said: refusal to listen. Not just hear. It’s a lot easier to hear, and not to listen; to see, and not perceive. A man who was blind was given sight; but from the reaction of the neighbors and Pharisees, you would think that this was some sort of travesty. They continually ask for an explanation as to what happened, but what happened does not fit into their preconceived notions, their pre-existing narrative, of how miracles are supposed to happen and who is to do them. This man tells them point blank what happened, but they choose not to listen to his story.
This is a major tendency for us all. We are prone to being skeptical, despite the truth being right before us, because the truth was given to us by someone who does not conform to our little boxes. Because they didn’t know where he came from, the Pharisees discredited Jesus. Because this man was born blind, he was born from sin, and therefore untrustworthy. All this despite the work of God. All this despite the beauty of the truth.
My challenge to you all then is this: abandon the box. There is no box. Stop trying to put people in boxes, and stop trying to put God in a box. God doesn’t fit in a box, or a book, or anything. God is so much bigger than that, so much more powerful. God has no limits, nor do God’s people, who bear God’s image. We are made for God; we ought not try to prejudge others because we were not meant for a box either. Abandon the insider/outsider mentality. Abandon harmful theology. Open your ears and your eyes. Listen. A man was blind, and now can see. Amen.