by John Jewell
John 9: 1-41 / Exodus 17:1-7
"Surely we are not blind are we?"
The question was put to Jesus by Pharisees who could see quite well in a physical sense. Their problem was that they absolutely did not have a clue when it came to seeing God's activity in their midst.
They could see.. but they were blind to everything God was doing. On the other hand, the gospel reading tells about a man who was blind from birth and received his sight from Jesus. In the end, he gained much more than physical sight however, when he gained his sight in a spiritual way -- for the very first time.
In other words, it is possible to be sighted physically, while at the same time being blind to spiritual things. The religious professionals of the day illustrate the fact that one can have physical eyesight and still live in an inner world filled darkness. The religious authorities Jesus confronted were so religiously hard headed and spiritually blind that they were inwardly and spiritually blind. Jesus had to penetrate a lot of density before it dawned on his adversaries that he was talking about them.
"Surely we are not blind are we?" they ask. [Well duh!]
A young man came to my office not so long ago and poured out his heart. A self-admitted workaholic, he was increasingly distant from wife and children and his marriage was in jeopardy. He had gotten himself into a vicious circle whereby the harder he told himself he was working for the people he loved most, the further away from them he grew.
I really did not have to say too much. He was rehearsing an inner dialogue in the presence of a trusted friend. His job had become an obsession and his efforts to gain all the things for his family that he never had as a child became an enemy of everything he loved most. He finally looked up at me and exclaimed, "I've lost sight of everything that matters most!"
He left with a promise to himself to line up his inner priorities with his outer behavior.
"Thank you so much," he said, but I had only been a silent listener to something he already knew. He had lost his vision. Not his outer vision, but the inner vision that sees the purpose and meaning of life.
There is another kind of blindness that has more to do with the incessant searching people do when they are trying to find purpose, or direction in their lives. Nothing seems to fit, or add up. This feeling of being lost is reminiscent of an old Peanuts comic strip where Charlie Brown is saying, "I feel like I was born on the wrong planet!" The emotional sense is one of groping around in the dark.
There is an amazing story in the gospel of John where a woman had been groping around in the darkness of her life. It is the story of the woman caught in adultery. Once again the story has the religious authorities in conflict with Jesus. They gather to see if he will enforce the death penalty against the woman. Yet, instead of condemnation, he offers an opportunity for new living. Jesus uses the woman's situation as a mirror which he holds up to the crowd. "Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." [John 8:7] As it turns out, all of them, including the outwardly religious are walking about in spiritual darkness.
Jesus says to the gathered crowd and especially to the Pharisees, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." [John 8:12] Light not only illuminates the path we tread - it is life itself. "Follow me," Jesus says, "And you will have the life you were designed to live."
To follow Christ is to develop clarity about who we are and who we are meant to be. The first letter of John is clear on the issue of choosing to follow Christ - which means to choose light over darkness. Once we encounter the good news about Jesus Christ, groping in the darkness is no longer an unfortunate circumstance. It is a choice:
"God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with him while we are walking in darkness, we lie and do not do what is true..." [1 John 1:6-7]
During these lenten days we draw closer to the day of greatest darkness - the day when darkness covered Jerusalem and the "Light of the World" was briefly extinguished. Yet, as John's gospel says, "The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it."
God's good purposes for our lives are that we have light for living and a deep sense of knowing why we are here. The Westminster catechism states, “The chief end of man is to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.” In order to arrive at our "chief end" or essential purpose, we need the light of Christ that leads us out of darkness.
There is yet another kind of blindness that keeps us from the fullness of God's purpose for our lives. Our reading from 1 Samuel goes to the heart of this kind of darkness -- the darkness of mistaken perception. If we are too locked on to outward appearances, we are vulnerable to this blindness.
Even Samuel, the great servant of God found himself mistaking the apparent for the real. The story fits well with the Pharisees who didn't get the point with the healing of the blind man. When we are so sure of our opinions and set in our understandings, we are sure to create darkness for ourselves. And if we stubbornly cling to our own understandings and allow our opinions to harden we gradually close the door to light that comes from beyond us.
Please be aware of a critical danger here. We are all vulnerable to this devastating spiritual malady. One can take something that is gospel truth, internalize it and mix it with personal preconceived ideas, shut the door to further insight from the Spirit of God and turn what was once truth into darkness. This is exactly what happened to the Pharisees. They took the good law of God - the law given by Moses, mixed it with interpretation, personal preconceived ideas and cultural prejudice and shut the door to any new insight from God. Jesus in one of his more scathing attacks on twisted religion said that these folks were, "...blind leaders of the blind." [Matt.15:14]
The story of Samuel's search for the one who would become king of Israel is set in circumstances that occurred over twenty five hundred years ago. The lesson it teaches however, is as fresh as the day God told Samuel what was missing in his perception.
Samuel was was grieving over the fact that God was going to take the throne away from Saul. Samuel's attachment to Saul and his clinging to what he wanted instead of what God wanted brought about a kind of darkness to his spirit. When God sent him to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem to anoint the next king of Israel, something surprising happened.
As it turns out, you can't judge a book by its cover - or outward appearances can be deceiving. God had told Samuel that he would show him which son of Jesse would become king and when Samuel laid eyes on the impressive Eliab, he thought, "This is the new king for sure!"
God's response to Samuel is classic. It addresses a key factor in spiritual blindness. It is something every one of us can take to heart and use to do a quick analysis of our own way of looking at the world.
"... the LORD said to Samuel, "Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart." [v.7]
God does not see things the way we see things! Even the intention here was that God looks at the human heart while we look at outward appearances, the fact remains that God sees all kinds of things differently than we do.
We often miss the significance of a person to God because they are not significant to the world around us. We miss the joy of a child's capacity for play and laughter because we are engrossed in "important" things. We watch the evening news and read the newspaper and somehow do not see the abject poverty and desperate conditions of much of the human family.
And what of Christ? It is altogether fitting that we ask ourselves whether we are really and truly seeing the Savior who came to bring us light. Is it possible that we grow so accustomed to the prayers and hymns and words of scripture that we miss the blazing truth of his coming to us?
What a wonderful thing it would be if this Lenten season would be a time when we opened up our spirits to see the life changing, world transforming power of the fact that Christ came to take the darkness of this world upon himself. And as the darkness is taken into the light of Christ it becomes no darkness at all. The Psalmist captured the heart of how the light of God overcomes all darkness: "If I say, "Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night," even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you. [Psalm 139:11-12]
As we understand and embrace this truth we might even come close to the experience of the man in John's gospel who, though born blind was able to see again. His healing was a cause of rejoicing for him and his family and for the ordinary people who had known him. However, it was just another occasion for the deepening of darkness for the religious officials. Rather than rejoicing in the work God was doing, they actually threw the man out of the temple.
The amazing things is that the man who was born blind didn't lose a thing - except for his physical blindness and the darkness of the religious community that could not see. Then, having gained his physical sight, he came to see something far more valuable. Listen once again:
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" He answered, "And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him." Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he." He said, "Lord, I believe." And he worshiped him. [vv.35-38]
The man who was blind from birth saw something again - for the very first time!
May God give us the grace to so open our hearts and minds to the life changing light of Christ that we too may renew our vision and worship the one who came to give us light that can not be overcome by darkness. When Christ truly dwells within us and our lives are open to his life changing presence, darkness can not dwell in us because there is no darkness where Christ is!
Blindness - Physical and Spiritual
by Edward F. Markquart, Seattle, WA
A Blind Man - A sermon Based on John 9:1- 41
by John Jewell
What the Christian Community Can Offer a Polarized Society
by V. Rev. Nathan D. Baxter, Dean, Washington National Cathedral
Devotional Thoughts for Sixth Sunday of the Holy Lent - Blind Man's Sunday
by HG Yohanon Mor Policarpos
Devotional Thoughts for Sixth Sunday of the Great Lent (Blind man's Sunday)
by Jose Kurian Puliyeril
Sermons, Bible Commentaries and Bible Analyses for 6th Sunday in Great Lent (Samiyo/ The Blind Man)
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