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“As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”
I. Blind man given sight to glorify God.
A. Cause and Effect
There are those who make their living out of making logical connections between EFFECT and CAUSE. Doctors do it all the time. They see the EFFECT and they deduce a probable CAUSE to treat. Electricians, plumbers and auto mechanics all do the same thing. They see the PROBLEM and then determine the CAUSE and fix it.
We all do the same thing. It’s just that what they do as an OCCUPATION, we do as a PREOCCUPATION.
His car ran off the road at 3:00am. He must have been drinking again.
He didn’t come home until 6:00am. He must be having an affair.
She got called down to the principal’s office. She must be in trouble.
Knowing the EFFECT and guessing at the CAUSE makes for interesting conversation and not a little gossip. In a court of law, juries hear the evidence, weigh it and make a judgment. You and I make the judgment without ever hearing any evidence at all.
Even the people of God do it.
Joseph was told that his fiancée was pregnant. He concluded that Mary had been unfaithful to him and must be ‘put away.’ Bad conclusion.
The Jews found Jesus’ tomb empty. They concluded that the disciples must have stolen the body. Bad conclusion.
The disciples of Jesus saw the man born blind. They concluded that he must be a sinner, or at least his parents were. The sins of the father are punished to the 3rd and 4th generations. Maybe this one started at the 2nd. Another bad conclusion.
“It was not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” That word that is translated here as DISPLAY is the same word that is usually translated as GLORIFY. As in, “Father, GLORIFY Your name.” “Father, let you name be DISPLAYED.”
It’s not that this man or his parents were SINLESS. Everyone is born blind because of the sin of our father and mother.
The serpent told Eve that if she ate of the forbidden fruit, “her eyes would be opened.” AND SHE BELIEVED A TALKING SERPENT. And ever since, BLINDNESS has been the default setting for all.
By the time Eve “SAW that the fruit was pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom” she was already BLINDED by sin.
And Adam was blinded right along with her and we are all born IN SIN because of them.
It’s not that this man or his parents were SINLESS. But to think that you can make a connection between EFFECT and CAUSE, between his blindness and his sin – bad conclusion.
B. The work of God on display.
Which of us would have ever put 2 and 2 together like Jesus did? “Here is a man who is blind from birth. Conclusion, the works of God are about to be displayed in him”? Who puts suffering and illness and death together like that – besides Jesus? “Get ready to see the works of God on display.”
Which of us would have ever put 2 and 2 together like this, when Jesus’ flesh was being shredded with the Roman whip and nailed to the old, rugged cross? “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that He is so completely scorned by God.”? “NO, BUT THE WORK OF GOD IS ON DISPLAY BEFORE YOUR EYES?” “THERE IS NO SIN IN HIM. HE IS BEARING YOUR SIN.” “CAN’T YOU SEE?” “ARE YOU BLIND?”
“[Jesus] lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; DISPLAY your Son that the Son may DISPLAY you…” (John 17:1) THE GREATEST WORK OF GOD IS ON DISPLAY BEFORE YOUR EYES IN THE GREATEST SUFFERING OF MAN.
And no one saw it. Everyone is blind from birth.
All they saw was a pathetic man crucified between two pathetic men. Everyone sees the EFFECT, and everyone swears by their CAUSE. “He must have committed one heck of a crime.” No one saw the was able to trace the cause of Jesus’ bloody death to the great WORK OF GOD ON DISPLAY,
the victory over the devil
the justification of mankind,
the reconciliation of the world to the One who Created it,
the complete atonement for the sin of the fathers to the 3rd and 4th and to every generation.
By their question, they show what immature theologians they still are. And we are no better. When tragedy strikes, when we or loved ones suffer, how often do insist on connecting a CAUSE to the EFFECT?
‘Why has God let this happen to me, or to him? I must have done something wrong.’
‘What have I done to deserve this?’
All just variations on the same tune we’ve already heard – “Who sinned, that this man was born blind.”
But now that God has GLORIFIED HIS SON on the cross, we can no longer make the connections between EFFECT and CAUSE that we do. We cannot draw conclusions from the raw data of human suffering – whether it be others or our own, EXCEPT TO SAY THAT THERE IS NO SUFFERING SO GREAT THAT THE WORK OF GOD CANNOT BE DISPLAYED IN IT.
In fact, we can go even further than this and I think we should. It is not just that there is no suffering, no misfortune in life so great that THE WORK OF GOD cannot be displayed in it. But that every misfortune and tragedy and disability and handicap, whatever it may be, is the Lord’s point of entry to DISPLAY THE WORKS OF GOD IN US.
This is the way of God. It is the way of the cross. He brings light of darkness. Sight out of blindness. Life out of death.
C. The Miracle
“As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth.” Whenever John reports that Jesus ‘sees’ someone, we better buckle up. The WORKS OF GOD are about to be DISPLAYED before our eyes.
“He spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which means sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.”
That’s a little strange. What’s with the spit and the mud and the washing? What’s going on here? Let’s see… physical, earthly elements, and the word and promise of God attached to those elements. Sounds like a SACRAMENT if you ask me. Let’s plug it into the Small Catechism and see how it fits.
“How do mud and water do such great things?”
“Certainly not the mud or the water, but the Word of God in and with the mud and water does these things, along with the faith which trusts this word of God in the mud and water. For apart from the word of God, the mud is just plain mud and the water is just plain water…”
By faith, the man went and washed. That’s how we know he believed. He didn’t say, ‘what’d you do that for? This is ridiculous?” The man went and washed.” Faith is on DISPLAY in this man’s works. And the works of God were on DISPLAY him, and he came back seeing.
The man’s neighbors saw that he could now see, but they can’t connect EFFECT and CAUSE. Maybe he wasn’t really blind. Maybe it’s not the same guy. To the man’s credit, he simply explains what Jesus did. “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash..’ So I went and washed and received my sight.”
I think we could all stand to learn something from this man. I’m not sure why, but we seem to be hesitant to simply tell others that our eyes were opened when we were baptized. We think it has to be more dramatic or spectacular than that and so we load up on stories and personal testimonies, as if we’re embarrassed to admit that the greatest miracle that God does in a person’s life is done through the washing of simple water in Holy Baptism.
His neighbors are not convinced, so they bring him to the Pharisees. They suspect that this is a ‘God thing.’ So they take him to the theologians. Maybe they can put 2 and 2 together.
The Pharisees are in the opposite situation as the disciples. The disciples wanted to know the cause for this man’s BLINDNESS. The Pharisees want to know the cause for this man’s SIGHT. They cannot rejoice with this man and the miracle that has happened because they cannot believe that Jesus can do such great things. Especially not on the Sabbath day.
Instead of thanking God who CREATED the eye and knows how to repair a MALFUNCTIONING eye, they search for the LOOPHOLE that they are sure is there. And after a series of rather ‘SASSY’ REPLIES from the man, they “cast him out” from the Synagogue. They excommunicate him. How blind can they be?
I think that we could all stand to learn something from these Pharisees. They were not ‘atheists’ or ‘agnostics.’ They believed in God and they knew the Bible better than we do. They were outstanding members of the Church.
But they were blind to the WORKS OF GOD. How often were the WORKS OF GOD ON DISPLAY right before their eyes, but they couldn’t see it? The same can happen to us. Just because our eyes were opened in our baptism doesn’t mean that we cannot be blinded by any number of things.
The bible lists lots of causes for SPIRITUAL blindness: greed; lust; ignorance, money, possessions, the toys we accumulate that occupy our attention, the goals and passions that we pursue and that act like blinders on a horse.
Paul writes to the Corinthians saying, “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, who is the image of God.” (2 Cor. 4:4). We dare not kid ourselves, the ‘god of this world’ can pull the wool over our eyes too if we’re not careful.
It becomes obvious by the end of this account, that the restoration of sight to the man’s eyes was not the ultimate WORK OF GOD that Jesus wants to DISPLAY in this man. After all the commotion dies down, Jesus finds the man. He asks the man the question that ranks as THE MOST IMPORTANT QUESTION that EVERYONE will ever have to answer. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” And the man replies, “who is He Sir, that I may believe in Him?”
And suddenly we realize this man has still never laid eyes on the man that brought light into his dark life. “And who is he sir, that I may believe in him?”
Oh how much we should learn from this fellow. How often do we take the blessings of God that are bestowed on us and never even think of connecting EFFECT and CAUSE and thanking the One from whom they have come to us?
Here is a man who is dying to be able to put CAUSE to EFFECT. The EFFECTS are not enough for him. There’s a big blank in his life that must be filled in with the name of the one who CAUSED this EFFECT in him.
I think that it was G.K. Chesterton who once said, ‘there is no greater dissatisfaction in all the world than to be thankful but not know who to thank.” But you know.
There is only one name that will fill that blank in our lives. It is the name that is above every name. The name of Jesus Christ. He is the “Light of the World.” “Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.’”
And the man replied, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshipped him.”
And the greatest WORK OF GOD IS DISPLAYED in this man. Faith in Christ is GOD’S WORK IN US. It is ‘amazing grace.’ We were blind but now we see.
Jesus gave this man the gift of sight and then He gave him the gift of faith. It works just the opposite for us. First, God gives us the gift of faith in our baptism. Later, when ‘mine eyelids close in death,’ and we are buried in the ground, we will be totally blind.
The first miracle that Jesus does with this man is the assurance of hope for us all. What He was able to do for this man He is able to do for us.
The day will come and from our grave we will hear the sound of a trumpet. And our bodies will be raised from the ground, and our eyes will be opened, and we shall see. We shall see God, as He is.