Today’s gospel is all about ‘blindness’ and ‘seeing.’ It starts out with a man who is born blind but who ends up seeing more than what the human eye can see. Along the way we meet several people with 20/20 vision but who are really blind.
There is a familiar proverb which says, ‘seeing is believing.’ But this morning, the proverb is proved to be false. For as we will ‘SEE,’ there are many who SEE and yet will not BELIEVE. Seeing, they do not see. They have ‘seeing eyes,’ and yet they are blind.
As the account opens, the only one who SEES is Jesus. “As Jesus passed by, he SAW a man blind from birth.”
One of the symbols for God is a big eye. He is the ‘all-seeing’ God. It’s pretty significant that in the creation account in Genesis 1, we’re told that along each step of the way “God saw” what He made and declared it to be “good.” And then when He said, “IT IS FINISHED,” “He saw ALL that He made and it was very good.”
The man was born blind. For some reason, his eyes could never process the light that entered them. John opened his gospel with the grand announcement that “the true light that enlightens everyone was coming into the world.” “He passed by and SAW a man born blind.” (Jn.1:9)
The disciples with Jesus would have walked right by this man and never saw him. But now that Jesus has SEEN Him, so do they. But they don’t SEE him in the same way that Jesus ‘SAW’ him. All they saw was a theological conundrum to be discussed and debated. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?”
I’m not sure what difference it would have made if Jesus had answered their question. What does it matter really? Unless they are wondering if they should pity this man for getting bad parents or withhold pity for him because he only getting what he deserves.
But Jesus responds saying, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” What Jesus sees in this man is a one in whom the “works of God” are about to be displayed.
The reason that you put something on display is so other people may see it. “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light,” he says elsewhere. (Luke 11:33). “I am the light of the world.” And He is display Himself in this man for all to see.
Jesus comes to this man is such a SACRAMENTAL WAY, that unless we’re totally blind is hard to miss. “He spat on the ground and made mud with saliva. Then he anointed the man’s eyes with mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.”
And we ask, ‘how can mud do such great things? Answer: certainly not just mud, but the saliva of Jesus in the mud, along with the faith which trusts God’s command to “go, wash in the pool of Siloam” does these things.
And then in characteristic understatement, John writes, “So he went and washed and came back seeing.” Can we even begin to imagine what that must have been like for that man? It had to be the most incredible thing – to have never seen ANYTHING but now suddenly to see EVERTHING.
I think that if I were John, who was one of the disciples who witnessed this and who now records it in such detail, I think I would have spilled a little more ink on what this man said and did upon washing and seeing. But John seems to want to focus our attention on what everyone else thinks about this and how they react to it. He wants us to see how everyone responds to the work of God displayed in this man.
“The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar were saying, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some said, ‘It is he.’ Others said, ‘No, but he is like him.’ And all the while, “he kept saying, ‘I am the man.’”
They demand to see MORE evidence before they will believe what they are seeing. “How did it happen?” “Where is he?” And all that he can tell them is about the mud and the water and that it was “the man called Jesus,” and he doesn’t know where he is.
But as soon as he mentions the name “Jesus,” the neighbors all snap to attention and immediately take him to the Pharisees, because the Pharisees had threatened that anyone should confess Jesus to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue.
This poor man. Ever since Jesus came into his life, he’s experienced rejection like he had never experienced it before.
These Pharisees, who each have two, 20/20 eyes, are actually the blind ones here. They cannot SEE the WORK OF GOD DISPLAYED IN THIS MAN – because they’ve made up their minds to NOT BELIEVE WHAT THEY SEE. FOR THEM, SEEING IS NOT BELIEVING. Their blindness is not a matter of faulty cornea and retina but a hardness of heart.
This is the ‘blindness’ that this account is really about. It’s the blindness that John wants to warn us all to beware of. It’s the kind of blindness that REFUSES to believe that Jesus is who He says He is. Despite the evidence – they refuse to see the work of God on display in Christ.
This is the BLINDNESS that we are all born with. In the beginning, the serpent promised if Eve would only disbelieve God’s Word and eat the forbidden fruit, her “eyes would be opened…” And as Eve studied that tree, “she SAW that the fruit was a delight to the eyes… And she took of the fruit and ate…” And she gave some to her husband who was with her and he ate.
And the serpent’s promise proved to be a PURE LIE. Big surprise! The work of the devil is on display in this serpent.
They both went blind. Their eyes still worked. But now they no longer recognized God as the loving, providing, caring Father they had known. Now they only saw angry judge who was out to get them and punish them and ultimately kill them. And this is the blindness towards God that men and women have been born with ever since.
So, when John tells us that Jesus restored the sight of this man born blind, he is really giving us another one of his ‘signs’ that if you had eyes to see, you’d see the curse of the serpent and the sin of Adam and Eve being undone right before your eyes.
This account begins with a man whom Jesus saw. And it ends with the same man seeing Jesus. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asks him. ‘Who is he, sir, that I may believe in Him?” Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him and it is he who is speaking to you.” He said, “Lord I believe, and he worshipped him.”
Behold the work of God on display in this man.
This is the work of God that same Lord Jesus has done in you when He SAW YOU in your blindness and told you to go wash in the pool of water called Baptism. He opens our eyes so that we may see the works of God displayed in Himself.
As we make our way to the cross through this Lenten season, John is preparing us so that we are ready to SEE THE GREATEST WORK OF GOD ON DISPLAY through the utter blindness of sinful man.
“[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) There in the suffering and death of His beloved Son on the cross, we see the greatest work of God – as only eyes that have been opened can see.
What others see as a sinful man getting the divine punishment that sinners deserve, we see as God’s victory over the devil and the justification of all mankind, and the reconciliation of God with man and love of God who takes the punishment that we deserve onto Himself.
In Jesus Christ and Him crucified, we see Him who “leads the blind in a way they do not know… who turns the darkness before them into light…”
• We hear the Father declare His VERY GOOD as the Son pronounces His, “It is finished.”
• We see the “light of the world” in the darkness that fell on the earth when He breathed His last.
With eyes that have been opened, we see the work of God on display in a simple piece of bread and a tiny sip of wine. Jesus is passing by you – opening your eyes as you take and eat; take and drink.
Like the man born blind, who once Jesus SAW him experienced trouble and even persecution like never before, we also need to be prepared for the same. We are to heed Paul’s admonition to all the SEEING SAINTS, “who were at one time darkness, but who are now light in the Lord. Walk as children of light – for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true. Take no part in unfruitful works of darkness…”
For the sad truth is, some whom Jesus has seen and who have been washed in holy baptism and whose eyes were opened so that they might see the work of God in Jesus Christ, have returned to the darkness and gone blind again. It is possible to lose your sight and go blind again after Jesus has opened your eyes.
But He is always merciful and abounding in steadfast love and He is always passing by you with His Word and Spirit. And seeing you, He says, ‘repent – I am the light of the world. I forgive you all of your sins. Behold, the work of God on display in you.’
FOR NOW, The ‘seeing’ that our Lord has worked in us has more to do with the ears than the eyes. For now all seeing is done by HEARING. As Paul reminds us, “faith comes by hearing and hearing through the Word of Christ.” (Rom.10:17) Jesus chides Thomas “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (John 20:29)
We began by recalling the familiar proverb – ‘Seeing is believing.” But now that we see, we no longer say that ‘seeing is believing.’ Now we say ‘being seen that is believing.’
The day will come when all the blindness of man towards God will come to an end. “And every eye shall see Him.” Some will be terrified at the sight of Him, others will be overwhelmed with joy.
“Let us walk as children of light,” that like this man born blind, we too, one day may open our eyes and see our Lord “face to face.” And seeing all of the works of God displayed in him, fall down and worship Him,” forever and ever.
And now may the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.