The Fourth Sunday in Lent
“Blindness and Sight”
March 26, 2017
Sermon Text: John 9:1-7, 13-17, 34-39
There is an old story about Sherlock Holmes and Watson camping out overnight. Somewhere in their journeys they have to sleep out in a field and they rig up one of these old-fashioned tents where you just put a couple of supporting posts in the ground, lay a tarp over them, and then stake the tarp in the corners and you’ve got a tent. So they do this and they go to sleep.
In the middle of the night Holmes pokes Watson and wakes him up. Watson asks, “What’s going on?” Holmes answers, “Watson, look up, what do you see?” Watson replies, “Oh, it is a beautiful night sky. I can’t remember the last time I saw so many stars! And I see a planet over there, and another planet not too far away from it, and on other side of the sky the moon is only half full but it is still so bright! I can see the outline of the galaxy sweeping across the sky. And it all reminds me how grand and awesome our universe is, and how insignificant I am in the midst of it all. I am in awe of its beauty and I am humbled.”
Holmes replies, “Watson, you fool, someone stole our tent!”
Two people can look at exactly the same thing and see totally different things. Depending on your perspective, you might say that Watson saw what was really important in seeing the big picture and his tiny place in it. Or you might say that Holmes saw what was really important and focused on the practical, the here and now. If one of these things is more important to you, you might say that the person who missed that and saw the other thing was blind.
We all do some interpretation of everything that we see. Even what we see with our eyes, the way our eyes are structured and function, we see upside-down. Our brains electronically flip the picture rightside-up so that we can make sense of what we are looking at. Even at that basic level, we are engaging in some interpretation of what we are looking at.
Our spiritual sight is our most important sight of all, and it is the sight most open to interpretation. Spiritual sight is the most likely sight to miss something when it is looking right at it. That is because the spiritual is, by definition, not material, and therefore, not perceived by the normal five senses in which we trust.
True spiritual sight is also non-existent in sinners. One of the curses of the fall into original sin is that we are by nature blind, naked, and dead. We are blind to everything that is really true. We could spend weeks on a Bible Study of all the places where Scripture makes this point and illustrates it. Anyone who is lost in original sin, anyone who is outside of the Kingdom of God, not only see all things incorrectly, but they are, in fact, totally blind to all the truths of God.
How else could you possibly explain the condition of people who saw Jesus give sight to a blind man, and all that they could think of to do was to attack Him for doing it on the Sabbath? If someone in your family was sick, really sick, and about to die, and a doctor came and treated him and brought him back from the brink of death to being fully recovered, would you take the opportunity to complain to everyone that he was wearing a bad tie, or would you tell everyone what a great doctor he was? Anybody sane would throw you out of the house for whining about his tie. They would say, “Forget about his stupid tie. I don’t care about his tie. Can’t you see what he has done!?
This is exactly what is going on in verse 16 of our Gospel lesson. Some of the pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath.” But others said, “Look at what He has done! How could a sinner do something like this?” And there was a division among them.
And there was a division among them. There it is again, that same old division that we see again and again in Scripture. It does not say that a group of them were enjoying their doughnuts and said, “What? Jesus Who? What has he done? Oh, I don’t care.” There was a not a group of them who were uninvolved because they were inspecting their busted NCAA brackets. There was not a group of them who said that Jesus was a decent man, just like anybody else, learn a few things from him and move on.
There were only two groups. Just like everywhere else in Scripture, there only two sides to the fence, and you are on one or the other. Leave walking on top of the fence to the cats. Everyone is on one side of the fence, or the other. Either people embrace Jesus, or they are opposed to Him, and everywhere Jesus goes, people may be for Him, or against Him, but He is always the most important thing going on, one way or the other. And there was a division between them.
This text writes about that division as being a division between those who see and those who are blind. And it speaks of sight from God’s perspective, and from our perspective. From our perspective, being able to see is simply having eyes that receive images from outside of ourselves. I see my hand in front of my face because my eyes are in working order, and also because there is a hand there to see. But one more thing is necessary. I’ve got eyes, and here is something to see, but what else is needed? No matter how good my eyes are, and whether I’ve got something to see or not, I could never see anything without light. Light waves bounce off the object, different wavelengths of light produce different colors, and my eyes receive only those light waves. Without them, I see nothing. I’ve been far away from any lights on a moonless night and what’s the first thing I do? I put my hand up in front of my face, and I say that it is so dark, and you say, “How dark is it?” and I reply, “It is so dark that I cannot see my hand right in front of my face.” Where there is no light, there is no sight.
God’s perspective on sight is that He provides the light. It is only through His gift of light that we see anything. Jesus is the light of the world, come to show us all things. He has sent us the Holy Spirit, Who calls us and enlightens us with His gifts. What does Isaiah 9 tell us about the coming of the Lord? The people walking in darkness have seen a great light … upon them a light has dawned. We are sinners who were born in darkness and who live in darkness. But by the grace of God, His light has shone into our lives.
And yet, there are still those, and they are still many, who only say of the doctor, “I don’t like his tie. No good doctor would wear a tie like that.” They say that they see, they say that they see well enough to know who and what God should be and what he should do, but they are blind, and they remain blind simply because they reject the light because it’s not the light they think it should be.
In my experience, just because of the people I know and places where I’ve been, I’ve seen this in lapsed Catholics more than anywhere else. I’ve met a lot of people who were raised Catholic, but they describe the God they learned about as a child as an angry God, a demanding God, a vengeful God, Whose only involvement in their lives was sending them nuns to slap their knuckles with a stick until they were red and sore. They say that they never heard that Jesus is love, though I always suspect that that was probably in there somewhere if they had just paid attention. But now they totally reject Jesus, because of their background. They will listen to a Buddhist, they will convert to Judaism, they will say that they are desperately seeking God and they are willing to find Him anywhere, but I will tell them that they are not willing to find Him anywhere because they have ruled out Jesus. They won’t accept the possibility that the Bible is right, and Jesus is the One, and it just got all messed up in the church of their youth, or because their parents claimed to be Christians but they were hypocrites about it, and so they are saying no to the one place where He is. And because they say “We see, we see that all religions have potential, and we see that Jesus is not the one, not for me,” because they say, “We see,” they remain blind.
There is one attitude that we must maintain, and that is an attitude of humility. We do not ask God for light and then prescribe for Him what that light will show us. We beg God for light, and then we pray, “Lord Jesus, whatever it is that You have to show me, whatever it is that You want to cast Your light upon, whatever it is that You want to do with me, whatever it is that You want to do, please just show me, and do it to me, and help me to see it and accept it and believe it. Please, Lord, I am Yours, and Yours alone. You are in charge.”
This is not what the pharisees did. They would never have admitted this, and they did not even see it in their blindness, but they were demanding that God send them a Messiah Who would tell them that they were right about everything, that they were better than everybody else, and that they would remain the ones on top of the power structure. And anything else from God they rejected outright, no matter what signs and miracles were being done.
Are we really any different? Are we open to being shown that we are wrong about something? Anyone who spends any time on Facebook or Twitter knows that this issue is increasingly becoming worse in our culture. I have to take my hat off to Pastor Fiene, the pastor down at River of Life in Channahon, who wrote this on Facebook a few months ago: “I was wrong about so many things.” We all need to have that attitude. Are we open to being wrong, to admitting that we are wrong and, in fact, don’t know everything? Are we open to being shown that we’re not the most wonderful people in the world? Are we open to washing other people’s feet, instead of judging them and telling them what to do and how to do it? Whenever we say that we see something, are we quick to remind ourselves that there are a dozen other things that we don’t see, or that maybe, just maybe, someone else sees better than we do? Are we quick to listen and slow to speak?
Jesus came as the light of the world to restore sight to the blind, to give sight to us when we confess our sins and cry out, “Lord Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me,” when we see that we don’t really see anything clearly. And He came as the light of the world that would one day be snuffed out. On the day that Christ died, the Gospels record that there was a period of time when it became as dark as night, and it is said that that happened so that no one would be able to see Jesus when He was in the depth of his horrors upon the cross. God spared us that awful sight, so that He could restore true sight to us who were blind. Christ suffered because blind humans rejected Him and crucified Him, so that He could give those humans sight. And on the third day the light of the world was raised again to new life, so that He could show us the light and show us the path to the Father.
And now as His redeemed people we live as people who see. We see our sin for what it really is, in all its darkness and corruption. And we see His love and mercy as it really is. There is a general truth in the Christian life, that the more we see and understand the love and mercy of Christ, the more confidence we have and the more courage we have to face our sin for what it really is, in all its ugliness. And as face our sin more and more, and have faith that that sin is forgiven, we comprehend to a greater depth the love and mercy of Christ, and then as we comprehend that love and mercy more and more, we face our own sin more and more truly, and on and on the spiral goes as we see the light more and more clearly. There’s a reason why we sometimes talk about the good, old-fashioned Lutheran guilt. It’s not because we Lutherans beat ourselves up over our sins. It is because as people who have gifted with the true Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, we are the ones who can truly face our sins as they are and don’t mind it, because we know that the forgiveness of Christ is far greater than any of our sins.
Live and walk as people of the light, people who are slow to say “We see,” about anything else besides, “I see only that I am a sinner who needs God’s mercy in His Son Jesus Christ.” And praise be to God that He bestows that mercy upon us, restores our sight, and leads us in His ways. Amen.
“Blindness and SIght”
3/26/17 The Rev Richard J Bellas
St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL