A sermon by Michael Cheuk, Pastor, University Baptist Church, Charlottesville, Va.
March 30, 2014
Once upon a time, there was a man blind from birth. From the moment he was born, his eyes were shut to the world. No light. No shadows. No shapes. Darkness was his constant companion. When he was younger, perhaps he cursed the darkness and denounced his disability. But then again, perhaps he didn’t, because the world of darkness was all he ever knew. He had never seen light. He didn’t have anything else to compare it with. He didn’t know any different.
But yet, he knew he was different. He might be blind, but he could hear. And from what he heard, he knew he was different. He heard the whispers of people behind his back: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” He heard the condescending tones of travelers: “Get outta my way, you blind man!” He heard the innocent questions of children: “Mom, what’s wrong with that man’s eyes?” But there was nothing he could do about it. So eventually, he saw himself not as a man who happened to be born blind, but as a blind man. Blindness became the defining part of his identity. And every morning, he would leave his home, make his way to the edge of town with the help of his walking stick, sit down outside the town gates, and shake his little tin cup, hoping to receive a coin here, a piece of bread there, morsels that could help him make it to another day. That was the world he knew. Yes, it was a small and limited world, but he knew his place in it, and that brought a measure of security and comfort.
One Sabbath day, while begging at the town gates, the man heard the usual whisperings, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Same old question, that was nothing unusual. What was unusual was the answer: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the work of God, the glory of God might be displayed in his life. . . . While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Now what could that mean? But before he could even think about it, he heard a spitting noise, and then he felt something like mud being applied to his eyes. And the next thing he heard was a voice that gently said: “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam.” Too shocked to do anything else, the man did what he was told. As the water from that pool trickled down his face, streams of light began streaking through his eyes. As he adjusted his eyes to the light, he tried to identify the man who was the light of the world. But his healer was no where to be seen. He had simply disappeared and left a man healed of blindness.
A man healed of blindness. What a blessing, right? Who wouldn’t want that? Who wouldn’t want to be healed of blindness and receive sight? Well, if you had a chance to ask that man, perhaps he would tell you that the day he received his sight was the day his troubles began. This formerly blind man did not solicit healing. He did not strive for vision. Beyond his wildest imagination, someone came and gave him the gift of sight. But with the way things went afterwards, this man might have wished he could return that gift! For on that day, as he came home seeing, his neighbors and friends disregarded him. His own parents distanced themselves from him. His ministers doubted and demeaned him. His own place of worship ostracized him.
In just a few minutes, this man’s whole world had changed, and he hardly knew how to explain it or understand it. As he tells his questioners, “One thing I know: I was blind, but now I see.” This he could not deny. His encounter with the light of the world opened his eyes to a world that he had never seen before. As a result he became a changed person, and he quickly saw that his neighbors, friends, ministers, and yes, even his own parents liked him better the way he was—blind, dependent, stuck in his own little world where he did his thing and submitted to his given station in life. But his identity was no longer defined by the things he couldn’t see or do. He now had a positive purpose in life, and he would face opposition for it. As he answered the interrogations of his neighbors, it dawned on him that the person who healed him was not just some man they called Jesus. As he faced the inquisition by the Pharisees, it became increasingly clear that this man Jesus was also a prophet. And as he endured the cross examination by his fellow Jews, he gained confidence that Jesus was a man from God doing the works of God so that God might be glorified. He had seen the light and no amount of darkness was going to hold him back.
Once upon a time, there was a Pharisee. At least that’s what he was called back then, but it could be anyone who was serious about religion, serious about obeying the law, serious about maintaining order and propriety within a congregation and society. This person studied the scriptures and knew them cover to cover, or maybe scroll to scroll. For most of his life, he saw himself as a defender of traditional morality, making distinctions between right and wrong, confident and self-assured in his conclusions. He prided himself in his ability to see straight to the heart of the matter. Others saw him as a leader and looked up to him. After all, they didn’t want leaders who were wishy-washy flip floppers. They wanted a leader who was confident in his outlook and certain in his beliefs.
One Sabbath day, a group of villagers brought to him a man born blind who claimed he was healed. In those days, a blind man didn’t just have a physical impairment, he had a social role. His role was the local blind man. Every town has people like that, people who are labeled the red necks, the trailer trash, the town drunk, and as long as we’re not one of them, then we must be all right. But apart from his social role, the blind man also had a theological role. In the Pharisee’s moral world, blindness was associated with sinfulness. So the blind man was designated a “sinner.” The righteous Pharisee had a tendency to look for “sinners” that he could blame for the ills of society. He saw so clearly how certain nationalities were dangerous, how certain traditions were religiously heretical, and how certain groups of people were simply immoral. Sure, there was trouble in this world, but the Pharisee had a system in his moral world to make sense of these troubles and sinners. But now, the Pharisee learns of a man born blind who was healed of blindness! How does this man that fit into his neat, orderly world?
A man healed of blindness. What a blessing, right? Who wouldn’t celebrate that? Who wouldn’t be thrilled to see a man healed of blindness and receive sight? Well, if you had a chance to ask that Pharisee, he would tell you that the day he met this man was the day his troubles began. Before meeting this healed blind man, the Pharisee’s saw the world so clearly, his moral vision was so certain, his beliefs, so secure. But upon meeting this man, this “sinner” who was supposedly healed, things were no longer so clear.
For one thing, any bum off the street could tell you that it was against the law to work or heal on the Sabbath. The Pharisee knew that no real prophet would go around healing on the Sabbath. And it didn’t matter that the blind man’s parents confirmed that he was born blind, because they said they knew nothing about the healing, and did not seem too eager to defend their son. The Pharisee even questioned the man a second time about how he was healed. You can’t blame the Pharisee for being skeptical about miraculous healings when there are so many religious charlatans and hucksters in the world. There’s no place for a naïve blind faith. A faith healing today might lead to snake handling tomorrow!
The Pharisee was just doing his religious duty to investigate this matter, sorting things out so that everything fits neatly into his world view. So the Pharisee went back to the healed man, asking one more time how all this came to be. By now, the healed man was getting impatient: “Haven’t we already had this conversation? Why are you so curious about this man who healed me. . . . Oh – I see! Maybe you want to become one his disciples!”
How insulting! Just yesterday, this man was blind, an uneducated beggar living on the fringe of society. But today, he’s mocking a religious leader! Yet the healed man continued: “This is remarkable! You don’t know where my healer comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. . . . If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Such insolence! A Pharisee, being lectured by a beggar? That’s what happens when things get shaken up. People start disregarding their proper station in life. They get uppity. Doesn’t this simpleton know that he has no authority to teach a Pharisee? Finally the Pharisee snapped back: “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!”
The day that the Pharisee met the healed blind man was the day that his troubles began. But instead of wrestling with the healed man’s challenging statements, instead of pondering these events that assaulted his cherished assumptions and beliefs, the Pharisee just threw the troublemaker out. I guess we can understand this. After all, suddenly the Pharisee has just encountered a blind man who can see; he’s just learned of a Sabbath-breaker who can perform miracles. Such developments certainly shake the status of the Pharisee’s tidy world view – they can even shake the status of the Pharisee himself. Sometimes, it is easier to throw the troublemaker out than to face the questions.
At the end of chapter 9, after a long absence, Jesus finally comes back. There, the healed blind man discovers that he was not only healed of his physical blindness, but also his spiritual blindness. He sees Jesus and responds with a confession of faith: “Lord, I believe,” and worships Jesus. The Good News is that for all the troubles he had seen since his healing, he finds that they are worth it because he is now in the presence of his Lord, who knows about them all. But Jesus also told him that he came into this world “so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Overhearing this, the Pharisees incredulously asked: “What? Are we blind too?” The Pharisees had a hard time seeing the fact that physical sight doesn’t equate with spiritual insight. In their refusal to see Jesus and to wrestle with the reality that He brings in his Person and Work, they remain spiritually blind.
In that story, judgment has been pronounced. But for us, Jesus has not come back yet and there is still time to respond. In some ways, we all are like the blind man needing our eyes opened to a greater insight of faith. And in some ways, we all are like the Pharisee comfortable in our ways of seeing and believing and not wanting to be challenged. During this season of Lent, will we let Jesus open our eyes to challenge our ways of seeing in order to truly perceive the glorious work of God in our world? Will we acknowledge our blindness so that it leads to faith? Or will we let our current way of seeing enslave us to unbelief? Blind . . . faith. Seeing . . . unbelief. How will we respond? Amen.