A sermon by Bob Browning, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Frankfort, Ky.
March 30, 2014
Our attention is drawn this morning to an encounter Jesus had with a blind man. While we know little about this man, we are told he had been blind since birth and was a beggar, a fate common to most adults in his position.
When the disciples spotted the blind beggar on the roadside, their initial reaction was to engage Jesus in a conversation about why this man was blind. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” they asked Jesus.
This question doesn’t surprise me. For generations, the Jews had been taught adversity was punishment for sin, so it was only natural for the disciples to ask Jesus whose sins were responsible for this man’s blindness.
Jesus refused to get into a discussion about the reason people suffer, which would not have helped this poor man at all. Instead, Jesus told the disciples their brief time with this blind beggar would be better spent doing something that would actually make a difference in his life. This was why Jesus went to the beggar, knelt in front of him, spat on the ground to make a mud paste and applied this concoction to the man’s eyes.
“Go wash in the pool of Siloam,” Jesus told the man. After washing in the pool and for the first time in his life, the blind beggar was able to see.
Nice story. Surely everyone was grateful for what Jesus had done for this beggar, and they were celebrating with him.
Not so. There are thirty-four more verses in this story, and there is no mention of gratitude or joy in them. There is, however, an abundance of confusion and anger.
The Pharisees were not happy about what happened that day near the Temple. After all, it was the Sabbath, and Jesus violated one of the Sabbath rules when he stooped down to make that mud paste.
Kneading was strictly forbidden on the Sabbath. Any prophet or rabbi would have known this, which revealed Jesus to be a sinner who was not in good standing with God, as the Pharisees believed they were.
So, the Pharisees called for the man who had been healed to interrogate him. When they did not like his answers, which clearly explained what Jesus did for him, they called for the beggar’s parents. They were evasive and provided no answers to the Pharisees’ questions, which led the leaders to send for the beggar a second time.
Repeatedly, the Pharisees quizzed him about who it was that healed him, and how he did it. Each time the beggar told them the same thing and refused to slander Jesus, which aggravated the Pharisees even more. Finally, out of patience and ideas, the Pharisees threw the beggar out of the temple as a form of punishment.
This act of cruelty brings Jesus back into the story. He finds the man who has been thrown out of the temple and commends him for his courage and faith, which infuriates the Pharisees even more.
You know what intrigues me most about this story? It is the amount of attention given, not to the miracle, but the reaction to it. Only two of the forty-one verses describe the miracle; the bulk of the story is about the Pharisees’ angry reaction to it.
This is understandable. By this time in Jesus’ public ministry, many of the leading Pharisees were jealous of him and threatened by his large following. Jesus’ compassion exposed their selfishness, and his stinging criticisms revealed their addictions to power, prestige, money and attention.
Life was about them, not the people God called them to serve, and Jesus knew it. Not all, but many of the most powerful religious leaders did not reflect the heart and nature of God, but their own greed and ego. When Jesus refused to become one of them and play by their rules, they did everything they could to discredit him and undermine his ministry. Today’s story is a good example of this.
The Pharisees never rejoiced over what Jesus did for this beggar. Instead, they looked for ways to slander Jesus and chip away at his popularity. Why?
I believe our text helps us answer this question. It was because the Pharisees were blind and did not know it.
What makes this story so interesting is that the beggar was not the only person who was blind. The religious leaders who had ignored him for years and who criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath were also blind. They could not see what was important to God, where God was at work in the world, and how God could use them to help those who were suffering.
When the Pharisees asked the beggar how he received his sight, he told them, “He (Jesus) put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”
In response, some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.”
What do you think was more important to God the day Jesus passed by the blind man: making sure the hundreds of Sabbath laws were observed or giving sight to a man who had never seen his family? You would have to be blind to get that answer wrong!
Perhaps this is the point of this story. We can have 20/20 vision and be blind. This is because light comes not just from the world around us, but from the faith within us.
What does faith help us see which our physical eyes cannot detect? This question excited me as it bubbled up from the text. I had to roll back from my computer and ponder it awhile over a cup of fresh brew. Here is what came to mind.
Faith helps us to:
See where God is at work in the world so we can join Him;
See who God is working through so we can help them;
See our blind spots so we can address them, learn and grow in our understanding of life and faith;
See our sins so we can confess them;
See God’s mercy so we can be released from our guilt;
See who is trying to give us have a clearer vision of what it means to be a faithful disciple so we can listen to them with open hearts and minds;
See our potential so we can accept new challenges;
See what’s important in life so we don’t misplace our priorities;
See how our priorities need to be changed;
See how selfishness brings the worst out in us;
See how generosity brings the best out in us;
See how hate makes the world smaller, and love makes it much larger;
See dreams of a better life when we love our neighbors as ourselves;
See those around us who need a helping hand or word of encouragement;
See what we have to offer those who are struggling, and the difference we can make in their lives;
See how we can use our time, talents and resources to make the world better;
See where our voice on behalf of justice and peace needs to be heard and our influence felt;
See that some of our beliefs are molded and shaped by culture’s values not God’s;
See a way of thinking, believing and living which truly reflects God’s heart and nature;
See how important it is to trust God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength;
See Jesus as the Son of Man and confess him as Lord, as this healed beggar did.
I believe Jesus tried his best to get the Pharisees to see these things and much more, yet many refused his help. They were confident they knew more than Jesus did about life and faith. Sadly, they did not, and their influence led many astray and left chronic needs unmet.
How ironic. This story opened by describing the blindness of the beggar and the Pharisees. It ended with only the beggar being healed.
I wonder what you and I do not see. Where are our blind spots? How is God working in and around us to open our eyes and hearts to new ways of thinking, believing and living? Who is God using to lead us to new levels of understanding and commitment?
How can we be more receptive to the work of the Spirit? Maybe it begins when we acknowledge we don’t know as much as we think we do, and it continues when we ask God to show us our blind spots. I feel God draws closer to us when we approach Him with a humble spirit and an open mind instead of being defensive, as the Pharisees appeared to be.
I find the Pharisees question of Jesus near the end of the story rather humorous. “Surely, we are not blind, are we?”
How different the outcome might have been had they tweaked that question upon hearing this beggar’s confession of faith in Jesus as the Son of Man and asked, “What must we do to see what this beggar sees?” I wonder what difference it would make in our lives?
Lent is a time for curing blindness. We’re a little over half-way on this journey to the cross. Is your eyesight improving? Are your blind spots diminishing?
Each day this week as you pray, ask the question, “What must I do to see what this beggar saw?” I assure you God will respond, and your vision will get clearer.