Download or listen to Lenten Midweek V, “Opened Eyes” (John 9:1-41)
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
As long as this story is—long, at least, for a Sunday morning or a midweek Gospel reading—it begins and ends with the same questions: what is sin? And, what is blindness? The story begins as Jesus and His disciples are going out of the temple, where Jesus has just narrowly escaped being stoned to death because He said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” The Pharisees and the leaders of the Jews take that for what it is, a claim that Jesus is the God of Abraham, and they pick up stones to kill Him. But He hides Himself from them and goes out of the temple with His disciples. As they are passing by the temple, Jesus sees a man born blind. His disciples see him, too, and they ask Jesus, “Rabbi—teacher—who sinned that this man was born blind? Was it because of his sin, or the sin of his parents?” Jesus starts walking toward the man, and He says, “This man’s blindness was not caused by his sin or his parents’ sin.” Jesus kneels down and spits on the ground. Ptuo—that’s the Greek word—ptuo, He spits on the ground and makes mud out of the dust of the earth and His saliva, and smears it on the man’s unseeing eyes. The disciples want to focus on the cause of the blindness: the man’s or his parents’. Jesus turns their focus to the purpose: so that the works of God might be revealed, displayed publicly, in this particular man. And then Jesus says the only words that anyone actually says to the blind man at this point: “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.” (Hard not to wonder how he got to the pool!). But however he gets there, he washes and he comes back seeing.
The story ends with the same questions. Jesus says, “I have come into this world for judgment”–not in the negative sense of that word, as in “condemnation”–but in the sense that Jesus comes dividing people into two groups: “that the blind may see, and the seeing be blind.” And the Pharisees want to know, “We are not blind also, are we?!” And Jesus answers them, “If you were blind, you would have no sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” It’s not just the syllables that they say, “We see,” because the formerly blind man uses almost the same words, “One thing I know, I was blind, but now I see.” It is that they say, “We see,” but they refuse to see Jesus, to recognize Him for who He is. Jesus reverses the question of the disciples, who ask, “Who sinned, that this man was born blind?” Jesus says, “The Pharisees are blind, so they still have sin.” The problem is not physical blindness, but blindness to Jesus, which is sin itself: unbelief. See, there are only two places your sin can be: on Jesus, or on you. The Pharisees refuse to see Jesus as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world; they say, “We know that this man is a sinner, and that He cannot have come from God”; therefore, their sin remains on them, rather than on Jesus, who takes away sin.
This problem of confusing blindness with sight goes all the way back to the Garden. There the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die”–directly contradicting the word of God–“instead, God knows that in the day you eat of this fruit, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” You will be like God; you will not be blind like the rest of His creatures. You will know good and evil. And, in a way, that’s the truth: we have seen it all. We have seen far too much. We’ve seen some good, but how much evil have we seen? How much evil have we known? How much have we brought upon ourselves, and our families, and our communities? Sure, your eyes have been opened, but it hasn’t done you any good. The only thing we see for sure now is death.
But Jesus has come to do the works of God, not of the serpent. As much as the Pharisees deny it, only God can open the eyes of the blind. In fact, Psalm 146 says it, “Yahweh opens the eyes of the blind.” And Isaiah prophesies it three times: Isaiah 29:18: “In that day the deaf shall hear the words of a book and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.” Isaiah 35:5: “Behold, your God shall come and save you, then the eyes of the blind shall be opened.” And Isaiah 42:6-7: “I will give you, [the faithful Servant], as a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind.” God will give His servant as a light for the nations, and that’s what Jesus says about Himself: “I am the light of the world,” and He opens the eyes of the blind man. The man born blind is correct: “Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind” (John 9:32). Lepers are cleansed in the Old Testament; multitudes are fed; even the dead are raised. But it is not recorded that any blind men have their eyes opened. The fact that the blind see means that the Day of the Lord has come. When Jesus opens this man’s eyes, it means that the Reign of God has come on the earth, and a new creation has begun.
Jesus still passes by, He still sees people born blind, and He still does the works of the One who sent Him. He sees not just one blind man, or a few, or even many, but all. We are all born blind, dead enemies of God. We are all conceived and born sinful, and we are under the power of the devil until Christ claims us as His own. He sees us and He walks by, choosing us, claiming us for His own by His holy, precious blood and by His innocent suffering and death, and He opens our eyes so that we can see Him. Otherwise, we would be as the prophet Isaiah says, hearing but never understanding; seeing, but never perceiving, with dull hearts, heavy ears, and blind eyes (Isaiah 6:9-10). It is the way of Jesus to open the eyes of the blind one by one, so that the works of God are revealed and displayed in us. One by one: Sunday He did it in Carstyn, and it is exactly the same work that He does in each one of us: washing with water, opening eyes, and giving to faith Himself as its object. Who is this Jesus? Here I am, He says. You have seen Him and He is the one speaking to you. We began and ended the story with questions of sin and blindness, but for you the story ends with righteousness and sight: He has called you, He has washed you, He has opened your eyes; you have been given ears to hear and eyes to see; your sin is not on you, but on Jesus, and He takes it all away. Now everyone whom He has claimed for Himself looks to Him and says, “Lord, I believe,” and worships.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/1/14