1As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
There is power in a story. Stories often hold within them so many complex truths and lessons. Even more simple stories that come in the form fairy tales are often full of opportunities to learn. Often, I try to find a story or an illustration where the gospel and our life intersects. But every time I thought I had one, it ended up sounded forced and inadequate. The central thrust of this healing by Jesus is one that doesn’t lend itself well to a simple story. So let’s dig in and see why.
This story, this healing, is drastically influenced by ancient Israel’s status quo. So, what is a status quo? The status quo teaches us how things are done. It’s an often unspoken social contract that provides order and predictability. It guides peoples’ thoughts and, by doing so, guides peoples’ actions. It can make otherwise kind people turn a blind eye to suffering. It can make strong people feel weak. It can be used to justify any number of things, from war to slavery to discrimination of all kinds. Because the status quo provides excuses for why things are the way they are. Usually, the status quo feels fairly benign – maybe a few jokes that play off stereotypes of people. Other times, it leads to a very active oppression. Both, I would argue, are signs of sin in the world. We see this idea of status quo in a very real way in our gospel today.
First off, the disciples themselves are not immune to its influence. They point to a man begging, a man who had been blind from birth, and they use him as an object lesson. “Who sinned? This man or this man’s parents?” Despite knowing what I do about the culture of Israel 2000 year ago, this still catches me off guard. After seeing everything they’ve seen – Jesus with the woman at the well, Jesus calling disciples from unlikely places, Jesus healing and teaching and feeding thousands – they were still under the influence of the status quo. (In one way, this is disheartening, but in another way it’s hopeful – if they are redeemed, so are we.) This man or his parents had to have done something wrong – that was the only explanation they had for his situation. It’s comfortable that way because it takes all responsibility off of us to change it.
Jesus declares that it was not sin that made this man blind. He doesn’t even say, exactly, that God made him blind. But he does say what God will do with his blindness. Everything is used for God’s glory, Jesus seems to say, even this man’s lack of sight. He heals him and this could easily have been the end of the story. But, I’m sure you’ll notice, that this story doesn’t end after verse 7 – there is no happily ever after, even if we’d like there to be. This story drags on for 34 more verses as people try to figure out what has gone wrong.
What has gone wrong, of course, is that Jesus (and by extension, God) is not following the status quo. The first thing people say when they see this formerly blind man is not, “Wow! You can see!” but “Hey. Isn’t that the guy who used to beg?” You see, the concern over why he was not begging anymore overwhelmed the joy of seeing someone in their community gain their vision. My assumption is that they had justified his blindness in their minds, they had assumed he deserved it (unfortunately, there is a precedent in the Bible to believe such things), and when he was no longer in that condition they had to do one of two things – repent (change their minds about their perception of him) or work to fix the status quo. Spoiler alert: they eventually did that by throwing him out of their community on the basis that he believed Jesus was justified.
Much like the other lessons in our Lenten gospels this year, Jesus isn’t doing what people expect of him. He’s not playing by the rules. Last week, he spoke with a Samaritan woman. The week before, he claimed that the love and grace of God is not just for the religiously pure, but the whole cosmos. This week, he heals on the Sabbath. The Sabbath day was a holy day in ancient Israel, you were not allowed to work, travel, bake, or anything on the Sabbath day. Healing fell into those bounds and it was entirely because he healed on the Sabbath that they believed Jesus was not of God. He wasn’t playing by their rules.
Before we vilify the Pharisee’s though, let’s remember: It’s easy for us to fall into this trap, of assuming that our own status quo is the way that God works. It’s easy for us to think that we have all the answers. It’s hard to change our minds. But this story helps illustrate that, while we are under the influence of the status quo, feeling the weight of sin against our fellow creation, God does not play by those rules. God does not play by the rules we create or imagine.
Once again, we see that Jesus cares more for the spirit of the law than the letter of the law. He cares more for humanity than his religious purity. He cares more for serving the poor and the outcast than he does about preserving his ego or reputation. And all of this was too much for the well-intentioned but misguided elite to handle. And that is incredibly frustrating, and you can hear it in the man’s voice: “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see… I have told you already, and you would not listen… Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.”
Let us not react the same way when we see God moving and working in unexpected way. Because the whole reason we are here, worshiping together right now, is because God uses unexpected people to do unexpected things. A vehement persecutor of the early Church became it’s most well-known missionary. Immigrants, often uneducated and poor, came to the land we now enjoy and started a new life. The story of each and every one of us is an unexpected thing because each and every one of us is under the umbrella of grace. And all of this points us to this truth: God does not care about our status quo. God cares for people. God cares for you.
I imagine us, now, in the place of this unnamed blind man, experiencing all the struggles that we experience in this world – grief, pain, poverty, hunger, infertility, illness, sexism, racism – and hearing those words, “Who sinned? Him or his parents?” And Jesus bends down, looks in our eyes, whether we can see it or not, smiles and says, “Neither. All is forgiven. All was nailed to the cross with me. It is for you that I have died. It is for you that I have risen.”
There is no status quo that God is content to maintain – we are all God’s beloved creation. Even those whom we disagree with. Even those who fill us with fear. Even those who we hate or hate us. Even those we oppress or oppress us. God’s love is for all and it’s unexpected, it’s scandalous, it’s unfair, and it’s confusing. In other words, it’s grace. God’s grace is not bound by our status quo. God’s grace is for all and it is for you. Beautiful, amazing grace. Amen.