Sunday, March 22, 2020

Blinded by Our Might: John 9:1-41 - Fourth Sunday in Lent

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.”

By NIAID - https://www.flickr.com/photos/niaid/49534865371/, CC BY 2.0 
Over the past week, I’ve seen things I never thought I’d see: store shelves emptied of merchandise; desperate people hoarding or even stealing toilet paper; restaurants and malls shut down; churches (even the big ones) empty on Sunday morning.

“I’ve never seen anything like this” is what everyone’s saying—even those who lived through the Great Depression, World War 2, the Cuban Missile Crisis, the oil embargos, Disco Fever…

What I find so stunning is that for all the ways science and technology have revolutionized human civilization, you can’t come to church without putting yourself or someone else at risk—all because of some virus! Something that you can’t even see.

I believe that we 21st century Americans have been blinded by our might; absolutely convinced of our invincibility. Even as we watched hundreds of thousands of people fall sick in China and Western Europe, we still believed it would never happen here. Not in America. But here we are.

Still, many individuals believe: I won’t get sick! I’m too strong. I’m too healthy! The experts are over-reacting. The government’s trying to run our lives. The media is feeding hysteria.

Blindness is not exclusive to those who lack eyesight; nor is vision restricted to those who see perfectly.

In our Gospel, we are introduced to Bartimaeus, a man born into blindness. He was also born into the widespread belief that a disability was a consequence of sin. This is what Jesus’ disciples believed, until Jesus tells them that they’re wrong: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Is Jesus saying that Bartimaeus was born blind so that Jesus could come along and give him sight? I ask that, because it would be wonderful to be able to tell everyone with a disability or disease that God gave it to you so that God could cure you of it. I’ve heard many folks say that God sent the Coronavirus to give everyone a wake-up call to return to the Christian faith.

Bartimaeus may have lacked eyesight, but the blind people are those who believe that what they see is all there is to see, and that everyone else sees as they see. It’s the blind who are sure they have it all figured out, who say with absolute certainty EXACTLY what God is up to.

Before we make Bartimaeus into a hero, remember that he didn’t say or do anything heroic. He didn’t even ask Jesus to give him sight; Jesus put spitty mud on his eyes, and he washed in the pool of Siloam. This wasn’t a big leap of faith. He just did what Jesus told him to do. Even with the religious leaders interrogating him like some criminal, he tells them the simple truth: “Jesus put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see. He must be from God if he could do such a thing.”

The story ends with Bartimaeus not merely seeing but believing that Jesus is the Son of Man. The religious leaders, on the other hand, are blind to who Jesus is because they are so certain that what they see is all there is to see. Since Jesus’ healing of Bartimaeus didn’t fit into what they were convinced was true, Jesus had to be a liar, lunatic, or both. They, too, were blinded by their might.

I know many persons with blindness and other disabilities who amaze me with their might. They are extraordinarily talented, tenacious, passionate, and hard-working people. They are an inspiration to all of us to believe in ourselves, trust in God, and rise above adversity. But a person with blindness can’t drive a car. A person with paraplegia can’t go up and down stairs as easily, or as safely, as I can. A person with deafness can’t enjoy music like I do. Maybe, just maybe, their strength lies in the fact that they know that they are vulnerable. They know they are dependent on others to get by. They know they cannot control everything.

One thing that can be said about the Coronavirus Pandemic is that it has shattered the illusion of control. What we see now is chaos. But chaos is not all there is to see.

God is present in the crisis. We know this because of the people who are stepping up and reaching out to make sure our children don’t go hungry. We know this because of the brave healthcare workers, store workers, janitors, delivery drivers, emergency first responders, and other everyday heroes who tend to the sick and make civilized life possible. We know God is here because we are reaching out to each other and caring for the neighbor. We are finally becoming church for the sake of the world

There’s nothing good that can be said about Covid-10. It’s evil. But it is by God’s grace that our delusions of grandeur are being shattered, because they weren’t doing us any good even before the virus hit. It is by God’s grace that we are finally taking seriously are dependence on God and each other.

This is only the beginning of a wilderness experience that’s going to change you, the church, and the world in ways we cannot possibly imagine. I wish I could tell you that the worst of this is behind us, and that you won’t experience any pains, losses, or hardships. I wish I could tell you that the situation really isn’t as bad as the experts say it is. The fact that you don’t want to see something will not keep it from happening.

Listen to the Words: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.” Listen, because it’s not the chaos you will see. It is God you will see.

Once you see yourself as vulnerable, not in control, dependent on God and other people, and accept this as your reality, you will see the faithfulness of God. Once you see the ways the pandemic is affecting your neighbor, particularly those facing greater hardships than you, you will see the face of Jesus as you do for them whatever is in your ability to do. If we stick together as the Body of Christ, holding fast to God’s promises, committed to the cause of hope instead of the chaos of panic, we will see a resurrection and rebirth.

God didn’t send Covid-19. But God’s works will be revealed in the world, through the Body of Christ, and in the awesome ways God acts through the entire human community.

All will work out to the glory of God.

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