"The Blind," by Pastor Kinsey
So, I admit, I watched some of the Northwestern March Madness game last weekend. It was their 2nd game, and they were one of the Cinderella’s of the tournament, having won their first ever game, in the NCAA Road to the Final Four Men’s basketball tournament!
But the reason I bring it up, is that the call that went against them in the last minutes of the game, is a perfect example of ‘not seeing what’s right in front of you.’ I mean, the refs are the best of the best in the tournament – but, they just missed this one! You can see it in the Slow-Mo replay. What was ruled a blocked shot, as the Northwester player attempted to dunk the ball, was a clear violation. The Gonzaga player put his hand right through the hoop to make the block, which is goaltending. So the Northwestern coach, Chris Collins, jumped out of his seat and came out on the floor, shouting to get the ref’s attention as he was running by him, and, that’s not allowed either. And the Ref called a technical foul on Coach Collins. The best shooter on Gonzaga, calmly hit both penalty free throws, and just like that, it was a 4 point swing, and a huge momentum-swing in the game, with less than 5 minutes to go. And Northwestern’s Cinderella story ended, with a 79-73 defeat.
The ref had a clear view of the play, but missed it. Sometimes we don’t see what’s right in front of our eyes!
When Jesus heals a man born blind in our Gospel reading today, some of the townspeople just refuse to see it, even though he’s standing right in front of them!
When the man born blind came back from washing in the pool of Saloam – washing the mud, made with Jesus’ saliva, from his eyes – and he could 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.’ [The man born blind] kept saying, ‘I am the man.’
You have to wonder, what was so different about the man, that they couldn’t tell it was him? He didn’t change clothes, as far as we know. Certainly, he hadn’t had some work done, a face-lift. He was the same guy, except, now he could see! How could they not see, what was right in front of them?!
Clearly, they couldn’t believe that this transformation had happened! I wonder if we would have? So, they switch tactics, asking, “How were your eyes opened?” And he told them how Jesus made mud, spread it on his eyes, and told him to go and wash in the pool called Sent, and then he received his sight.
This is a good thing right? Let us rejoice and be glad in it, as the Psalm says. But the townspeople are offended, none-the-less. Nothing like the in-breaking of the kingdom of God to upset the apple cart! Nothing more threatening than the surprise of change, and healing!
So the townspeople, march the man born blind over to the gate-keepers of the faith, the Pharisees. They know what is wrong here! Jesus healed on the Sabbath, which is generally against the law. And so they conclude that he can’t be from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.
And they demanded that the man born blind “give glory to God” and not to Jesus. “We know that this man [Jesus] is a sinner.” But the man born blind answered, "I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see." But this only hardens their position.
“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 [all] know that God does not listen to sinners, but [God] does listen to one who [offers their] worship and obeys [God’s] will… 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.
So, why can’t they see what’s right in front of their eyes? What is preventing them from having joy in this wonderful work of God’s healing?
In a word, I think we could say, its determinism. Determinism, a part of Calvinist thinking, is the belief that, because God knows everything, God even knows what we’re going to do before we do it. Sometimes it’s called, predestination. So, it follows, some would say, that our status in life is also determined. It’s simple, if you are poor, that’s what God has decreed – if you’re rich, God has blessed you. And even in the bible we see a strain of that. That, blessed are those who do well, do good, follow God’s statutes, for they shall prosper. Wealth is a reward, according to parts of Proverbs and elsewhere; the reward for goodness and uprightness before the Lord. Though, as we grow older, we find such black and white proverbs to be much murkier.
When the gate-keepers cannot convince the man born blind that Jesus did wrong, their response is not to have sympathy for his point of view, but to condemn him for being born blind. “You were born entirely in sins,” they say, so don’t you dare try to teach us! They refuse to see what’s right in front of their noses, and, to force the world to conform to their truth, they simply expel the man from their company.
Even the man born blind, is trapped in that certain structural way of thinking. He says, 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but [God] does listen to one who worships [God] and obeys [God’s] will…”
Jesus breaks through this binary view of a wrathful God, in the Beatitudes, when he says, blessed are the poor, the meek, the persecuted. You have been told you are unacceptable, but I tell you, God blesses you, and doesn’t determine ahead of time, who is acceptable, and who isn’t.
We’re all imperfect and fall short of the glory of God. Blindness, and any other disability, are not punishments from God. The rains fall on the evil and the righteous, said Jesus. And now to all the townspeople, Jesus says, God’s grace does not take a rest on any day of the week, but God’s healing power is working overtime, and always, and God’s amazing grace never turns away from us. Jesus was clear from the beginning, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” he said. If anything, he was born blind so that God’s unbounded works of love might be revealed through this man, considered unworthy.
In the end, the healing of the man born blind is not just about his eyesight, but it is a sign of much more. It’s especially about our faith. What do we believe in? Who do we believe can transform the world? Are the sick and blind deserving of being healed, or are there some pre-determined to be poor, or blind, or lame, as a birthright? And who is incapable of seeing the truth, even when it’s right in front of our eyes?
In 2010, when the devastating 7.0 earthquake hit the country of Haiti, and Port-a-Prince was leveled, some prominent ministers here, claimed it was a punishment for who they were, and the kind of religion they practiced, which they didn’t approve of – instead of seeing it as a natural disaster, the kind that could, and has, struck in California, even people these ministers might approve of!
Whose eyes are closed still today, to the science of climate change, for example, right in front of our eyes, that increasingly threatens life on mother earth due to our own overuse of fossil fuels? Who keeps proposing devastating budget cuts to the poorest among us, while giving tax cuts to those who have the most?
When “Jesus heard that they had driven the man born blind 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."
None of us is perfect. Luther said that we cannot attain to perfection, and so we all deserve judgement, or wrath – but instead, God sent Jesus to show us forgiveness and grace – to open our eyes, so that we may see – and to grant us to enter the kingdom and realm of God – and that’s a very sweet sound.