S. Lent 4.17 “He Sees Pretty Good, For A Blind Dude” John 9:1-41
They say that irony and the love of it is a modern (or postmodern?) thing. I read that the ancients were not as advanced practitioners of this art as we are, that they were more sincere people, generally. I chalk this up to the “contemporary” heresy—thinking we’re better, smarter, more clever than the ancients because we have Siri, airplanes, and praise bands. I’ve never been entirely convinced these things are signs of a more advanced civilization. I wonder: maybe they’re wrong about ancient people and irony? Because, well… because our Gospel today, OK?
Lovers of irony, unite! This is our Sunday; and the man born blind is our guy, man after our own hearts (Jesus likes him a whole bunch too). And you can see why. If there is a smarter mouth on any of Jesus’ disciples today, well, I haven’t heard it. And the man born blind is very sincere in his commitment to irony (see what I did there?). So much so, that it gets him kicked out of the church. I’m glad the modern church doesn’t shun or marginalize its members today for having a smart mouth, or being schooled elsewhere than in Synod’s approved institutions—so glad (wow; once you get started on this irony thing, it can be kinda hard to stop 🙂
You wonder though, if the modern church really loves irony more than the ancients. What makes you wonder is the way our lectionary recommends cutting down this reading (‘cause it’s a bit long) and the parts they cut out are all the smart-mouthed, ironic ones (!). But, as much as I like brevity, I do like irony more. You’re welcome! Oh, the point is delightfully simple! “He sees pretty good, for a blind dude.” There’s the whole thing in a nutshell. The blind guy is the only one who sees Jesus for Who and What He really is. And that vision drops him to his knees in worship. Yet, being lost in wonder, love, and praise, he finds his Place… (!)
But God is in the details, and the details of this story delight. The blind guy gets pegged for a sinner, of a particularly nasty stripe, by Jesus’ own disciples! Then he gets the sinner tag from his neighbors, parents, and finally the synagogue and Sanhedrin! And yet, as the only one to bend the knee, worship Jesus as Lord, he not only sees what the normally sighted miss, but he’s the only one whom Jesus does not count a sinner: “if you were blind [like this guy] you would have no sin,” Jesus says at the end. “But now you say: ‘we see’. Therefore, your sin remains…” So; the one guy everyone is sure is a sinner, Jesus singles out as fine by Him(!). And the one guy who everyone thinks is blind sees better than 20/20. And in fact, admitting blindness, sin, (and maybe a smart-mouth problem?) turns out to be the Way to seeing clearly and being pronounced righteous by Jesus. Now, that’s a bit ironic, don’t you think?
Oh man, this Gospel will test you! Our prejudice for moralism, sincerity, for clear, linear, straightforward, un-mysterious thinking is exposed brutally by this story. “We tried to found a small, anarchist community, but no one would follow the rules.” Yes! Amen! So with this Gospel. “Surely you have to do something to be saved?! You can’t expect a Savior to do it all for free, now, can you?” Uh, well…
The disciples (ever eagle-eyed for sermon illustrations!) see this blind guy and go “Rabbi! Who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind?” [Uh, I’m blind not deaf, dude]. Jesus answers “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.” That’s weird! God would show His almighty power by working in weakness? “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
And how does Jesus bring light and sight to the blind man? He spits on the ground and makes mud with His spit, and rubs it in the blind man’s eyes. By dirt, He makes clean; and by obscuring sight, Jesus grants it? Uh, yeah, something like that. A little ironic, isn’t it?
And Jesus goes, “Oh, look! You’ve got mud in your eyes! Hmmm… you should go wash that off, maybe at Siloam, and see how that works out?” And the blind guy can take a joke. He does not complain or criticize [hey, I think you missed a spot, Sir, in the corner of my left eye—yep, there OK that’s got it—now my eyes are completely covered with mud. Thank you! Could you sorta point me in the direction of the pool of Siloam? ‘Cause, I can’t see]. He went, washed, and: “I was blind, but now I see”. Maybe you should write a hymn on that? Nah, never catch on.
Well, if you set it to the tune of Gilligan’s Island, it might 🙂 It’s ironic and for that reason, tough to believe. By being blind, sad, bad, we end up in exactly the place where Jesus can get to us, rub some mud in our eyes and give us a new vision. But can a little word, a few words, some bread and wine wash off the centuries and centuries of sin we’ve inherited, and just like that make us new, clean? Tough to believe.
No one really believes he was truly blind; so they keep asking him to re-tell his story, until he can’t resist; and the second time the Pharisees ask him to tell it, he goes: “I told you already, and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?” A full on freak out ensues. They kick him out for being smart-mouthed and sinful. And he catches them out again when they admit they don’t know where Jesus is from [because this was an expected sign of the Messiah—that you won’t know His origins]. The Dude doubles down on smart-mouthed irony, ‘cause he’s ticked, and goes: “Why this is a marvelous thing! You don’t know where He’s from, yet He opened my eyes!!! Since Genesis, this is unheard of—anyone opening the eyes of one born blind. Seems new eyes were formed from the dirt, and now, think: Who does stuff like that? Maybe God, making Adam from dust?!!!?”
Not liking the divinity school this guy attended, they show him the door. But Jesus hears and finds him and asks: “Do you believe in the Son of God?” In that slightly smart-mouthed way we love, the dude, with a little grin goes: “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?” And Jesus, seeing the lovely set-up, goes, with a bigger grin, “You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you.” And the man born blind drops to his knees, confesses, and worships Jesus.
Jesus has the last, most ironic words: that for judgment He’s come, that those who do not see may see; and those who see may be made blind. The Pharisees hate this and ridicule Him, (maybe not everyone loves irony?); and Jesus is like: “If you were blind [like this guy!] you’d be fine, but now you say ‘we see’ so your sin remains…”
“Next you’re going to tell Me Jesus does this saving by dying of our sin and ridicule and that the darkness that surrounded Golgotha that Friday afternoon from noon to 3 is the true Light of the world?”! Uhm. Well… I don’t know how much irony you can take in one day. Maybe you’re getting close to your quota, but uhm, actually…
Actually, it’s worser: only by dying ourselves with Jesus do we live; and only blinded by His light, do we see. Oh, to be blind like this guy, or lost like that, huh? Then, maybe Peace, surpassing understanding, will also guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.