4th Sunday in Lent

S. Lent 4.20 “What If…?” John 9

“What if…?” What if… it wasn’t that the blind man sinned in utero, or that his parents did something terrible, smoked stuff in college they ought not to have smoked, that he was born blind? What if… it wasn’t punishment for sin at all, that this happened to him? What if… it wasn’t a birth defect? What if, what if…? it was only so that the wonderful works of God might be displayed in him? What if… it was so that gaining sight, miraculously (by Jesus’ very unsanitary spit-made mud in his eyes!—and I bet Jesus didn’t even wash His hands first, either!) what if, what if…? this is why it all went down that way: so that the blind man could see in a Way no other mortal ever has seen, get super-vision, see clear to heaven, see the Way to a whole new and glorious Life with Christ Jesus open up?

Well, most people absolutely and unequivocally will hate it—if such were the case! Just sayin’. That’s my opinion. I could be wrong. But I don’t think I am. The story, I think, more than justifies this gloomy, sardonic conclusion.

Even before the gift of sight, comes the precious gift of sarcasm/irony which is why, seriously; this might be my favorite chapter in all the Gospels. Today, at least, this is most certainly true. My favorite Gospel, my favorite book in the Bible right now is John’s Gospel, hands down, no contest, every day and 7 ways from Sunday, ever since I was a mere lad. John’s the best!

If you have any love for irony or sarcasm (which you really shouldn’t have) then this is the chapter, this is the Gospel, this is the guy you’ve been waiting for, the man born blind. The disciples ask Jesus, when they see him, begging: “Rabbi, who sinned? This man or his parents that he was born blind?” They can only think of one explanation. Their imagination is sadly limited at this juncture in the Story. The man (I think) goes: “Hey, I’m blind, not deaf, doofuses. Have you ever heard how blind people develop better senses of hearing? Definitely the case right here, geniuses.” NIV.

Anyway Jesus, with a wry grin (He likes this guy, a lot, if you can’t tell, yet) goes: “Neither this man nor his parents sinned that he was born blind but that the works of God might be displayed in him. We must work the works of God while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I AM the Light of the world!” And then Jesus, without washing His hands, heedless of sensible sanitary precautions, spits, a great big, gobby honker—much spit!—and makes mud with the spit and rubs it in the blind man’s eyes. The blind man just serenely goes rolls with it!

Instead of calling the CDC on Jesus and having Him imprisoned for sanitation crimes, the blind dude goes: “I seem to have mud in my eyes!” Says it with a wry smile, I’m certain. “So you do,” Jesus replies. “You really should get that out of your eyes. It’s probably blocking your vision. Why not go and wash in the pool of Sent?” So he went, washed, and came back seeing. The neighbors go: “Is this not the blind, beggar guy?” Some say “Yes!” Others say “No, he only looks like him.” The man goes: “I am the man! (and my hearing is excellent, as I’ve had occasion to mention, but no one seems to understand”!

They ask: “How’d it happened?” He answers, “A man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said “Go wash in Siloam.” So I went and washed and received my sight. Ta-dah!” But the mob isn’t pleased. They rat him out to the Pharisees as a deviant. That’s why I say the news that bad stuff happens just so Christ’s Light can shine brighter in us will drive most people absolutely nuts!

Certainly Pharisee people! The man formerly known as “blind” is drug before the Pharisees. He tells his story again, just the facts, with just a pinch of sarcasm. And no one believed he was born blind, or a miracle had happened because science and common sense align to assure us such things simply don’t happen—like prayer can’t cure deadly plagues, either! His parents assure the council he was indeed born blind and obviously now sees 20/20 or better. But they don’t know how, and don’t have a position on miracles. Whatever the CDC says they will follow, religiously.

So the Pharisees call the man a second time and demand he tell his story from the beginning so they can poke holes in it. And he goes “Hey, I told you, already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become His disciples?” And that wisecrack is the last straw. They rail on him, revile him, cast him out of the synagogue as a lunatic. (That’s why I say that if everything happens not just to punish sin, but to open up the delightful way of Jesus’ dangerous dying and living as the Way, that most’ll be all Marvin the Martian: very angry indeed at the news.)

Cast out as a dangerous lunatic, Jesus finds him and goes: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” And the man, ever playfully cheeky, sardonic, goes: “Have I ever seen him, sir?” And Jesus goes “I see what you did there! You have seen Him, and it is He who is speaking with you.” Jesus says this with a huge grin, BTW; and putting a smile on Jesus’ face like this is something you can live off happily, for all eternity! So, the man falls down laughing, confessing the Faith, worshiping Jesus.

We talked last week about what true worshipers look like. Well, they look just like this guy!

What if, what if—everything that happens, happens according to God’s gracious will? What if—nothing we do or don’t do can stop it? What if—God is not a tame God, not safe?! What if—He is only and essentially Good, but that Goodness of His is, to us, difficult, dangerous, or downright deadly? What if—trying to save our lives by lots of hand-washing and social distancing kills us? What if—the only way to save your life is to lose it, reasonably reckless, running towards a dangerous cross, for Christ’s sake? What if—there’s no promise you won’t get the Corona on the way, no guarantee of safety, but only that dying with Jesus, you’ll finally live?

What if—that’s all true? Would you let Jesus put mud in your eye?; or even more outrageous: His Body and Blood in your mouth to eat and drink if He commands it? What if—the CDC says that even gathering here today is dangerous and unlawful? Would you believe Jesus or human science and wisdom? Hmm? What if…?

Not such theoretical questions anymore, are they?

What if—two roads diverge in this world? One is the safe, and well-traveled-by way of heavy hand-washing, social distancing, protecting our own safety first and foremost, by following the CDC and modern science, risking nothing, saving our lives by sensible precautions? Everyone loves this tramline!

But what if—a reckless, unsafe Messiah comes along, the Lion King of Judah, Who calls you down Another Way? What if He rubs mud in your eyes, and tells you only eating His flesh and drinking His blood can save you—then calls you to come running towards the cross with Him, promising: “Dying, you’ll live!”?

What if…?

Well, like I said: most people will hate that choice! But what if—He’s chosen you already for that dangerous way, the delightful road to Heaven? ‘Cause He has, He does. This is the way to Peace surpassing understanding, guarding heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Always. Amen.

About Pastor Martin

Pastor Kevin Martin has served six Lutheran congregations, beginning in 1986 as a field-worker in Trumbull, Connecticut, and vicarages in Arlington, Massachusetts and Belleville, Illinois. He has been pastor of congregations in Pembroke, Ontario and Akron, Ohio. Since 2000, he has served as pastor of Our Savior Lutheran Church, Raleigh. Pastor Martin is a lifelong (confessional!) Lutheran (even though) he holds degrees from Valparaiso, Yale, and Concordia Seminary St. Louis. He and his wife Bonnie have been (happily) married since 1988, and have two (awesome!) adult children, Bethany and Christopher. Bonnie is an elementary school teacher. The Martin family enjoy music festivals, travel, golf, and swimming. They are also avid readers and movie-goers.

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