4th Sunday Lent
S. Lent 4.23 “Playing by Ear” John 9
There are two miracles in this story, but I think we miss the main one, the one of which Jesus was speaking when his disciples (passing a man blind from birth, apparently begging in front of the temple, a popular spot for beggars) blurted out, right in front of the guy [like he’s an object lesson for a sermon, and not a person with feelings] “Rabbi! Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” [I can hear the man mutter, sotto voce ‘I’m blind not deaf, dude’].
Anyway, someone must have messed up, because God creates us perfect, right? Sickness, flaws, mortality itself, come only from sin, right? This is good theology, if we are by the book rational literalists, as the Jews and many hard-core Lutherans strive to be [“bronzies” we call them, in the trade, because their theology is hard as bronze]. But Jesus brushes the question aside with a wave [and a wink in the blind man’s direction?] “Nah; it was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Then he adds, cryptically, “We must work the works of him who sent me 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.” [a line to keep in mind]. Having said that, he spit on the ground and made mud from the saliva and rubbed the spit-made mud in the man’s eyes [Oooh! Gross! Did Jesus not get the memo that cleanliness is next to godliness?!].
I can hear Jesus mutter, “Oh. You’ve got mud in your eye, my friend. Go, wash in the pool of Siloam and see if that helps at all.” Is that where we get the expression “Here’s mud in your eye?”
The man born blind can take a joke. Maybe Jesus is like the Zen Master who whacks the disciple with a stick when he asks for a handout? Without complaint, he goes, washes, and comes back seeing just fine. “Maybe I had something in my eye blocking vision all along?” he thinks to himself with a wry smile.
His neighbors who’d seen him as a beggar get into an argument whether this is the same blind guy who used to sit and beg or just someone who looks like him. Again, people talk in front of the man, but not with him! He keeps saying not “I am the man” but simply in Greek εγο ειμι I AM the first two words of the divine Name Yahweh, I AM WHO I AM. Which is interesting. Keep that in mind for later…
Then the real joy of the story, one of my all-time favorites, comes. They ask him after his “I AM”! how his eyes were opened, which maybe they should have just done in the first place? He tells them laconically, just the facts: “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed and saw.” They were like “Where is he?” And the man goes, “I do not know”.
He may have been blind for decades but his mouth seems to work just fine.
And it gets better. The Pharisees hear and interrogate him and the man tells his story straight, no chaser, with an ever-building tone of irony (perhaps even… sarcasm? Can you guess who one of my favorite bible characters is? 😉 Since Jesus did this on the Sabbath, a theological argument breaks out that he must be a sinner since he did this work on the Sabbath. Others are like “Does God hear sinners?”
So they ask the blind man: “What do you say about him?” And the artist formerly known as Prince, er, I mean the man formerly blind, goes: “He is a prophet?” with just that hint of irony the could be taken as sincere questioning, that the Pharisees and most translators miss.
The Jews did not believe the guy was really blind. They figured Jesus fraudulently set this up like some TV evangelist. So they call the man’s parents. They confirm he is their son and was born blind; but how he now sees, they have no idea and have not had anything to do with him for years, since he’s an adult—and maybe you’ve noticed how, like the Bubble Boy from Seinfeld, he is not sweet, like you might expect, but has a little bit of a smart mouth that can get on your nerves? (Being besties with Jesus spells institutional church trouble. Sure glad that never happens today!)
So, again, the Pharisees call the man born blind and demand: “Give glory to God, we know this man is a sinner!” And the man goes [feel the gentle irony turning to a harder-edged sarcasm?] “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know. One thing I do know: that though I was blind, now I see. Maybe you could write a hymn about that? I don’t think it would be a very good hymn, but it’ll probably be popular…?”
The Pharisees go “How did he do it?” With a mischievous grin, a twinkle in his eye that can irritate some, he goes: “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?” And they loose their… minds. They shout and yell and that vein in their forehead bulges amusingly. “You are his disciple! We are Moses’ disciples! As for this man, we don’t even know where he is from!”
And the man formerly blind shoots back “That’s amazing! You don’t know where he’s from? and yet he opened my eyes! [in John 7:27ff we learn no one knows where the Christ is from]. So the man catches the Pharisees admitting Jesus has ticked another Messiah box!
And now he really lets loose, “We know God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God he could do nothing!”
They go “You were born in utter sin and would you teach us?” And boot him out of the church.
A smart mouth can get you in trouble—not that I know anything about that, myself 😉
Jesus finds him, asks “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answers “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus says, with a smile, “You have both seen him and it is he who is speaking with you.” Visions are not his thing. He has to hear Jesus say it; then he confesses: “Lord, I believe” and worships.
This is the miracle—the works of God displayed in the man born blind: he sees with his ears. Which is the only way the the miracle of faith happens. Our eyes are unreliable narrators. Jesus does not say his sheep see him and know him, but that we hear his voice, and by voice recognition, of the Word alone, we’ll know, believe, follow. Jesus’ miracle of granting sight’s cool, too. But he’d have us see it’s not the main one…
When Jesus said “we must work the works of him who sent me—night is coming when no one can work” he’s speaking of himself and the man born blind. The man born blind has fumbled in the darkness all his life, but God makes his ears 20/20. So he hears, believes, the voice of Jesus. Playing by ear, he can see in the dark.
Luther said of father Abraham, “He closed his eyes and withdrew into the darkness of faith. There he found eternal light.” And, hearing the Word with… blind faith, so shall we. In the Name of Jesus. Amen.