Fourth Sunday Of Lent (March 26, 2017)
Many centuries ago, the church used drama to teach. We saw this even in the Middle Ages in the morality plays. The church building provided the theatre. About the year 100 A.D., when john wrote his gospel, he did so in a dramatic narrative. Today we shall present his words, just as he wrote them -- interspersed with commentary, of course.
Please be seated.
In chapter 8 of John’s gospel, Jesus says “ I am the light of the world; no follower of mine shall ever walk in darkness. No, he shall possess the light of life.“
Chapter 9 tells the story of a man born blind, a man born in darkness. It is the story of a man who will come into the light - the light of Jesus, the light of the world. It is a story dramatized in 7 scenes. Let’s listen to the first scene with Jesus, his disciples, and a blind man.
N : 1. As he walked along, he saw a man who had been blind from birth. 2. His disciples asked him:
D : “Rabbi, was it his sin or that of his parents that caused him to be born blind?”
J: 3. “Neither,” [answered Jesus] “it was no sin, either of this man or of
In the disciples’ minds, there is no question whether sin causes blindness; there is only the question of who it was that sinned. It was the teaching of the Hebrews, the old Deuteronomic code, that the sins of the individual or his ancestors were visited on the individual.
Jews of Jesus’ day asked the same question that people ask even today when they suffer affliction: what did I do to deserve this? Affliction is thought to come as punishment. Jesus rejects this notion. [Rather, it was to let god’s works show forth in him. 4. We must do the deeds of him who sent me while it is day. The night comes on when no one can work. 5. While I am in the world I am the light of the world.”]
N : 6. With that Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with his saliva, and smeared the man’s eyes with the mud. 7 then he told him:
J : “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam.”
N : (This name means “one who has been sent,”) so the man went off and washed, and came back able to see.
Jesus was a wise physician; he used the customs of his day to work his signs; spittle was thought to have curative power. Even today, don’t I stick my finger in my mouth if I burn it? It was not that Jesus believed that spittle could heal blindness, but it kindled expectation in the blind man.
Just as god had made light the first item of creation and then formed man from clay, so john has Jesus use clay that will lead this man to the light of day and eventually to the light of the world.
The second scene involves the blind man’s neighbors, those who frequently saw him.
N : 8. His neighbors and the people who had been accustomed to see him begging began to ask:
P : “Isn’t this the fellow who used to sit and beg?”
N : 9. Some were claiming it was he; others maintained it was not but someone who looked like him. The man himself said:
B : “I am the one.”
N : 10. they said to him then,
P : “How were your eyes opened?”
N : 11. He answered:
B : “That man they call Jesus made mud and smeared it on my eyes, telling me to go to Siloam and wash. When I did go and wash, I was able to
P : 12. “Where is he?”
N : They asked. He replied,
B : “I have no idea.”
We shall see that the human author of the gospel tells of two miracles: 1. The healing of blindness that brings eyesight; 2. The birth of faith, through insight. He indicates the progression of the man-born-blind’s insight by the progression of the man’s names for Jesus [--as in last weeks story of the Samaritan woman.] We have just heard the first of five: “that man they call Jesus.”
Scene three brings on stage the Pharisees - the villains of the drama.
N : 13. Next, they took the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. 14. (Note that it was on a Sabbath that Jesus had made the mud paste and opened his eyes.) The Pharisees, in turn, began to inquire how he had recovered his sight. He told them,
B : “He put mud on my eyes. I washed it off, and now I can see.”
N : 16. This prompted some of the Pharisees to assert,
Ph: “This man cannot be from god because he does not keep the Sabbath.”
N : Others objected:
Ph : “If a man is a sinner, how can he perform signs like these?”
N: They were sharply divided over him.
17. Then they addressed the blind man again:
Ph: “Since it was your eyes he opened, what do you have to say about him?”
B : “He is a prophet.”
N : He replied.
The Pharisees, the leaders of the Jews, claim to see; Jesus broke a Sabbath prohibition by kneading spittle and earth, which a “devout” Jew would not do. Yet some were puzzled because a sinner should not be able to cure anyone. The Pharisees do not “see.” They do not understand. While their opportunity for insight increases, they become blinder.
Upon further questioning, the former blind man has a new and deeper insight; he calls Jesus a “prophet,” one who brings god’s word to humans.
The Pharisees decide to ‘broaden the investigation’ with a fourth scene as the rather wary and cagy parents of the man are introduced…
N : 18. The Jews refused to believe that he had really been born blind and had begun to see, until they summoned the parents of this man who now could see.
Ph : 19. “Is this your son?”
N : They asked,
Ph : “And if so, do you attest that he was blind at birth? How do you account for the fact that now he can see?”
N: 20. the parents answered:
Pr : “We know this is our son, and we know he was blind at birth. 21. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we have no idea. Ask him. He is old enough to speak for himself.”
N: 22. (His parents answered in this fashion because they were afraid of the Jews, who had already agreed among themselves that anyone who
acknowledged Jesus, as the messiah would be put out of synagogue. 23
That was why his parents said, ‘he is of age - ask him.’)
The parents should have been lawyers. Although there was no fifth amendment at that time, they do not implicate themselves. They sidestep the increasing frustration and anger of the Pharisees, who would use ecclesiastical penalty to vent their frustration. Jesus had previously warned his disciples that following him would mean expulsion from the synagogue. We hear his prophecy being fulfilled.
The parents wash their hands of association with their son. They will not take the chance of Jewish excommunication.
Scene V brings the Pharisees to their most violent conflict with the former blind man…
N : 24. A second time they summoned the man, who had been born blind
and said to him,
Ph : “Give glory to god! First of all we know this man is a sinner.”
B : 25. “I do not know whether he is a sinner or not,”
N: he answered.
B : “I know this much: I was blind before; now I can see.”
N : 26. They persisted:
Ph : “Just what did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
B : 27. “I have told you once, but you would not listen to me,”
N : He answered them.
B : …”Why do you want to hear it all over again? Do not tell me you want to become his disciples too?”
N : 28. They retorted scornfully:
Ph: “You are the one who is that man’s disciple. We are disciples of Moses. 29. We know that god spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man comes from.”
N : 30. He came back at them:
B : “Well, this is news! You do not know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31. We know that god does not hear sinners, but that if someone is devout and obeys his will, he listens to him. 32. It is unheard of that anyone ever gave sight to a person blind from birth. 33. If this man were not from god, he could never have done such a thing.”
Ph : 34. “What…you are steeped in sin from your birth, and you are giving us lectures?”
N: With that they threw him out bodily.
The Pharisees begin aggressively: “give glory to god,” -- a phrase used in cross-examination, which means: “speak the truth in the presence and the name of god.” A browbeating technique here.
With his progressive insight into who Jesus is and faith / trust in him, an increasing boldness builds in the former blind man, a boldness not shared by his intimidated parents. He uses the strongest of argument: it was clear Jewish teaching that god hears only the prayer of good people; the book of proverbs said clearly, “ the lord is far from the wicked; but he hears the prayer of the righteous. “ [15:29] The Pharisees were defeated by their own scripture.
“To him who has, more shall be given,” said Jesus. The man has a still deeper insight. He now calls Jesus a “man from god.”
For his faith, the man suffers the rejection that Jesus will eventually suffer -- as well as Jesus’ disciples.
The sixth scene finds the man again with Jesus. As john Chrysostom put it: ‘the Jews cast him out of the temple; the lord of the temple found him.”
N : 35. When Jesus heard of his expulsion, he sought him out and asked
J : “do you believe in the son of man?”
N : 36. He answered,
B : “ Who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?”
J: 37. “You have seen him … he is speaking to you now.”
B : [38. “I do believe, lord,
N: he said, and bowed down to worship him. 39. Then Jesus said:]
J: “I came into this world to divide it, to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.”
Whenever our Christian witness separates us from others, we find that Jesus is nearer to us.
The titles “son of man,” and “lord” bring the man to the fullness of faith, which results in his bowing down to worship Jesus. “Son of man” to a Jew indicates more than what we Christians hear; it indicates no mere mortal, but the one beyond us who was awaited.
Jesus had said: “I came into this world to divide it, to make the sightless see and the seeing blind.” Jesus confronts us, as were the man and the Pharisees; if we see Jesus as one to be admired, one to be desired, we choose sight and salvation. If we see in Jesus nothing to be admired, desired, followed, we condemn ourselves -- a truth that becomes transparently clear as Jesus and the Pharisees play out the seventh and final scene.
N : 40. Some of the Pharisees around him picked this up, saying,
Ph : “You a re not calling us blind, are you?”
N : 41. To which Jesus replied:
J: “if you were blind, there would be no sin in that. ‘But we see,’ you say, “and your sin remains.”
The Pharisees find themselves in the same place that the man was at the beginning of the story: blind! They have progressively lost insight. They even rejected the cure, were unwilling to admit that the man had ever been blind -- a fact that his friends and neighbors “saw” and knew to be true.
The more we know, the more we are responsible if we do not recognize good when we see it. The Pharisees are condemned because they claim to see so well and yet fail to recognize the messiah when he came. The law that responsibility is the other side of the coin of privilege is written into life. [Barclay]
John describes the increasing insights of the man:“that man they call Jesus,” “a prophet,” “man from god,” “son of man,” “lord.” The insight of faith was a gift greater than the sight to his eyes. His insight was progressive just as the insight of the Pharisees was regressive. Did you notice that the first name for Jesus the man used was the last title for Jesus that the Pharisees used: “that man.”
In human relationships, we frequently experience that the better we know someone, the more we become aware of weakness, of clay feet. In our relationship with Jesus, we find that the more we come to know him the greater he becomes. He is the light of the world and makes us shine as light to the world of others.
This story is the story of healing: from physical blindness, which was obvious to all who would see -- and healing from spiritual blindness, which was subtle and indicated by the progression of insightful names for who Jesus was.
Our Lenten journey of faith -- like the blind man’s -- is also a journey of insights into who Jesus is. Jesus heals us spiritually. He does it frequently by his words in scripture. A reflective recalling of scriptures touches our spirits with our hurts and bruises; it, like soothing oil, promotes our inner healing.
May this drama help heal your spirit with his word -- and may you take your healing words to others as a balm for their spirits.