The Rev. Jennifer L. Adams – Sunday, March 30, 2014
Lent 4, Year A: 1 Samuel 16:1-13, Ephesians 5:8-14, John 9:1-41
I think that one of the most important lines in this whole story is the very first one. Now I realize that in your listening that was over forty verses ago, and a lot has happened since then but without looking does anyone remember that very first verse? Before the disciples got in to debating why the man was born blind? Before the actual miracle began to unfold in all its detail with the spit on the ground, the mud on his eyes, the washing in the pool of Siloam? I’m talking way back before the man could see. Before the people were confused, the parents were involved, the Pharisees were debating about healing on the Sabbath? Before any of the doubts, the debates, the denial, the fears, the testimonies, and the theological back-and-forthing that took place in this story? Before any of that, there was a very important opening line. Here’s what the gospel said:
“As he walked along, Jesus saw a man blind from birth.” That’s how it all started. Jesus saw him. This is a long and quite theologically complicated story about blindness, sinfulness, Sabbath keeping and sight. And it’s easy to get tangled up pretty quickly. But before it’s complicated, this story begins very simply. It begins with Jesus seeing a blind man. And I think that matters.
Because to begin with, this man probably wasn’t easy to see. This was someone on the far out margins; he wasn’t a disciple, nor was he one of the religious authorities who was constantly approaching Jesus with questions. This wasn’t someone whom the disciples would have placed on their list of priority visits, or on any list for that matter. And nobody brought this man to Jesus, so he was very likely alone. This was a man who was probably begging by the side of the road that Jesus and the disciples were walking. That’s all he was. The gospel even tells us that that’s how the people in town knew him – he was “the blind man whom they had seen as a beggar.”
And the story tells us in the very first verse that Jesus saw him. And Jesus stopped when he saw him. And I think that’s the first lesson, here. Before this became a debate about who was wrong and who was right, about who had power and who didn’t. . . . before any of that this was an encounter with a very real human being whom Jesus simply took time to see.
And also tucked in the very first verses – notice what they all saw when they stopped and looked at this man. This matters too – and it calls us on something that we all do. When the people of the town saw him at all, they saw “beggar”. And the story says that what the disciples saw was “sin.” It’s horrible but true. The first thing the disciples said to Jesus when they looked at the man was, “Who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” Not “What’s your name, man?” or “Can we help?” Or, “Are you hungry?” Not, “Do you want to come with us?” Not even a Christian disciple-like “Have you heard the good news?” None of that.
Because the disciples didn’t see him. They saw beggar. They saw blind. They saw sin.
And so here’s the important piece – that’s not what Jesus saw. And that’s why the beginning of this story matters so much. Jesus saw something else. Jesus SAW something, someone else. “Neither this man sinned, nor his parents,” Jesus told them. “In fact this isn’t about sin at all,” he went on. “It’s about sight – it’s about God – it’s about what God can do in us,” he told them. “It’s about what God can do even through those whom we’ve left by the side of the road. . . .This man is about to reveal to us workings of God,” Jesus said. They saw beggar. They saw sin. Jesus saw someone in whom miracles could happen. And so I wonder if that’s the kind of sight we’re supposed to have too.
That does seem to be what all of the gospel stories are about this Lent. Two weeks ago we heard about Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews who came to Jesus under the cover of night. No matter the darkness – Jesus saw him, but not as a religious authority who had a reputation to fear; Jesus saw Nicodemus as a man who had some questions and who needed as much as anyone did to believe that he could be born again. Then last week there was the Samaritan woman. This was the woman who came to the well in the middle of the day so as not to be seen and harassed by others. Jesus saw her too, but not as an outcast as others saw her. Jesus saw her as someone for whom and through whom living water could flow, not only for her but for her people too. And now today we have the blind man, someone whom people walked by every day. And Jesus saw him. Not as beggar, not as sinner, but as a potential participant in a miracle.
And so I wonder if that’s the kind of sight we’re supposed to have too. What if all of our stories started very intentionally and very slowly with that very first verse. What if we saw each other. And just stayed there for a while, even just a few minutes. What if we really noticed that person in the third pew. That person in the back corner. That acolyte. That choir member. That teacher who is downstairs leading Growing Into Worship? What if we really noticed that Feeding America guest? And those people by the sides of the roads we walk every day? And not only that but what if we saw each other and all of those other people not just as blind, or old, or young, or black, or white, or rich or poor or male or female or Democrat or Republican, not just as Evangelical, Jew or Muslim. . . choose your category. . . What if when we looked, we saw someone in whom the workings of God were coming to be?
And then sometimes even harder, what if we looked in the mirror and saw ourselves that way too? Each and every one of us as those in whom God was working miracles.
Now I know that there are forty other verses here. And I understand the importance and value of theological debate. I think the wrestling that takes place in this passage is rich and important too. I participate in and contribute to conversations like this often. But sometimes I think those conversations would go more easily, maybe more quickly and be less threatening, maybe they’d be more conversational if we slowed ourselves down and sat with the beginning of the story – if we savored that very first verse for awhile and just saw one another before we debated or considered who was right and who was wrong. Maybe then the second verse would be more like the first. Maybe the thirty eighth verses could be more like the first if we disciplined ourselves to settle in to an encounter with another human being and took time to see, to really see God’s presence in that other. I think if we did that the church and the world would change. For the better.
And so all season I pray this song that we sing as we gather every Sunday. And I thank you for praying with me.
Behold, behold, I make all things new, beginning with you. And starting from today.
Behold, behold, I make all things new, my promise is true, for I am Christ the way.