John 9:1-7, etc / 30 March 2014 (Lent 4A)

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

Jesus’ coming is a crisis. Light is shining in the darkness. The Light causes those born blind to see, and it causes those who see to become blind.

There was a man blind from birth. The religious judgment is that someone sinned. His parents perhaps, or the man himself. I’m not sure how you sin before you’re born to be born blind, but that’s what the disciples ask Jesus. “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This is the religion of cause and effect. Bad things happening to bad people. There has to be reason for this man’s blindness. Someone sinned. Right?

Wrong! Neither this man nor his parents sinned. This man was born blind so that the works of God might be displayed in him. Jesus was going to make an example out of him. An object lesson. He is the light of the world. The light no darkness can overcome. He is the light shining into the darkness, the Light of all light. He spits and makes mud and anoints the man’s eyes. It seems counterintuitive. The man can’t see and now he has mud in his eyes. But this isn’t just any mud. This is Jesus-mud, mud made by the hands and spit of God in the flesh. This is the God who created man from the mud, and now He applies a little mud to fix what is broken.

He sends him to the water pool called “Sent.” Siloam. The man goes, washes off the mud, and comes back seeing. Another water episode in John. Jesus’ baptism, water in wine at Cana, talk of birth by water and Spirit to Nicodemus at night, talk of living water that wells up to eternal life with a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well at noon. And here a pool called “Sent” where a blind man washes mud from his eyes and sees.

It was a Sabbath. Jesus always seems to do these things on a Sabbath. It’s never Sunday or Wednesday. And it’s not just to tweak the Pharisees and tread upon their religious rules, fun as that may be. The Sabbath was made for man. It was a holy day. It’s the endless 7th day in Genesis that does not end with night. It’s a picture of eternity, endless day in the light of Christ. It’s the day when every disease is healed, every sin is forgiven, every dead is raised up and Death is swallowed up in victory, where all the disharmony and chaos of Sin are turned into harmonious shalom. Peace. The miracles are a foretaste of that Sabbath rest to come. The lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the demon-possessed are free, the deaf hear, the blind see, the dead are raised. These are the signs of Sabbath and shalom. Creation restored. The Fall and its devastations undone. This is why Jesus came.

The religious don’t see it that way. They never do. For them man was made for the Sabbath, not the Sabbath for man. It’s all about command not a blessing. Something to do (or in this case, not do), not something to receive. A rule to keep. “No work.” Only the religion of the Law could turn “do not work” into a law. Thou shalt not work on the seventh day. God rested. You rest too. And the religion of the Law asks, “What exactly do you mean by work?” The religion of the Law looks for rules about not working so you can work at not working.

According to the rules of religion, what Jesus did should not have worked. He broke the Sabbath rules. He made mud on the Sabbath which was a sabbatical no-no. That’s step number one to making bricks. So no making mud on the Sabbath, kneading clay, specifically. And so the religious judgment on Jesus: “This man can’t be from God because He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.” So even in light of evidence – the evidence being that the man born blind can see because he washed Jesus-mud from his eyes in the water of Siloam – their eyes are blind to Jesus because of their rules and regulations. Jesus can’t be from God because He doesn’t fit their categories. A Sabbath breaker cannot heal on the Sabbath. It’s as simple as that.

The Law can’t shed any light on Jesus. The Law is not going to bring you any closer to God. All the rule keeping in the world can’t open your eyes to who Jesus is for you and what He’s about. All the Law can do is teach you the will of God, show you your sin, keep you more or less in line so you don’t hurt yourself and others, and drop you blind and dead at the feet of Jesus. The Law came through Moses; grace and truth come through Jesus. No commandment, including the Sabbath commandment, ever caused a blind man to see. No blind man ever recovered his sight simply by not working on the seventh day.

The Law is to Sin as mud is to a blind man’s eyes. It just makes matters worse. It turns the darkness even darker. It amplifies and multiplies sin. This is something the religion of the Law will never understand. The Law is good and holy. It’s from God. But the Law cannot make you good and holy. It doesn’t have that power. It has the power to kill, to instruct, to curb, to warn, to amplify sin, to mirror our Sin back to us. All of that. But it doesn’t have the power to make a sinner holy. It can’t make a bad tree good. It can’t make a good tree bear fruit. Only the grace and truth that come through Jesus can do that. Only Jesus’ Word and Spirit and the water of Baptism can make a bad tree into a good one, and a fruitless tree into a fruitful one, and a sinner into a saint.

It takes water to recreate and renew Adam’s clay. Unless one is born of water and Spirit, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Unless Jesus brings us living water, we cannot live. Unless we are washed in our pool of Siloam, the water to which Jesus sends us, we cannot see the light that is shining upon us.

We are that man born blind. We not only have sinned, our parents have sinned, and their parents and their parents all the way back to our first parents where this business of sin all began. Sin is a hereditary condition. We are born spiritually blind in Sin. It takes Jesus’ anointing to heal our blindness. Not with mud but with Blood, with the water and the Word, in Baptism that brings Sabbath to the Sinner.

Our blindness is not the lack of vision but the lack of faith. We are born without spiritual vision. We may have perfect 20/20 eyesight to see the world around us from below, but we have no vision for the things that are “above.” These eyes of ours won’t work for that. Spiritual things are discerned spiritually. To see God with these eyes would be the equivalent of staring at the sun. We’d be blinded. Even the disciples who stared at Jesus 24/7 did not see Him for who He was. They could see, but in their seeing, they were blind.

In our blindness, we are blind to God. We live as if He didn’t exist or matter. We are blind to ourselves and our own condition. We don’t see the Sin that corrupts us. We don’t see ourselves in relation to others. We don’t see the light of Christ shining down upon us. And we can’t. We don’t have the eyes to see.

Christ in His mercy reached out to us as we groped in the darkness. He reached to anoint us with His anointing of the Spirit in Baptism. He reached out to give us eyes to see, ears to hear, faith to receive. You are as much a miracle of the Word as that man born blind. And the world of religion is going to object and say, “Hey, it’s not supposed to work that way. You have to do your part. You have to keep the rules. God helps those who help themselves.”

I was once cornered by someone who insisted on telling me his life story and how he became a Christian. He told me how he had been baptized as a young child, never went to church, grew up in a broken home, took up drugs and alcohol, wasted his adolescence and the better part of his twenties, and finally in his thirties turned things around. As he put it, “I accepted Christ into my life, I got sober and off of drugs, I went back to school, I met a good woman, I got a job, I straightened out my life and now I have a couple of great kids and a house and I have the Lord.” And who can really argue with that? And who would want to? I didn’t. I was happy for the guy. And he seemed to love the Lord so why bother debating the details here.

I decided to tell him my story of how I was born into a Christian home with believing parents who brought me to Baptism when I was five weeks old or so and who taught me the Scriptures and took me to church and Sunday school and how I have no conscious memory of ever not having Jesus as my Savior. I may sing along with “I once was lost but now I’m found, was blind but now I see,” but I sing that entirely on faith in the Word that tells me I was lost and blind. I have no recollection of being lost and blind. I have been a Christian all my life, even through some rather thin and doubting periods. I was as much a believer in Jesus in the chemistry lab as I am in the pulpit. I may have had a few dark times, but I’ve always been aware of this gracious, saving, forgiving Light that shines on me.

The guy listened to my story with a kind of puzzled and uncomfortable look and said, “It’s not supposed to work that way.” My story didn’t fit his religious categories. Jesus isn’t supposed to work that way, in his way of thinking. But he couldn’t argue with it, just as I couldn’t argue with his story. We could spend a lot of time talking about what the blind man did, how he obeyed Christ and his obedience is what got him his sight. Had he not gone to the pool called Sent and washed his face, he’d still be a blind man walking around with mud in his eyes.

But we’d completely miss the point. Lots of people washed their faces in that water. Only one came back a blind man who could see. Just as lots of people washed in the Jordan River, but only Naaman the Syrian was healed of his leprosy. What makes the difference is the Word. It wasn’t simply water, but water combined with the Word of Jesus. The same as in Baptism. It’s not simple water only, but water that is joined to God’s Word and combined with His command. In that watery Word the blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, the poor hear good news, the dead are raised, sinners are justified for Jesus’ sake. In that watery Word you were called out of darkness into Christ’s marvelous light.

There’s something curious about the story of the man born blind. He encountered Jesus when he was blind. Jesus put mud in his eyes and told him to wash in the pool called Siloam. He did, and when he came back seeing, Jesus was nowhere to be seen. He never laid working eyes on Jesus. When Jesus heard that he’d been kicked out of the synagogue, He went to find the man, and now for the first time, he sees Jesus. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asks. “Who is He, that I may believe in Him?” the man says. You see, seeing is not the same as believing. He can see Jesus, but He doesn’t yet believe. And Jesus says to him what He said to the Samaritan woman: “You’ve seen him, and He is the one speaking to you.”

The Word is what makes faith. “Faith comes by hearing.” Not seeing, not miracles. Hearing. The seeing of faith is hearing. The Word of Christ is what creates and keeps saving faith. It’s why you’re here today.

And the man says to Jesus, “I believe,” and he worships Jesus. The Word has its way. Another sinner is justified for Jesus’ sake. He was blind, and then he would see. He heard, and now he believed.

In order to see Jesus, you must become blind. Blind to any notion that you can see God by your own reason, merits, or strength. That’s the paradox of faith. Before you can see, you must recognize that you can’t see. You will see by hearing. And through the water and Word of your Baptism, you will see the Light of the world that has always been shining on you, Jesus the Light of the world, the Light no darkness including your Sin and Death can overcome. One day you will see with new and resurrected eyes, and the sight will be glorious. But now you must hear, and in the hearing, believe and you will see.

“For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”

In the Name of Jesus,