A smart man. A thirsty woman. A blind beggar. A grieving sister. This Lent I have been suggesting a four-part series of sermons based on the Gospel readings during the month of March. Each reading features a specific individual who encountered Jesus and was changed. These people lived in times and places far from ours, but we have more in common than we might initially imagine. We are smart. We are thirsty. We are, in many ways, blind. We grieve.
The Gospel reading for this week puts the blind man in the spotlight. The text itself is long and complex with a number of subplots. The disciples asked the wrong question. The parents distanced themselves from their son. The Pharisees refused to believe. The neighbors were confused. And then there is the mud. These details and subplots are all significant. But rather than trying to unpack them all, I suggest sticking with the man in the middle, the man born blind. This man lived his entire life in the darkness, that is, until he met Jesus.
Most of us cannot relate to such blindness. We may need glasses, but at least we are able to see where we are going. This can be deceptive, however, for our vision is not absolute. We do not see as much as we think. Like the teenage driver who has not learned to look over his shoulder before switching lanes, we have blind spots. Of course, by definition, our blinds spots are, well, hidden from us. Blind spots can cause serious problems, as the new driver will soon learn. You might imagine your sermon, therefore, as an attempt to help your hearers examine a few of their blind spots. Three possibilities come to mind.
First, we cannot see God. Perhaps that seems obvious, but we should admit it. We believe in a God, a Creator, a Father whom we cannot see. As the evangelist notes, “No one has ever seen God” (John 1:18). We see His handiwork. We also see glimpses of His love and mercy in our interactions with one another. But God Himself remains hidden.
The Pharisees could not see God, either. Even when He stood before them in the flesh. Even when He does things only the Lord of creation could do. This reminds us that God alone can give us the eyes to see Him by faith.
Second, we cannot see ourselves. Yes, we see our reflection above the bathroom sink, but I am talking about a fuller, more honest seeing. There are several ways in which we have blind spots about ourselves. Sometimes we are blind to our failings. How does the saying go? “Nothing is as obvious as other people’s faults.” We can spot what is wrong with others a mile away. But when it comes to our own faults, we often do not see them. We are well-practiced at looking away from and justifying our own failings.
God alone can give us the eyes to see Him by faith.
At other times, however, the opposite is true. Sometimes we look in a mirror and we see nothing good at all. Our faults are so glaring that we only see what is wrong. It is like the pimple you got the night before prom. It did not matter what you were wearing or how you fixed your hair. You knew everyone would fixate on the bright, pink pimple on the tip of your nose. Sometimes our faults, which are real, keep us from seeing God’s good (albeit fallen) creation in the mirror.
Third, we are blind to others. We simply do not see other people. I am talking about their needs and feelings, their struggles and concerns. In our text, the disciples did not see the man born blind as a fellow human. They looked at him and saw a theological problem. “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Rather than seeing his need for love and compassion, they looked at him as an object lesson.
Who do your people fail to see? The widower in the congregation who goes home alone? The teenager who does not fit-in anywhere? The overworked and underemployed husband? The mom struggling with mental unhealth? We do not wish any of these people harm. We just do not see them. We are blind to them.
In these ways we have something in common with the blind beggar.
Perhaps I should offer a correction, however. Throughout this reflection, I have been calling the man in our text the “blind beggar,” but that is not right. He was born blind, this is true. But in our text, he was blind for only the first seven verses. After Jesus rubbed mud on his eyes and told him to wash, he could see. And for the rest of chapter 9, and the rest of his life, he was the man who used to be blind!
That is who we are, too. We have not seen Jesus, not in person, at least. But God has opened our eyes by faith to see the Light of the world (verse 5). In Jesus, we have seen God’s love and His mercy. In His death and resurrection, we have seen His victory over the darkness.
We also see ourselves. When we look at Jesus’ suffering and death we see the plank in our own eye. We see our sinfulness, our guilt. When we see the baptismal font, we see Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and our share in His new life. When we look in the mirror, we see a forgiven child of God, not perfect, but restored and renewed, no longer in the dark, but now living in the light.
And in the light, we see one another. We see our brothers and sisters as fellow humans and fellow members of the Body of Christ. We see their hurts and we reach out to them with love and compassion. We also see those outside the Church, not as enemies or as antagonists (even if they are), but as beloved creatures of our heavenly Father who need His promise of forgiveness, life, and salvation as much as we do.
Like the man in the text, we were born blind, but now we see. Use your sermon this week to expose the lingering blind spots among your hearers, and help them see and believe the promises of God in Christ.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on John 9:1-41.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 9:1-41.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach John 9:1-41.
Lectionary Podcast-Dr. Arthur Just of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 9:1-41.
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