“Blind but now I see”
Many of us have trouble with our eyes. If you're around long enough you may need a pair of reading glasses. And while medical advances and the use of laser surgery have made many advances, disease and dysfunction of the eye is something no one wants to see.
But most of us have never been blind. And most of us never will be. Maybe you can imagine it by being blind-folded. Or as you fumble around in the middle of the night. But true blindness – not being able to see at all – we may have a slight chance of it by accident or disease, but at least we weren't born blind, like the man in our Gospel reading. Or were we?
I don't have to tell you that physical blindness is an apt metaphor for being spiritually blind. In fact, in the last few weeks we've heard of Nicodemus, who was blind to some basic teachings of the kingdom, and the woman at the well, whose eyes were also opened by Jesus. Now the man born blind, whom Jesus heals. But as we ponder blindness and sight, sin and forgiveness today, let's also remember that spiritually speaking, we too are blind from birth. Like the lyrics to that favorite hymn, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see”.
The disciples saw the man who was born blind, and they wanted to know why such a thing would happen. They assumed that his blindness was a punishment for a particular sin. But they weren't sure whether he himself, or his parents were to blame. When Jesus says, “it was not this man who sinned or his parents” he doesn't mean to suggest that the blind man or his parents were perfect and holy. Jesus is trying to correct their reasoning that bad things happen to bad people (and therefore since I am relatively healthy, I must be relatively good). Baloney. We are all sinners alike, subject to the sometimes fickle effects of sin and death in our world. Throughout the New Testament Jesus repudiates this kind of “you must have deserved that” gloating from pride-filled observers.
Perhaps the disciples were blind to their own blindness. Perhaps they were so focused on this man and wondering what his sin was that they couldn't recall their own. Indeed, Jesus tells us to watch out for logs in our eyes.
But if the disciples had a log in their eye, the Pharisees must have had whole trees. They too, ironically, were blind to the truth. They couldn't see how someone who broke their man-made rules of Sabbath could possibly be one sent from God.
So they interrogate the formerly-blind man. One day soon, they would put the Lord himself on trial. In both cases they were blind to the evidence before them. This Jesus was no mere man, no sinner (like them), but he was and is the Son of God. They were blind. And only later would some of them see.
Their ferocious legalism scared the blind man's parents, but could not squelch the newly-sighted man's confession:
27I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again?”
(So it seems they are deaf as well as blind...)
Do you also want to become his disciples?"
(A little bit of sarcasm here, but the man confesses he has become a follower of Jesus.)
28And they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from."
(If they truly followed Moses they would follow the one greater than Moses...)
30The man answered, "Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.
(The man is perhaps more amazed at their unbelief than at his own miraculous healing...)
31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him.
(Indeed, it is only faith in Christ that our prayers are acceptable to God. Only when we see him does he hear us.)
32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34They answered him, "You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?" And they cast him out.
But they too were born in utter sin. They too were blind, even to their own blindness. The truth is this once-blind man had much to teach them about faith in Christ, and yet they couldn't see it. Blinded by their rage, their pride, their legalism and their unbelief, they cast out the supposed sinner and shut their eyes to the sinners in the mirror.
And what of us? Are we the Pharisees? Too proud or stuck in our ways to see Christ for who he is? Too unwilling to hear him for what he says? Or are we once-blind men and women who appreciate the healing he has wrought? For he would come and open our blind eyes. He would first have us see that we are blind – in need of his healing. So we confess our sins. But he would also wash us clean, not in the pool of Siloam, but in the waters of Baptism. He would have us as his disciples. He would have us confess him before men, and we do.
For we have seen – not with our eyes, but with the eyes of faith. When we hear and believe the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the scales fall from our eyes. Our hearts are regenerated, and forgiveness washes over us anew. Like Saint Paul, who was struck blind on the road to Damascus – we must first be struck by the law, see our sin, see our blindness.
Only then does God bring sight. And this sight goes beyond what is seen, for faith has to do with what is unseen. It is the assurance of such things, a rock-solid foundation of trust in God's promises. It sees cleansing of sin in simple baptismal water. It sees Christ's body and blood in humble bread and wine. Faith hears a pastor say, “I forgive you your sins in the name of Christ”, and faith knows it is as if Christ said it himself.
Born blind? Not physically, but spiritually we are. The question is, are you blind to your sin? If you see it, then turn your eyes also to the cross. And there see the answer to such blindness. For in that ugly vision of an innocent man, bloodied and beaten and scorned and rejected and thirsting and dying. There is God's love for sinners, like you and me. There is a sight for sore eyes, Jesus the Savior. And his death opens our eyes. And his open grave opens our grave. And his life forever is our life forevermore. I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see.