(1 Samuel 16:1-13, Psalm 23, Ephesians 5:8-14)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/SKfdo_rb6Tw)
As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ 3Jesus answered, ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We* must work the works of him who sent me* while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ 9Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’ He kept saying, ‘I am the man.’ 10But they kept asking him, ‘Then how were your eyes opened?’ 11He answered, ‘The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.” Then I went and washed and received my sight.’ 12They said to him, ‘Where is he?’ He said, ‘I do not know.’
The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, ‘He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.’ 16Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.’ But others said, ‘How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?’ And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, ‘What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.’ He said, ‘He is a prophet.’
18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, ‘Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?’ 20His parents answered, ‘We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.’ 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus* to be the Messiah* would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.’ 25He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ 26They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 27He answered them, ‘I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?’ 28Then 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.’ 30The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ 34They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’* 36He answered, ‘And who is he, sir?* Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38He said, ‘Lord,* I believe.’ And he worshipped him. 39Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 41Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.’
Whenever this encounter between Jesus and the blind man comes up for further reflection, I recall a story about another equally famous blind person, Helen Keller. Helen gained the world’s attention in the late 1800s/early 1900s when her situation was revealed. She was not only born blind but also deaf. Right from the start, Helen was denied two of her five senses and expected to somehow navigate the world. Many of us would consider such an expectation difficult if not impossible to meet. Being without one of the senses is one thing but being without two or more of them is a totally different thing! But Helen’s spirit didn’t allow her limited body to define her quality of life. In her early years, she got along quite well on just her touch, smell, and taste.
The problem arose when Helen needed to communicate with others. Her three remaining senses weren’t enough to communicate any type of personal needs or wants. They were just enough to react to the world without much actual interaction with it…or so the people of her time believed. Along came a teacher, Anne Sullivan, who was able to teach Helen how to communicate through touch. Through a variety of nuanced touches, Helen was able to learn how to associate words with objects. The words then led to phrases which eventually led to fully reciprocal communication. Anna and Helen could communicate, something that many of us take for granted far too often. We are social beings with an innate need to communicate and share with others. Helen Keller was no different than you or I in having that need.
So the story goes that Anna was teaching Helen all sorts of words until one day she thought she’d explain God to her. Anna tapped out the symbols for the name of “God” in Helen’s hand and Helen’s response surprised Anna. Helen spelled back, “Thank you for telling me God’s name, Teacher, for he has touched me many times before.” This was just as much a revelation to Anna as God’s name was to Helen. Anna hadn’t thought Helen had experienced God in her life. Perhaps more accurately, Anna hadn’t thought Helen had an awareness of God in her life. But Helen had had many experiences with God touching her life and was fully aware of God’s presence. She simply lacked the word for God’s name. She lacked the ability to share with others her experiences with God.
Helen is not unlike the poor blind man in our gospel reading for today. He, too, had had an experience with God that words couldn’t explain. Three times the man was asked by his neighbors and the Pharisees how it was possible to have gained his sight and I love his responses. First he said to his neighbors, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash. Then I went and washed and received my sight.” Hearing of the miracle, the Pharisees then and the man responded, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Unsatisfied, the Pharisees reach out to the blind man’s parents but they redirect them back to their son. The Pharisees go back to the blind man and he responds, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” Three times the man was questioned and each time he responds the same—by simply giving his witness to the event. He didn’t try to persuade those around him. He didn’t try to convince them of Jesus being the Messiah. He didn’t even try to explain how the miracle was possible! He simply offered his testimony and his witness. Take it or leave it!
Both Helen and the blind man are wonderful models of what it means to be a witness to God’s glory in our world. God is at work in our world all the time. God is forming and transforming our world each and every day. Each of us is a witness to God’s work of forming and transforming. Some people think it’s their responsibility to convince others or persuade them of God’s work. Some people think it’s their responsibility to add to God’s work. I like to think it is our responsibility to listen and observe God’s work and serve as mere witnesses of it. Our words can’t do justice to God’s work. We are all like Helen and the blind man when it comes to God and God’s work. God operates on a whole different level than we do. Our words can’t even begin to explain His mystery.
But we have been blessed with the Son and his revelation. Jesus gave sight to the blind man just as he gives sight to us all. Without him, we’d still be stumbling around in the dark when it comes to understanding God and God’s work. We need Jesus to help us see that our God is a God of love. We need to Jesus to help us see that our God is a God of relationship. God wants to be in relationship with us. God wants to communicate with us. God sent his Son as a way of staying relationship with us…as a form of communication. Jesus showed compassion on the blind man just as he shows compassion on all of us.
God’s mysterious work is revealed to us not only in the Son but all throughout Scripture. We heard in Samuel the strange and wonderful anointing of David. Among his many brothers, he was the least likely to be anointed as king. He was smaller in stature, timid by nature, and yet God has Samuel anoint him as king of Israel. Of course, David’s humble beginnings went on to blossom a great kingship but unexpectedly. Again, God’s glory is revealed in mysterious ways…in ways that words can’t explain.
We don’t need words to serve as witnesses. We don’t need to words to experience God’s love and grace and mercy. God’s love and grace and mercy is all around us, each and every day! As we venture through these days of Lent, let us quietly reflect on all the many ways that God blesses us. God is constantly at work revealing his glory to us in whatever situations we find ourselves in. Let us quietly reflect on his sending of the Son to open our eyes to God’s love. Let us share God’s love with those around us and give thanks for…one man’s revelation.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.