One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I seeJohn 9:25
“One thing I know,” reports the man born blind in today’s gospel reading, “that though I was blind, now I see.”
One thing I know, he says. And that one thing would change his life forever. Not just in the obvious way: by having his sight restored. But by having the entire way that he viewed the world changed from the inside out. This “one thing” that he knew would now guide him through life like a compass.
This seems like a good time for all of us to be thinking about that one thing that truly matters in this life. In the midst of this pandemic, we are all being challenged to think about what is truly important to us. So, let’s think about that together today. Let’s think about that one thing that truly matters.
And let me start by recounting a great scene from a movie that is now almost thirty years old: City Slickers. Remember that one? In the movie, an unhappy city slicker, Mitch, is in search of what it missing in his life. He is unhappy, with no real reason to be. So he ends up going on real-life cattle drive, where he meets a cowboy named Curly. Curly knows what he wants and how to get it. He seems to have figured something out that is still eluding Mitch. So Curly says to Mitch: Do you know what the secret of life is? [holds up one finger] This. And Mitch says, “Your finger?” Curly responds, “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest doesn’t matter.” But, what is the ‘one thing?’”, Mitch asks. Curly’s answer: “That’s what you have to find out.”
It is a great scene, isn’t it? And we want to believe that it’s true. But is it? Is there really one thing for each of us that is the secret of life? The world would certainly have us believe that. Let me share with you a few examples of that philosophy in action.
Starting with Socrates, a famous philosopher in search of wisdom, who famously said: “I know one thing: that I know nothing.” And this one thing led him to a life of openness and learning. Aristotle, another famous philosopher, said: “Happiness depends upon ourselves.” That is what many would name as the one thing that is the secret to life. Or there is this from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” Or how about this one from Shakespeare: “Above all, to thine own self be true.” Finally, a more recent one, from the musical, Hamilton: “I am the one thing in my life I can control.”
What is the one thing that matters to you? The one thing that you believe is the secret to life? The one thing that gives your life purpose and hope and joy?
Or, to put it a little differently, if life is a house that you are building, what is its foundation for you? What is that one thing that you are building your life on, the one thing that you go back to when life really gets stressful? I suppose you know where I am going with this. But, still, let’s not get there too quickly. Let’s think first about what people of faith might see as the one thing they know, as the foundation they are building their house on.
Today’s Gospel Reading
Think about the disciples in today’s gospel reading. You would think they would have it figured out, but they don’t. And it is a good reminder to us that it is easy to lose track of that one thing, in the midst of our chaotic, stressful lives. The disciples are building their house on a tried-and-true foundation, but not the right one.
They see a man blind from birth and ask Jesus, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” They are building their house on a misguided answer to the most famous question of them all, the theodicy question: If God is all-good and all-powerful, then why do bad things happen to good people? Their answer is that those good people must not be good after all.
It is the answer given by Job’s friends, too. What did you do to justify this punishment from God? Someone must be to blame here. And in a well-meaning attempt to defend God, they decide it must be someone else’s fault.
Who sinned, the disciples want to know? Jesus’ answer to them shatters their simple story, and takes away their lazy answer to this question. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” Jesus said. Meaning that it is not anyone’s fault that this man was born blind.
Blindness, sickness, and other misfortunes are not the consequence of sin. That’s important to remember these days, isn’t it?
The Pharisees are also building their house on a tried-and-true foundation, but an equally shaky one. Follow the rules, do what you’re supposed to, and everything will be ok. They believe that they can control life, and even their relationship with God, by what they do. So they construct a whole house built on rules and regulations designed to earn them their righteousness. But then Jesus comes along and doesn’t follow their rules. He questions their teachings, and heals on the Sabbath. That’s against their rule, so Jesus must be a sinner. These Pharisees have chosen the one thing that matters to them, but their one thing blinds them to the great hope that is standing right in front of them. The great promise of the Messiah, the promised one from their Scriptures, is standing right in front of them. But they can’t see him, because they have built their house on the wrong foundation. They are blind, spiritually.
Then there are the blind man’s parents. What is their life’s foundation? They refuse to defend their own son because they are afraid of being put out of the synagogue. Afraid of what will happen to them if they simply tell the truth about their son. Fear seems to the foundation of their life. Their fear leads them to abandon their son at a moment of both great need and great celebration, an action that one day they would surely be ashamed of. Fear prevents them from embracing the healing that must have been their deepest prayer, and must have led to one of the great moments of their lives. Their prayers are finally answered, but their fear prevents them from celebrating it.
The one thing, if we get it wrong, can blind us to the truth, and it can separate us from our joy. And it can happen to people of faith.
But then there is the hero of this gospel reading, and the role model for all of us today. This man born blind is the one who has it figured it out. He knows the one thing that matters. And he gets it right. Or, at least it prepares him to get it right. The one thing that he knows is that he was blind, but now he sees. He has been healed, miraculously, by Jesus. And he clings to this truth, even when life gets choppy. After he is healed of his blindness, he is brought before the Pharisees. They pressure him to change his story. Give glory to God, they say. We know that this man, Jesus, is a sinner. It would have been easy for him to back down. But he didn’t, because he knew this one thing, that Jesus had healed him of his blindness.
Jesus gave him a life worth fighting for, and so he does. But not without cost. He is driven out of the synagogue, isolated from his community. He is probably finding it difficult to beg or to get a job now. His parents have distanced themselves from him. But none of that matters. Because this man born blind can now see. Not just physically, but spiritually. He knows that Jesus is his Savior. And that gives him the foundation on which to build a life of faith, hope, and love.
A Rock Foundation
So let me come back to my original question: What is the one thing that you know? In the midst of the anxiety all around us, what is that one thing that you believe, that you can count on?
In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus gives us a clear answer to this question, and it is the same answer for us all: Seek first the Kingdom of God, and nothing else will matter. I can almost picture Jesus holding up his finger like that old cowboy, Curly. Seek first this one thing, the kingdom of God, and everything else will fall in line.
Another way to put this is given to us by the person who penned the great hymn, “Amazing Grace.” This is the hymn, of course, that contains this great line from today’s gospel reading: “I was blind, but now I see.” It was near the end of John Newton’s life, when he shared his one thing. Actually, two in his case. But they amount to one in the end. He said “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a greater Savior.” That is a foundation that no storm can touch. When we are in touch with our sin and with Jesus’ love, we are in touch with the one thing that matters.
And this seems like an important time for all of us to get in touch with that one thing; that one thing that can be our compass when we get lost, and our shelter from the storm.
There are many different ways to describe this one thing, but they all describe the same Lord, and the same love, and the same salvation, and the same amazing grace that Jesus came to give to us all. Find that one thing, and nothing else matters. Thanks be to God. Amen
There is an online video of this sermon that can be found here: Fourth Sunday in Lent.