One thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.John 9:25
For the third Sunday in a row, our assigned gospel reading features a rather lengthy account of someone who is transformed by their encounter with Jesus. First, there was the Pharisee named Nicodemus. Then there was the Samaritan woman at the well. And now, there is the man born blind, the story told in John 9:1-41. This man is transformed from a humble blind beggar to a fearless evangelist. How? By his encounter with Jesus. By his coming to see the one thing that Jesus wants for all of us to see. Let’s take a look and find out what that is.
The (Formerly) Blind Man
This man, once again, has been blind from birth. In those days, that meant that he didn’t have many opportunities to get anywhere in life. He became one more beggar filling up the streets of Jerusalem. To make it worse, most of the people he encountered would have assumed that he did something wrong to earn this blindness. He or his parents. Someone must have sinned. He would have endured many a whisper and innuendo through the years. Even Jesus’ disciples openly wonder what this man did wrong, or what his parents did wrong, that caused him to be born blind.
I wonder, sometimes, if things have really changed, at least in that respect. At our worst, it seems to me, we still assume that those who succeed in life are somehow more blessed by God, and those who suffer do so because of their sin. At our worst, we still judge other people based on these assumptions. Or, just as bad, we often judge ourselves in the same way. But Jesus sees things differently. He tells his disciples that there is more to life than meets the eye. This particular man was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. God had a plan and purpose for his life that no one could see until Jesus came along. Is that true for you? For me?
Restoring Our Dignity
This calls to mind for me a story about another beggar, who was sitting across the street from an artist’s studio. The artist saw him and thought he would make an interesting portrait study. So from a distance he painted this man, sitting by the road with a discouraged look, downcast eyes, a sad almost defeated look on his face. When he was finished, he took the portrait over to the beggar so he could look at it. “Who is that?” the beggar questioned. The portrait faintly resembled him, but it showed a person of dignity, sitting upright, bright eyes, a determined look on his face. The beggar said to the artist, “Is that me? I don’t look like that.” But the artist replied, “but that is the person I see in you.”
And that is true for the artist called Jesus, too. He sees something in us that we don’t always see in ourselves. And he wants to restore our dignity, to forgive our sin, to reconcile us to God. He came, in other words, so that we might truly see: See who we are, and see who others are, as God sees them.
Who’s Really Blind?
Today’s gospel reading is about much more than physical sight. In this story, the healing of this man’s physical sight is told in two verses. Just two verses of a 41-verse story. Helping this man to physically see, in other words, was arguably the easy part. After this man’s physical sight is restored, the neighbors argue about whether this man really was born blind or not. They refuse to see that a miracle has occurred. They’d rather blind themselves to it than have to re-think the world and their place in it. So they can’t see this miracle because they are unwilling to believe it.
The Pharisees, on the other hand, are less concerned with whether the miracle really happened or not. Their concern is that it happened on the sabbath. They, too, are unable to see this miracle because they are blinded by their rules and regulations.
And then there are the blind man’s parents. They are so afraid of being kicked out of the synagogue for being followers of Jesus that they refuse to say what happened to their son. Let him speak for himself, they tell the Pharisees. Their fear has blinded them from seeing and celebrating the miracle they no doubt had been praying for.
All of this leads us to wonder, is there anyone in this story who is not blind in some way? By the end of the story, there will be one, and that is the man born blind. He is a remarkable man. But even he must grow in his faith before he can see and believe who Jesus truly is. After his physical sight is restored, he is brought before the Pharisees, who badger him with questions. He shares, openly and honestly, what happened. And when they ask him what he thinks about Jesus, he says to them, “He is a prophet.” You see? He is beginning to see, but he’s not there yet. Later, after his own parents have abandoned him, he is brought before the Pharisees again. They demand that he tell them that Jesus is a sinner. His answer? “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” The Pharisees don’t like his answer, of course. They kick him out of the synagogue, just as they threatened to do to his parents. And perhaps this suffering was part of the process toward his seeing who Jesus truly is. God can use even our most difficult experiences to help us see and believe in him.
This blind man, who has been physically healed by Jesus, has now been rejected by his family, friends and community. Who is left? Only Jesus. When Jesus heard that the Pharisees had driven this man out of the synagogue, he returned. We don’t know why Jesus left. But we do know why he returned. To help him see. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Jesus asked this man upon his return. “And who is he, sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” By his very question, we can see that this man is ready to see and believe.
Sometimes our questions reveal more than our answers. This man’s question reveals a humility, an openness, and a faith that we don’t see in anyone else in this story. Who is he? Jesus answers, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” And this man believes what Jesus says. “Lord, I believe,” he says. And he worshiped Jesus. And, now this man born blind can see it all. He can see it all, because he believes it all. He believes Jesus. What else can he do, then, but worship him? What else can he do but worship the one who has helped him to see?
We are getting ready to sing a beloved hymn, “Amazing Grace,” which has a line from this gospel reading: “I once was blind, but now I see.” It is worth remembering the story behind this hymn and its author, John Newton. Newton was born in London in 1725, the son of a shipmaster. He himself became a merchant seaman, and eventually became the captain of slave ships and even an investor in the slave trade. During a storm at sea, Newton had a spiritual conversion. He began reading the Bible and living a devout Christian life. He was in his early twenties at the time. But it is important to note that even after Newton became a devout Christian, he was still involved in the slave trade. He continued serving as the captain of slave ships. Newton had begun to see, in other words, but still had blind spots, just like us all. He suffered a stroke when he was just 31 years old, gave up seafaring, and after he recovered from his stroke, he studied and became a priest in the Church of England.
It was not until some years later, when Newton was in his sixties, that he began to publicly campaign for the end of slavery. He wrote and published a widely-read pamphlet against slavery. And in that pamphlet, he wrote that: “It will always be a subject of humiliating reflection to me, that I was once an active instrument in a business at which my heart now shudders.” Newton observed later that his conversion to Christianity had several steps. In the end, he recognized that slavery was wrong, and that it was important that he work toward its end. Newton began writing hymns during this period, with a famous poet, William Cowper. He wrote a hymn that he called “Faith’s Review and Expectation” that eventually came to be known by its opening line, “Amazing Grace, How Sweet the Sound.” Shortly before Newton’s death, he is quoted as saying, “My memory is nearly gone, but I remember two things: That I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior!” God’s amazing grace had opened Newton’s eyes, and his life was changed forever.
So, what about us? What does Jesus want us to see and to believe this day? What do we need to remember this day? Where are our blind spots? Where do we need to work for change in our world? What is God’s amazing grace doing in our lives right now? Asking these questions takes us into the heart of today’s gospel reading. An encounter with Jesus that helps this man to see who he is, and who Jesus is. A man born blind, a beggar, who is now a fearless evangelist and a model for us all. He now sees who he is, he sees who Jesus is, and he is helping those around him to see with new eyes.
When Martin Luther died, there was found a scrap of paper in this pocket on which he had simply written: “We are beggars, this is true.” After all that Martin Luther had taught and done throughout his life, this was the truth that he clung to as he lay dying. We are beggars, this is true. Yes. We are all beggars. We are all blind. We are all sinners. This is true. And we are all loved. We are all forgiven. We are all redeemed. This is also true. And we are reminded today that if there is one thing we know, it is that though we once were blind, now we see.
Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, and how great the gift. May we see ourselves through the grace-filled eyes of Jesus. And may we help others to see themselves through those same loving eyes. To the glory of God. Amen.
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