a pair of eyeglasses on a table top

For the Sake of Your Sight

ESPERANZA LUTHERAN CHURCH https://myesperanza.org

Lent 4A2023
John 9:1-41

Jesus encounters a man born blind. Expressly to reveal God’s work in him, Jesus spits on the ground, makes mud, spreads it on the man’s eyes, and tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. The man returns able to see. Then begins a comedy where neighbors and Pharisees interrogate the man and his parents trying to determine what happened and who Jesus is.

At first glance, this story is a healing, and that makes sense for the man receives his sight. But in the 41 verses of this story, only one verse contains the narrative of the man’s “healing.” The rest is commentary, commentary full of questions and confusion and so many different people! The disciples are talking. The neighbors are talking. The Pharisees are talking. The man’s parents are trying to avoid a confrontation. The man sees and understands, and Jesus seems to talk nonsense. The crux of the confusion seems to be the difference between the man who others saw as a beggar and a man who now asserts the one who brought him sight is from God. The neighbors aren’t sure if it’s the same guy they saw as a beggar, a person with much shame and little honor in that culture. Now, that same guy is instructing the Pharisees, clueing them into who Jesus is. And Jesus just complicates matters when he declares: I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind. To which the Pharisees ask: Surely we are not blind, are we? In response, Jesus says: If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

All of this begs the question: Who is blind in this story?

To ask this question is in no way to disrespect the physical condition of blindness. The man born blind receives sight which will likely be a joyous gift in his life, a gift many of us who wear glasses or contacts or who have endured eye surgeries know. Not being able to see limits us and challenges us in countless ways. But Jesus speaks of sight and blindness not just in a literal way but in a spiritual way.

When I was 22, I moved to Chicago and entered the Lutheran Volunteer Corps. Along with four other Lutheran Volunteer Corps volunteers, I lived in an apartment on the north side of Chicago. Each day, I walked three blocks to the bus and rode south for 45 minutes to East Garfield Park on the west side of Chicago—to a shelter for people experiencing homelessness and illness. A privileged little white girl, I walked into Interfaith House without really understanding the racial and socio-economic dynamics at play all around me. The vast majority of both my co-workers and the residents were black and living in poverty. On a staff retreat, I remember commenting how we, as staff, were middle class which made us different than the residents, and my co-workers actually laughed at me. “We’re nearly homeless,” one of my co-workers said, and in fact, my supervisor was homeless, sleeping on the couch of a friend. There were several things I didn’t like going on at the shelter. My co-workers often came late to work, and some of them complained about the residents more than helping the residents. From my perspective, the kitchen staff discriminated against vegetarian residents, and other staff members even accused me of being racist! Motivated by my righteous indignation and my certainty of being right, I of course spoke with my supervisor’s supervisor about these indiscretions. The very gracious program director asked me: Do you think it’s true, that you’re racist? No, I told her, I don’t think it’s true. I’m not racist, am I?

Ha! Surely, we are not blind, are we? The Pharisees ask. The ironic answer is: Yes, of course, you are. Similarly, was I racist? Yes, of course, I was, and I assume there are still many things I do not understand because the privilege of my circumstances limits my understanding—despite my earnest attempts to grow.

Today, Jesus challenges the Pharisees and the neighbors who struggle to understand, who are limited by their circumstances, and Jesus challenges us. The neighbors and Pharisees struggle to see who Jesus is: a prophet, one from God, the Son of Man. We may struggle to see Jesus and many more things. The trouble with both literal and spiritual blindness is that we can’t see what we can’t see. Being blind means no matter how hard we try, we are not going to be able to suddenly see what is right in front of us. But for those of us who are spiritually blind—and I suspect we all are to some extent—the trickiest part of our blindness is believing that we aren’t blind, is believing that we see and understand all things. That’s why Jesus says he comes into the world so that those who do see may become blind. Jesus clouds our righteous indignation and our certainty of being right. Jesus raises questions and doubts to inspire greater openness and curiosity. Jesus brings sight to the man born blind by rubbing mud on his eyes, but for those of us who already see, who think we see this world in its complexity with perfect vision, Jesus brings us sight not with dirt and spit but with questions and doubts and people to challenge our right answers and good ideas.

Today, I am grateful for my co-workers who challenged me and even hurt me because my blindness was obvious to everyone at Interfaith House but me. They were among the many who helped cloud my own certainty and, ironically, brought me greater sight. They were, for me, the spit and dirt of God rubbed in my eyes. Who is God working through for your sake and the sake of your sight? For each of them, I hope we can say: Thanks be to God! Amen.