Sunday, March 19, 2023

John 9; The Fourth Sunday in Lent; March 19, 2023;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

Grace and peace to you from Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Well, there’s quite a cast of characters here in our Gospel lesson for today isn’t there. Jesus and his disciples, a born-blind man who sees, the blind man’s parents who are afraid of excommunication, the friends and neighbors of the blind man, and the Pharisees. They all have interesting reactions to Jesus. And we might wonder where we fit in the story too. Who are we most like?

Well, we could look at that unbelieving Pharisees and compare ourselves to them. How often do we refuse to believe what God shows us plainly? They had the proof of Jesus right in front of them, but they wouldn’t believe. It isn’t really a fair comparison. We have faith, they did not. We could compare ourselves to the parents who were afraid to tell the whole story that they surely knew. Isn’t that just like us, keeping quiet when we know God’s will or are just afraid to say what we do know about Jesus. But mostly we aren’t afraid of telling the story of Jesus. We could be like the neighbors offering other explanations, “He only looks like the blind man that we know.” Some of them said. When God’s word condemns our pet sin, we look for ways to excuse ourselves. We look for some other explanation so that we aren’t condemned. But that isn’t the case always, either.

Today I’d like us to think about the question that the disciples asked. In some ways you might say the whole disagreement starts because they ask the question. Now Jesus never discouraged them from asking questions, and they have a great one here. Who sinned, this man or his parents? It was a perfectly logical question for the disciples to ask. It’s a question that you’ve asked, too. It comes up every time we must deal with a problem we didn’t anticipate, like an illness, a complication, a loss of income, or even death. We look at the devastation caused by the fires last year, or the drought in California, and wonder what happened, what was done that was so evil to justify that kind of problem. When the World Trade Center Towers fell, there was some talk by some popular TV evangelists that it was God’s punishment for our country’s moral struggles. And there may be some truth to that. It’s only natural for people to want to know who to blame when bad things happen. In Jesus’ time was no different. The people in his day believed that problems like blindness were the direct result of a sin committed. A child in the womb could bear the punishment for their parent’s misdeed, especially if the sin had to do with worshipping pagan gods. In such a case, according to the prevailing wisdom, the unborn child was just as guilty as the parents were. It was assumed, especially in children born blind that it was the result of some hidden sin in the done by the parents. Notice how the disciples didn’t ask if the blindness is the result of a sin, they want to know what the sin was and whose fault it was.

People have asked this question of me. As I sit beside hospital beds, as I speak to people who are suffering illness and facing death, as I visit with people suffering from problems they can’t identify, from the actions of the people they love, they most often want to know why they must suffer. They want to know what they have done that caused God to treat them this way. In not so many words the questions always come up, “Who sinned to cause this problem? Did I do something wrong? Is God angry with me? Why is he punishing me?”

Jesus’ answer is as important as any uttered in Holy Scripture. “It was not this man or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” Jesus tells the questioning disciples that there is a reason for suffering that they have totally overlooked. The blindness in this man isn’t caused by a direct sin. Instead, it is allowed by God for his own purposes. Certainly, Jesus isn’t saying that sin doesn’t have consequences. If we break the law, we face the full force and punishment of the court system. If we overindulge our bodies will be affected; too much smoking causes cancer, too much alcohol causes cirrhosis of the liver, too much food causes obesity that leads to a host of other bodily problems. But Jesus is saying that sometimes God uses suffering in our lives for other reasons, reasons that may be beyond our grasp. “…that the works of God might be displayed…”

Wait just a minute? You mean God used this man by allowing him to be blind, just so he could heal him? Does God use people that way? Does God use me like that? Does he let me suffer so he can prove a point.

Imagine the pain in this family as they dealt with blindness. They had hopes and dreams for their son that were all dashed when he was born blind. Blindness meant shame on the family. Blindness meant no means of self-support except begging. Blindness meant, according to the thinking of the day, a sin had been committed.

But try as we might, an issue such as a person born blind mostly has no discernable answer in this life. Unless it is revealed to us by God’s word, as in the case of this man. When cancer strikes with none of the typical risk factors, when an accident takes a life or causes a permanent injury, when death come unexpectedly, suddenly of “natural causes”. Try as you might, we can’t always find the reason. In the Gospel of Luke Jesus puts a fine point on the issue.
Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:4, ESV)
He is saying that the world is broken, and people die of no fault of their own. It’s what happens in a fallen and sinful world. It is the curse of sin cast on everything. We die from many reasons, because we are all sinners, and the world is groaning in travail. He does point to what can be done about it,
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:5, ESV)
Repentance is the only thing that changes the human destiny to death. Pleading to the Father for forgiveness, carrying our burdens to the cross, expecting forgiveness in Jesus blood, is the only thing that changes anything in this broken world. That’s repentance, it is just another word for faith.

Jesus uses the tower falling as an opportunity to preach repentance. When we see such things we are to remember that they come to us because we are sinful, because the world is broken. Our response can only be, “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Lord, have mercy.” Faith put into words.

Jesus in John 9 uses the blind man as an example. It’s interesting the way he does it. He could simply have spoken the word and his blindness would have been healed instantly. Instead, he spits on the ground and makes a spit-mud cake and puts the paste on the man’s eyes. He tells him to wash in the pool of Siloam. Jesus is, in a sense, catering to the common ideas of the culture. Saliva was thought to have curative properties. Healers would commonly use a method just like this in their practices. And the pool too, was thought to have similar properties. It appears that Jesus has set up the conflict with the pharisees.

In the investigation, the man can’t identify Jesus (it would have been much different if he had received his sight instantly). The grilling is intense, much like one you’d expect to see in a procedural police drama. They ask the same question again and again. “How? Where? Why?” and finally “What do you say about him?” His simple answer is “He is a prophet.”

It was not the answer they wanted. So, they move on to the parents. “Is this your son? Was he born blind or just faking?”

“Yes, this is our son. He wasn’t faking. We don’t know who did it. Ask him yourself.”

Just look at the animosity toward Jesus. The claim not to know who did the healing. But they have already decided to excommunicate anyone who claims (or even hints) that Jesus is the Messiah. The irony is that the man previously blind man doesn’t care about being put out. He is already out because of his blindness. He was considered unclean and not allowed to participate. So when they go back to questioning him, he gets in this zinger. “Ah, you must want to become his disciples?” I think he knew that wasn’t the case. The pharisees are outraged. “We are disciples of Moses. This man (they still refuse even to say his name) isn’t.” “Amazing!” he says.
Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”” (John 9:32–33, ESV)
They threw him out. Why? Because he was confessing Jesus as the Messiah. You see, curing blindness was a specific prophecy for the Messiah alone. Other prophets had done other miracles, but curing blindness, and particularly a man born blind is reserved for only the messiah. You see, they know exactly who Jesus is. How could they not. They had seen firsthand all that Jesus was doing among them. They know he is the Messiah sent by God. But he isn’t the messiah they want. He doesn’t hold them up for all they believe they have done right. He eats with sinners and rejects them. They will do anything to prevent Jesus from doing what he has come to do.

After all this, we get to the crux of the account of the man born blind. Jesus finds him again. And asks,
“Do you believe in the Son of Man?”” (John 9:35b, ESV)
He had already confessed his faith in a sense, seeing right through the Pharisees hypocrisy about Jesus’ identity. Jesus also here clearly identifies himself as the Christ. The title “Son of Man” does that. He isn’t just calling himself human, he is claiming to be the one sent by God as told about in the Old Testament. “Who is he, that I might believe in him?” Note that the formerly blind man is not asking who the Son of Man is, he just wants to be pointed specifically at the one who is. Jesus says, “He is me”. And the immediate response is faith.

Jesus caps it all off.
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.”” (John 9:39, ESV)
It is a statement exactly aimed at the Pharisees. The see, they know who Jesus is, and yet they refuse to believe. His last words in this account are chilling, “your guilt remains.” In other words, you have no faith, you are hell bound.

Jesus reveals what faith is. It is the entire purpose of the text. Faith is, not only knowing who Jesus is, but clinging to Jesus Christ for forgiveness. Faith is repentance. Knowing our sing and placing it at the feet of the one who forgives sinners. Clinging steadfastly to God who promises it and, through the work of the Holy Spirit, stubbornly confessing Jesus in the face of all odds.

Not all our troubles are so dramatically used by God. Yet, in a way they are. All of them push us to Jesus Christ. All of them clearly display our need in our brokenness. Our need for Jesus. Some are used in a very personal way, while others are more public. God uses them and us, none-the-less. He does it to point to Jesus our savior and the world’s savior. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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