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Seeing Beyond Sight

Sermon - 3/02/08
Dick Busic
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

John 9

The writer of the 4th Gospel, introduces us to Jesus.  His testimony is that Jesus is the Word – the logos (wisdom, truth, divinity).

Jesus is The one sent by God, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him – John 3:17.

The one who bears testimony to Jesus as the one sent from God is John the Baptist (John 6:31-38) and the testimony is true!  “Look to Jesus,” for life.

Jesus is the Water of Life – living water, welling up to eternal life – John 4 (Last Sunday’s sermon – woman at the well – by John Moore).

  • I am the Bread of Life – John 6:35
  • I am the Light of Life – John 9 (Today’s text/testimony)
  • I am the good shepherd – John 10
  • I am the resurrection and the life – John 11:25
  • I am the true vine – John 15

The gospel of John has a single purpose:  “That you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”  (20:31)

Many signs/testimonies are written in this book, though not all.

Near the conclusion of this book, the writer proclaims, “There are many other things that Jesus did.  If every one of them were written down, I suppose the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” (21:25)

For the writer, the evidence is overwhelming. 

Let’s look together at the text for this morning in John 9 and listen to the testimony of Jesus as the Light of Life:

As he 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 neighbors 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.’

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 judgment 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.

 

The event:

Came upon a beggar man, blind from birth.

Question from the disciples:  “Who sinned?”

            As the Pharisees interpreted the law, it could be. . .

            Sins of the parents, visited upon the children (number of proof texts)

            Some even believed a child could sin in the mother’s womb

            Divine will determines a person’s fate

            Can be helped by a relationship with the Divine

            And by acceptance and practice of the holiness/purity code

 

            Sadducees - stressed responsibility of the person

            Wisdom/folly play a role in the quality of one’s life – people make choices

            What do you say, Jesus?

The theme goes back to John 8:12

“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

Jesus’ work distinguishes light from darkness.

The story sets up a paradox:

            Those who see are blind

            Those who are blind see

 

1.  As seen by the neighbors:  “Interest”

Something out of the ordinary just happened.

Aren’t you the one we always see – blind – outcast – beggar?

Some said it couldn’t be him?

He insisted – “I am the one.”

Lots of interest. . .

            How

            Who

 

Some believed; some doubted

Looking at them with seeing eyes, the healed man says,
”All I can really tell you is that I was blind, but now I see.”

Here the writer gives a deeper insight for those who wish to see:

Jesus makes a paste of spital and mud (perhaps referring to creation)

Thought to be a healing potion in those days (aren’t you glad we have other remedies?)

Jesus, referred to as the “Sent One”, tells blind man to wash away the clay in the pool of Siloam (reservoir drawing its water from an underground canal – Hebrew – “Sender”.

“I have not come on my own,” Jesus says; “God sent me.” (John 7:28-29)

 

The Healing. . .

Was it the clay?

Was it the pool?

Or was it the Sender who sent his son to bring life and light?

 

John’s Gospel – an excellent first read for the seeker

John’s Gospel – an excellent reread for the soul wanting more

 

The neighbors of this beggar man were certainly stirred with interest.

They decide to find out what the Pharisees think of all this.

 

 

2.  As Seen by the Pharisees:  “Troubled”

The neighbors take the healed man to the Pharisees (lawyers, teachers)

Maybe with some of the same questions asked of Jesus by his disciples. . .

But there is not much light in their response.

What troubled the Pharisees?

 

Undeniable results. . .

Undeniable – the neighbors witnessed the change in this man.

 

An unexplained healing. . .

On the Sabbath!  (against the law; God wouldn’t allow it! This man is not of God.)

 

Being bypassed. . .

The focus was on this healer.

Some said, “He must be from God!”

Look!  The blind man has sight!

 

Wounded pride. . .(after years of studying the law, interpreting it, teaching it. . .)

Their students saw them at this moment:

Divided

Confused

Without sight

Turning to this beggar man for his opinion

The Pharisees are put on the spot here.

They are on the defensive; not the best position in a debate.

Ever been put on the spot – “troubled” - on the defensive?

Suppose:

I believe in God

In the authority of the Bible

I teach and raise my kids to believe the Bible.

I send my teenager off to college where a professor who believes in evolution uses his position and knowledge to tell my child there is no God.

I become a creationist and attack back – on the defensive!

God could create the world in seven days I figure.

Then my grandchild becomes enamored with dinosaurs.

Science determines that the dinosaurs are from long, long, ago.

Imagine, believing the Bible getting you into such a spot!

Then a preacher tells me that the book of Genesis may be writing about who created

Rather than how the world was created.

We may have focused on the words of the Bible (how the bible reads)

Rather than the Word of God (to whom the words bear witness)

Troubled!  (Sadly, some believers give it all up at this point of confusion.)

The testimony of the Gospel of John is – keep looking to Jesus who opens our eyes to the light of life – seeing beyond sight.

Suppose:

I think I have this sexuality thing clear in my mind

What is male

What is female

And then a baby is born that seems neither male nor female and the doctor must decide.

Androgyny asserts that there is male and female in all of us

I feel the cultural confusion

My Male/female images are threatened

My own instincts are suppressed

Troubled! (Like the Pharisees, I’m put on the spot – confused.  Perhaps I’m so focused on the it (the issue) that I don’t see the who.  The challenge is to focus on Jesus, who can open our eyes to the light of life?)

Suppose:

I live in a country of abundance

With an appetite for more

And I hear of a scarcity of oil, water, credit, food

I worry about the growth of China and its demands for more of the world’s goods.

I hear that India is sporting a new auto - $2,500 total cost – 50 miles per gallon

More pollution

Higher fuel costs because of the competition

I’m willing to risk pristine wilderness to suck up more oil

I’m blind to the fact that other countries are ahead of the USA in sustainable energy

Troubled!  (Trying to sustain my life as it is, rather than focus on Jesus who could, open my eyes to the light of life for all.)

Suppose:

I know we need a military to defend our country

The terrorists are real

I’m proud to have served my country

I’m bothered by those who refuse to support our troops

But then, I hear of other ways to serve.

Like the story of Greg Mortenson, written up in the book, Three Cups of Tea.

He has been among the Taliban, the tribal chiefs of Pakistan/Afghanistan

(Because of a failed attempt to climb K2 in the Himalayas)

Rescued and brought into a village for healing;

He saw the need for a school and promised to build one for them.

The story is one of making Peace – One School at a Time. . .

And has now built (with the people’s support and help) more than 50 schools – emphasis on education for girls – raising up those who lead

Challenging hate and extremism

And are winning!

First cup – strangers; second cup – friends; third cup – family.

Troubled!  (Jesus, light of life – help us struggle with how best to serve.) 

Not much light among the Pharisees. . .

 

Do you remember the movie, “Chocolate”?

The setting is the season of lent in a town with a heavy handed mayor.

The Mayor even writes the sermons for the local priest

Emphasizing what must be given up for Lent

(Especially chocolate)

I remember being turned off at the beginning because the newcomer who made the delicious chocolate did not go to church.

Then I began to see what kind of church she refused to attend.

A church defined by what must be given up and who it excludes

When all the Mayor’s attempts failed to drive out the woman who sold chocolate,

And when he, himself, was caught over indulging in a chocolate orgy

The priest was able to preach the sermon that had been on his own heart

Defining the church by what and who it included

Love for all – theme of scripture

I don’t know if the woman ever came to church, but you were left to hope so.  It was a much more inviting church.

 

How can we see more clearly, beyond sight?

What would we see through the eyes of our Lord?

 

Huston Smith in his book, The Soul of Christianity Restoring the Great Tradition, Harper San Francisco, 2005, p. 43 – 46 – claims that Jesus was most like the Pharisees – except for the social barriers which the holiness code in that time had erected.  

“Politically, the position of the Jews in Jesus’s time was desperate.  They had been in servitude to Rome for the better part of a century and, along with being deprived of freedom, were being taxed beyond endurance.  Existing responses to their predicament were four, depending upon whether one was a Sadducee, an Essene, a Pharisee, or a Zealot.

The Sadducees, who were relatively well off, favored making the best of a bad situation and accommodated themselves to Hellenistic culture and Roman rule.

The other positions hoped for change.  All three recognized that change would have to be effected by Yahweh, and all assumed that the Jews needed to do something that would prompt God’s intervention.

Two of the three were renewal movements.  The Essenes considered the world too corrupt to allow for Judaism to renew itself within it, so they dropped out.  Withdrawing into property-sharing communes, they devoted themselves to lives of disciplined piety.  The Pharisees, on the other hand, remained within society and sought to revitalize Judaism through adhering strictly to the Mosaic law, especially its holiness code.

Representatives of the fourth position have been referred to as Zealots, but it is doubtful that they were sufficiently organized to deserve a name.  Despairing that the needed change could occur without armed force, they launched sporadic acts of resistance that culminated in the catastrophic revolt of A.D. 66-70, which led to the second destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem.

Into this political cauldron Jesus introduced a fifth option.  Unlike the Sadducees, he wanted change.  Unlike the Essenes, he remained in the world.  Unlike the advocates of armed rebellion, he extolled peacemaking and urged that even enemies be loved.

It was the Pharisees that Jesus stood closest to, for the difference between them was one of emphasis only.  The Pharisees stressed Yahweh’s holiness while Jesus stressed Yahweh’s compassion, but the Pharisees would have been the first to insist that Yahweh was also compassionate, and Jesus that Yahweh was holy.  On the surface the difference appears to be small, but it proved to be too large for a single religion to accommodate.  How so?

Grounding themselves in the understanding of Yahweh as majestic holiness, the Pharisees went on to affirm the accepted version of Jewish self-understanding.  Being holy himself, Yahweh wanted to hallow the world as well, and to accomplish this aim he selected Jews to plant for him, as it were, a beachhead of holiness in human history.  On Mount Sinai he had prescribed a holiness code, faithful observance of which would make of the Hebrews “a nation of priests.”  Yahweh’s instruction to them, “You shall be holy, as I the Lord your God am holy,” became the Pharisees’ watchword.  It was laxity in the observance of the holiness code that had reduced the Jews to their degraded state, they believed, and only the wholehearted return to it would reverse that state.

Much of this Jesus subscribed to, but there was an important feature of the holiness program he found unacceptable:  the lines that it drew between people.  Beginning by categorizing acts and things as clean or unclean (foods and their preparation, for example), the holiness code went on to categorize people according to whether they respected those distinctions.  The result was a social structure riven with barriers: between people who were clean and unclean, pure and defiled, sacred and profane, Jew and Gentile, righteous and sinner.  Jesus was painfully aware that in this imperfect world even the best of societies have cracks through which people fall to become the scum of the earth, the lost, the rejected, the outcast, the marginalized, the effaced, the defeated, the forsaken.  Social barriers widen these cracks and are therefore an affront to the God who spreads (a mantle of love over all people) his mantle over his children universally.  So Jesus parleyed with tax collectors, dined with outcasts and sinners, socialized with prostitutes, and healed on the Sabbath when compassion prompted his doing so.  This made him a social prophet, challenging the boundaries of the existing order and advocating an alternative vision of the human community.

 

In Summary:

. . .Jesus saw the holiness code and the distinctions that followed from it as having  been needed to lift the Jews to a purity that surpassed that of their neighbors, making them in effect a chosen people. However, his own encounter with God led him to conclude that, as practiced in his time, the purity system had created social divisions that compromised God’s impartial, all-encompassing love for everyone. 

And for Paul – the same as Jesus –

            No distinctions _ Gentile or Jew, slave or free, woman or man.

            (Hymn:  One bread, one body, one Lord or all, one cup of blessing

            which we bless. And we, though many through-out the earth

            we are one body in this one Lord. . . 

-God’s plan to love us all into one people

Ephesians 1:10 – a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him (Jesus). . . Eph. 4: 31 – . . .kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as God in Christ has forgiven you. – Eph. 4:1ff – lead a life worthy of the calling – with humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. – one body, one Spirit – one hope – one Lord – one faith – one baptism – one God and father of us all- above all, through all and in all.  (Paul’s ministry with the Gentiles. . .)

 

The event, the healing on the Sabbath, Jesus’ emphasis on God’s love for all – troubled the Pharisees.

 

3.  As seen by the Parents:  “Anxious”

He is our son.

He was born blind.

He sees (the light).

This Jesus must be someone sent from God.  This seems to change what we have been taught to believe.

But we are anxious, because we have heard that whoever claims this Jesus as the Sent One from God will be cast out of the Synagogue.

Diane Butler Bass has been leading a seminar this weekend in our city based on her book, Christianity for the Rest of Us.  At the beginning of her pilgrimage and her book, her word is “anxious”.  The church in its business-as-usual way makes her anxious.  She is longing for transformation.

Can you imagine the longing of these parents?

We have been told our son was born blind because we sinned.

We are anxious to know if this makes a difference that our son has been healed, not only for our son, but for us as well.

 

4.  As Seen by the One Who Can See:  “Astonished”

You ask me again, “What did he do to you?”

I already told you. 

Do you want to become his disciple?

I’m amazed that you, who know so much, do not know this Jesus – this one who opened my eyes – something no one has ever done before for a man born blind – something that could not have been done by anyone except one who worships God and obeys God’s will – one very closely connected to the Divine.

You cast me aside as one who sinned in his mother’s womb or one who was born blind because of my parents’ sin.

But he has come to me with healing and sight.

You drive me out.  You bring darkness to my life.

But he has taken me in.  He has given me sight.

And when Jesus had learned that the Pharisees had driven this man out, Jesus found him and spoke to him of the Son of Man, revealing to him the light of life, the life God sent him to reveal to the world.

This man saw, even beyond the sight that Jesus had given him.  This blind man could see beyond sight to what Jesus offered him.  Jesus became all that is worthwhile – his worship – his worthship. . .

And he devoted his life to following Jesus.

 

CONCLUSION

What and who do we see in this testimony?

The neighbors, the Pharisees, the parents, the man born blind. . .all see this event differently.

How do you see this story?

How does it change your life?

What shuts you down?

What opens you up?

Who gives you sight? 

These are signs and testimonies, that you may believe – that Jesus is the light.

This Gospel of John is a witness that we can see beyond sight, through Jesus, who opens to us the light of life.

 


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