“Light of the World”
Rev. Jeff Bacon
March 22, 2020
Let’s open our hearts together in prayer. Let us pray: Gracious and loving God, open our eyes and ears, and open our hearts and minds, to know you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
Two gentlemen were waiting to be given a mental acuity test for their seniors’ driving license. They were each going to be asked two questions and if they got them right, they would go on to the practical driving test. The first gentleman was called into the office and the official asked, “What would happen if I cut out one of your eyes?” The man responded, “I’d be half blind.” “That’s correct. What if I cut out both eyes?” “I’d be completely blind,” he answered. The official stood up, shook the man’s hand and told him to go for his practical test.
On his way out, while the official was filling out paperwork, he told the next gentleman in the waiting room, what the correct answers were. Soon, the second man was called into the office and the official asked, “What would happen if I cut off one of your ears?” Remembering what he’d been told, the man responded, “I’d be half blind.” The official was puzzled, but went on. “What if I cut off both ears?” “I’d be completely blind,” he answered. Anticipating having to fail the gentleman, the official asked, “Sir, can you explain how you’d be blind?” “Sure,” he said, “my hat would fall down over my eyes.”
Our gospel passage about the man born blind is also about sight and seeing. It’s about a man going from physical blindness to spiritual insight, and in contrast, it’s about the Pharisees going from physical sight to spiritual blindness. The man born blind sees the light of God in Jesus, but the Pharisees can’t see God in Jesus, even with his miraculous works.
The blind beggar must have been known by everyone in town. He was a man born blind who lived in their midst, so they must have seen him growing up and known his parents, seen him begging in busy places and worshipping at the synagogue with his parents. But when he’s healed by Jesus, the people don’t recognize him. “The neighbours and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, ‘Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?’ Some were saying, ‘It is he.’ Others were saying, ‘No, but it is someone like him.’” Prior to his healing, had they only seen his disability? Or, were they looking for another explanation for the miracle?
The Pharisees had long lists of rules that governed how the Jewish people were supposed to love God. Jesus broke their Sabbath laws to heal the blind beggar. The action of “kneading,” as in kneading bread dough, was one of the 39 categories of work explicitly forbidden on the Sabbath. By spitting in the dirt and making mud on the Sabbath, Jesus was challenging the authority of the Pharisees to define arbitrary rules about how to properly do God’s will. The pool of Siloam was the source of living water for the Tabernacles Feast, so washing the mud off in the pool of Siloam implies that Jesus is the source of living water, not the Jewish rules, rites and rituals. But the Pharisees interpret Jesus’ healing of the blind beggar on the Sabbath as separation from God rather than as a revelation of God. They’re blind and cannot see!
The beggar’s blindness is not related to his sin or the sin of his parents; “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.” Jesus corrects the common Jewish belief at the time about the connection between suffering and sin, even between suffering and the sin of one’s parents. In my time as a Chaplin, I visited with several ill patients in the hospital who believed they were being punished for their sin, and even some parents with sick children who believed their child was being punished for their adult sin. Jesus says that this is not true. Sin is resistance to Jesus; the inability to see God revealed in Jesus. The Pharisees are blind sinners because they fail to see God revealed in Jesus. The blind beggar receives his physical sight, but he also “sees” God revealed in Jesus; he was blind in a physical and in a spiritual sense and now he sees Jesus as the light of the world, both physically and spiritually.
Campus Life magazine told the story of contemporary Christian singer Kathy Troccoli who as a child, rebelled against her overprotective mother, and as she grew older, began abusing alcohol and suffering eating disorders. At the time, Kathy was working a summer job at a community pool by day and was partying with her friends and singing in clubs by night. Cindy was her co-worker at the pool who read her Bible every day during lunch. Kathy says that Cindy “was the epitome of a girl that I would not hang out with. I hung out with harder girls. Tougher. Cindy was kind of frilly. Pink – she was like a pink girl. And when she started telling me about Jesus, I made fun of her. And yet, somewhere deep down inside, I admired her. I was intrigued by her boldness. I liked it that she didn’t seem to care what people thought about her. I even suspected she was right, and that I was on the wrong path.”
Kathy knew there were unanswerable questions, and day after day she fired those questions at frilly Cindy. Finally, one answer, one statement from the pink girl got through. Kathy recounts, “She said, ‘You know, Kath, Jesus is Lord whether you accept him or not.’ I went home thinking about that. I had this growing sense that if Jesus was real, I had to check him out.”
Cindy gave Kathy a small New Testament. Kathy said, “My other friends thought I was weird because I was taking this Bible home. I read the Gospel of John, plowing right on through, despite a few unanswered questions. When I got to the end, I knew I had to make a decision. If Jesus was who he said he was, I would have to respond. Everything would have to change.”
Everything did begin to change in Kathy’s life. She had been blind, like the Pharisees, but she gradually began to see God’s presence in Jesus and in her own life.
The blind beggar may have received his physical sight immediately upon washing the mud from his eyes in the pool of Siloam, but like Kathy, the blind beggar only gradually began to see God in Jesus. At first, he refers to Jesus as “the man called Jesus.” Next, he says, “He is a prophet.” Then he calls Jesus a miracle worker from God. And finally, he calls Jesus Lord, and worships him as God. He can’t describe his physical or spiritual conversion. I was blind and now I see. It’s the same for Kathy and for us.
Christian singer, Bill Mann, tells us about the most special concert he ever gave. It happened, after he had finished singing and had already left the stage to return to his dressing room. Waiting for him in his room was a woman and her companion. The woman was blind, deaf, and mute. Using her hands, she spoke through the lady who was with her and asked if Bill would sing for her the last song he sang in the concert. “Surely,” he said. Standing only five inches from his face, and placing her fingers lightly on his lips and on his vocal cords, he sang again, “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” As he finished singing, a tear trickled down the cheek of Helen Keller. Indistinctly, Helen said, in words repeated by the lady with her, “I was there.” Someone once said to Helen Keller, “What a pity you have no sight!” Helen replied, “Yes, but what a pity so many have sight but cannot see!”
Jesus is the light of the world. He came to open our eyes to help us see God working in the world. Like the blind beggar, and like Helen and like Kathy, may we each come to confess, “though I was blind, now I see.” Thanks be to God. Amen.