Amazing Grace Sunday March 22, 2020
Two weeks ago, the gospel story was about Nicodemus, a Pharisee who was perplexed by the call to faith that Jesus spoke of as being "born again".
Last week, the Samaritan woman at the well came to believe in Jesus because he knew her history and she brought the rest of the people in her town to believe as well.
Immediately before the gospel for the fourth week of Lent starts, Jesus has been questioned by the Pharisees about the source of his teaching and his authority. This gospel (John 9:1-41) is an answer, in the form of a demonstration of his power from God. Jesus brings sight and light to a beggar who had been born blind.
As he walked along, he (Jesus) saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” The biblical principle is that God cannot be responsible for any evil. The disciples assumed that the beggar's blindness was punishment for someone’s sin. Jesus’ disciples, and the Pharisees in this narrative, share this understanding.
Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. I must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Without light vision is impossible. Jesus is about to give the man vision…to permit him to see by the light.
When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam”. Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
Able to see seems to refer not only to the neuronal ‘wiring’ in the eyes but the ability to understand the images of people and things that are revealed through this ‘new’ sense. The man appears to be able to interpret the images that he saw...perhaps a greater miracle.
The neighbors who had seen him as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others said, “No, but it is someone like him.”
He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He 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.”
The miracle amazed the people of the community. Some, thinking that it was impossible, could not believe that it was the same man. Their reaction also suggests that his appearance or posture must have changed as well. The difference was more profound than his eyes being able to see.
They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. …who asked him how he had received his sight. He said, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a …sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they again asked the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and … they called his parents … and asked, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him… His parents … were afraid … for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.
Fear of expulsion from the synagogue suggests that the man’s parents were devout. This also indicates that Jesus was already being watched and sanctioned.
For the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said, “… We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner… I do know, that I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “… How did he open your eyes?” He 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?”
The sarcasm hints that the man had character and was not intimidated by the Pharisees.
They reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we … know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Astonishing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. … God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never … has anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
The Pharisees who saw the man and heard his testimony, the testimony of his parents and neighbours refused to accept what they heard and saw.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have seen him, he is the one speaking with you.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.
The man moves from blindness to sight, and also to faith. The Pharisees on the other hand, move from sight to blindness for their refusal to believe what is before their eyes. Each of us is called to believe, not to explain the sign.
While the miraculous cure was significant to the man who was born blind, it points beyond itself to the power of God working though Jesus. The sign is an invitation to believe.
The gospel reading for Sunday ends at John 9:41, but Jesus’ own explanation of the cure and his role continue through to 10:21 with his extended metaphor about I am the good shepherd. In this metaphor the sheep “know his voice and see him”.