Seeing Beyond Blame, March 22

Seeing Beyond Blame

1 Samuel 16:1-13; Psalm 23; Ephesians 5:8-14; John 9:1-41

Rev. Catherine E. Schuyler; March 22, 2020

Catskill, Palenville, Quarryville United Methodist Churches, live streamed

 

Jesus heals a man who was born blind. Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.” The man says, “I once was blind, but now I see.”

 

That’s the short version of this story. Rick read the longer version, all forty-one verses. John, the author of this fourth gospel, clearly wanted to tell us more than the simple story of the healing of the man born blind. There’s a lot of detail here. Conversations and arguments and opened eyes and opened hearts and people who refuse to see what’s apparently right in front of them.

 

Jesus and his disciples come into town and see a man blind from birth. Instead of really seeing him, a child of God, worthy of love and attention, the disciples see an object lesson. Not a person but an occasion for learning. They don’t even talk to the man; they talk about him. They want to learn stuff from Jesus; this human before them reminds them of a question that they’ve probably wondered about before – why do I think that? Because I suppose we’ve all thought something like that now and then, when we see someone different from us, with something we perceive as wrong with them. Why? What happened? They ask, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?’

 

Neither, says Jesus. You’re barking up the wrong tree, there. It’s not about blame; it’s about recognizing and manifesting the glory of God. I am the light of the world; through me you will see God’s glory. And Jesus addresses the man, not the lesson, and heals him. The disciples, and the man himself, see the glory of God’s power in Jesus healing this man who had been blind since birth.

 

The rest of the witnesses of the miracle don’t see God’s glory, made manifest before them. The man’s neighbors notice he’s healed – they converse about whether it’s really he, they’re so surprised. Their conversation attracts notice. And the authorities come by and begin digging for dirt.

 

A note from the scholars, which is to say, I’m heading on a slight tangent here. The gospel of John contains frequent references to ‘the Jews’ as those who regularly oppose Jesus. It’s hard to make sense of, because almost everyone in the gospel story is Jewish – Jesus, his disciples, and most of the people in the crowds, as well as the Jewish authorities – the Pharisees, the scribes, the teachers whom the people look up to as those who have studied the texts and who lead them in prayer and understanding. Yet John talks about ‘the Jews’ as the bad guys of the story he tells. J. Louis Martyn, a professor of New Testament at Union Seminary when I began there thirty-some years ago, wrote a book some-fifty years ago offering a new way to ‘see’ John’s gospel. He noted that many scholars agreed that the fourth gospel, John, was probably written later than the other three gospels, at the very end of the first century. By then, the early church, which had been simply one of many sects within Judaism, was breaking away from Judaism, in part because of the Roman empire’s dislike and oppression of both groups. The community out of which John’s gospel emerged was in the midst of that conflict, and the frequent references to Jesus’ followers acting ‘in fear of the Jews’ seems to be representative of a state of affairs in the church 50 years after Jesus at least as much as it is representative of what was happening during Jesus’ own ministry. John wrote the gospel as a proclamation for his own community, as the other gospel writers did as well, not primarily for our understanding two thousand years later. This isn’t to say that the religious authorities of the time weren’t hostile to Jesus’ work and teaching. It’s to say that everyone in this story is a Jew. And we have to be careful not to conflate Jews of the twenty-first century as enemies of Jesus just because John used the term to talk about a group his small community had a recent break with. Have you noticed how difficult it is for the supporters of Democratic candidates who lost the primary to support the ultimate candidate? Then you are reminded how easy it is to demonize people who are close to your way of thinking, but not quite the same, when two groups split from one into two or from two back to one. It’s really hard to find common ground with people who are so close to right, but then you think they miss the mark. Our anger is often hottest toward such opponents. That’s how Dr. Martyn, and from his work, now most scholars of John, read John’s references to ‘the Jews.’ We are careful to remember that ‘the Jews’ whom we share life with today are not our enemies in any way, shape, or form. It’s important that that be our basic understanding of how we live with people of different faiths today.

Back to the story, Jesus’ ultimate point, as the afternoon goes on, is that the man born blind is not only given sight, he chooses sight. He grows closer to fully understanding what Jesus is about after each interaction, first with the neighbors, then with his parents, and the authorities, and then with the whole synagogue community (which is again, anachronistic because until year 70, Jewish religious life was centered in the Temple in Jerusalem not in local synagogues). This ninth chapter of John is a full picture of what Jesus’ complete invitation is to those who would follow him. In the first chapter he says to his first two disciples, ‘come and see.’ Here he opens the eyes of the blind man, who truly comes to see, and in seeing makes clear that there are those who have God’s glory in Jesus in front of them and don’t see, won’t see, refuse to see.

 

They aren’t the only ones who see what they want to see. We do it all the time. I did it yesterday. Like many of you during this strange forced isolation, I’m spending some of my time doing jigsaw puzzles. I’ve done a few online, and the one I was working on yesterday was a simple picture of ten brightly colored plates, each of them a solid color. I looked at the picture and noted that there were three blue plates, two green plates, two red plates, two orange plates, and a bright pink, fuchsia plate. But when I began working on the puzzle, there were a number of pale pink pieces that I couldn’t figure out at all. I chose the puzzle because it was bright. I like bright colors! Looking back at the picture, I realized one of the red plates was actually pale pink in part, because of the way the light hit the plate. My brain had read the picture with its lens of what the things ‘really were’ but the puzzle pieces represented the picture itself, with a pale pink plate. That sort of focus on details of a picture is part of the fun of doing a puzzle, but it’s precisely how we don’t always see what’s directly in front of our face if our brains are ready to interpret before they really see. When Jesus invites us to come and see what he’s about, the invitation includes an insistence that we let go of what we think we’ll find in Jesus, and simply take him as he is. Part of the discipline of Lent is to focus our lives and hearts, and our eyes and ears, again on Jesus himself, not the layers of expectations and masks and disguises we have laid on him over the years. Jesus is not a seeker of power. Jesus is not an American. Jesus is not a soldier. Jesus is not a businessman. Jesus is the light of the world, the Anointed of God, a healer and teacher, a person who invited people to come and see what he was about, who loved his followers to the end, who spoke truth to power, and who was executed by the Roman empire, by crucifixion, for disturbing the peace, essentially. He is also risen into life, the one we trust as the Savior of the world, our Redeemer, and the Lord of life. His Spirit fills us and carries us forward to love the world by loving each other as he loved us.

 

We’re living in a scary time right now. We are seeing our own vulnerability, as individuals, as the church, and as an entire society. We are seeing that we are not prepared to handle medical care at the intensity we may well need, and we are being asked to care for each other, to love each other, in what seems like backward ways. We have to look carefully at what is before us to see that staying away from each other is love. It’s how we care for those who are most at risk; it’s how we care for and support doctors and nurses and hospital workers. We can see with new eyes the difficult challenge of isolation, sheltering in place, if we focus on the call of Christ to love one another, to let our love be stronger than our fear, and to remember especially those who are already struggling. The poor, the homeless, the prisoners, the elderly, and the already sick are experiencing these difficult days as worse than you are experiencing them. Remember them. Pray for them, pray for the people who usually sit two rows back from you in church, pray for the church itself, and pray for those you love. Open your eyes wide, that you might see how others struggle and care for them. And remember that Jesus sees you, as you are, good days and bad days, and loves you dearly. Hold onto that. It will see you through.  Amen.

 

 

1 Samuel 16:11-13

16The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”

12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures;

he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.

He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley,

I fear no evil; for you are with me;

your rod and your staff— they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me

in the presence of my enemies;

you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me

all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of

the Lord my whole life long.

 

Ephesians 5:8-14

8For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— 9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, “Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”

 

John 9:1-41

9As 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.”

 

13They 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.”

 

18The 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.”

 

24So 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.

 

35Jesus 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 worshiped 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.