Where Am I Spiritually Blind

Where Am I Spiritually Blind?

Scripture: Genesis 1:1-3 and John 9:1-40

Guest Preacher: Rev. Mary Karen Brown

March 31, 2019, Eagle Harbor Congregational Church

 

The people in this story from John’s Gospel move in contrasting
directions.  Some move towards salvation.  Some move towards judgment.
It’s a story about a journey from physical blindness to spiritual
sight.  It’s a story about a journey from physical sight to spiritual
blindness.  All the big theological themes in John’s Gospel are
embodied in the characters in this story.

It’s also a story that takes place on multiple levels.  You see,
although story is set during Jesus’s lifetime, the people in John’s
community would have experienced this story as their story.  For the
emotional conflict of this story was their conflict, too.  They had
just lived through the trauma of being thrown out of their synagogue
community.  Just as the man born blind is thrown out of his community.

I think it’s important for us to realize these different dimensions in
this story because they can help us understand why John’s Gospel has
sometimes been used for anti-Semitic purposes.  How did John convey to
his audience that this story was not just a story about Jesus, but was
also their story?  Well, if you read John’s Gospel, you will note that
the author often refers to “the Jews.”  Not specifically Pharisees or
scribes or elders, but just “the Jews.”   This seems like a very broad
stroke.  So down through the generations, some people have used John’s
negative comments about “the Jews” to smear all Jews.

But what we must remember is that when John wrote this gospel, there
was a conflict between two sets of Jews within a single synagogue.
John wrote his gospel, sometime between 90 and 100 AD.  For several
decades, traditional Jews, and Jews who believed that Jesus was the
long awaited Messiah had tried to co-exist within the same
congregation.  However, finally tensions became so great that the Jews
who believed that Jesus was the Messiah were thrown out.  This was
very traumatic experience!  It was like being rejected by your friends
and relatives, yet from the viewpoint of the traditionalists, the
Jews who were followers of Jesus were equating him with God.  And to
traditional Jews, this was blasphemy!

But for the Jews who were thrown out, they thought their former
friends were spiritually blind.  They said that God so loved the world
that He sent His only Son into the world, not to condemn the world,
but so that the world might have eternal life.  But if you rejected
the Son, you brought judgment on yourself.  So in John’s Gospel, we
find stark contrasts between light and darkness, between love and
judgment.

So these dramatic Johannine community conflicts lurk within this
story.  On its surface, this story gives John another opportunity to
reveal who Jesus is and to glorify God.  Look at the beginning of the
story.  When his disciples see the blind man, they ask Jesus, “Is this
man blind because he sinned or because his parents sinned?”  In their
question, the disciples reveal a common first century belief that
physical or mental afflictions were signs that you or your family had
sinned.  Jesus rejects this idea.  Instead, he suggested that this man
was born blind so that he might cure him and thus reveal God’s power
working through him.  Through his gospel, John portrays Jesus as very
self-assured.  Always giving us the meaning behind his actions.  So in
his gospel, John frequently gives a theological basis for Jesus’
actions.

The theme of our Lenten series this year is “pouring out”.  Today’s
“pouring out” is only a small amount of water, namely saliva from
Jesus’ own body.  Jesus takes his spit and mixes it with dust from
the ground, making a poultice which he gently pastes on the beggar’s
eyes.  Then Jesus tells the man to go wash his eyes in the pool of
Siloam.  The man goes to the pool, washes his eyes, and regains his
sight.  When people want to know how this beggar regained his sight,
he becomes a witness for Jesus.  In his witness, we see a progression
in his understanding of who Jesus is.   First he says, “The man called
Jesus” cured him.  Then he calls Jesus “a prophet.”  Finally he says,
“If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  So this beggar
not only receives physical sight, but spiritual insight.  Yet both of
these gifts turn his world upside down!  He’s thrown out of his faith
community. His parents may be thrown out, too.  His former “job” as a
beggar is gone.  He’s going to have to fend for himself.  He’s driven
out to the margins of his former world, and the only one there is
Jesus!

This is the emotional and literal reality of the community for whom
John was writing.  These people could resonate with this story.  Just
like they could resonate with other passages in John’s gospel, such as
“If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated
you.”

Ironically, those in this story who have physical sight reveal
themselves to be spiritually blind.
They are so concerned with their sense of what’s right and wrong, that
they can’t see that the Son of God is standing before them.  Instead,
they’re preoccupied with all the scandalous details of this healing.
Jesus healed on a Sabbath which was against the law.  Was the man
really blind?  Was he a sinner?  Were his parents sinners?  Was Jesus
a sinner? Rather than rejoicing in that fact that this man was cured,
they want to know where the healing power came from.  Obviously, it’s
outside of their control.  That’s threatening to them.  And most of
all, they are affronted that this poor, formerly blind man seems to be
teaching them!

The final irony is when some Pharisees ask Jesus the question,
“Surely, we are not blind, are we?”  This question echoes down the
centuries to us.  We seldom ask ourselves this question.  But maybe we
should.  The trouble is that we, like the Pharisees, seldom see our
own blindness.  We stay in our own “echo chambers.”  The “yes” people
in our lives, whether among our friends or family or the media
commentators that we watch or read tell us what we want to hear.
Perhaps we need to ask this question of someone who has nothing to
lose by responding truthfully.  This is why some people go to
psychiatrists.  This is also why John Wesley felt small support groups
were so important.  We need a soulmate or soulmates who will keep us
from forming spiritual cataracts on our eyes.

So “here’s mud in your eyes!”  The spiritual mud of healing!  I read
on the internet that the origin of this drinking toast, “Here’s mud in
your eyes” goes back to this biblical story.  “Here’s mud in your
eyes,” is not a negative toast.  It’s kind of a raucous toast for
well-being.  Here’s hoping that this enterprise called life that we’re
all embarked on goes well for us.  But this story in John’s Gospel
also cautions us.  It seems to say that sometimes when God breaks
into our lives, all hell can break loss! For some people are
threatened by spiritual truth!  But then where does spiritual truth
lie?  Obviously, the writer of John’s gospel felt that it lay with his
group.

In our present time, there are many painful divisions within groups,
just like those in John’s synagogue.  And each group within a
division, thinks that “spiritual truth” is on their side.  Take the
divisions within the worldwide United Methodists Church right now over
the issue of homosexuality.  Each group passionately believes that
God’s truth is on their side.  That’s why an amendment was introduced
at a recent General Conference of the American Methodist church urging
the church to “agree to disagree.”  The amendment didn’t pass.

In our present time of painful divisions, antisemitism is once again
rearing its ugly head.  Witness the tragedy at the synagogue in the
Pittsburgh suburb.   Yet some say that people who criticize Israel’s
policies towards the Palestinians are being anti-Semitic; others say
people who criticize Israeli policies are not being anti-Semitic.
When such serious divisions between people and groups arise, whether
these are secular or religious, people just seems to talk past one
another, if they even bother to talk to each other at all.

When I’m trying to express my convictions to someone who disagrees
with me, I think in my heart of a passage from the 13th chapter of
Paul’s 1st letter to Corinthians.  “Now we see in a  mirror, dimly,
but then we will see face to face, Now I know only in part; then I
will know fully, even as I have been fully known.”  So in such
divisive times as the present, when we are expressing our heartfelt
views to others, it might be a good idea to do so with a modicum of
humility and humor.

Jeff Spenser, the former pastor of the Tolt UCC church in Carnation, was
involved in prison ministry while in seminary.  Once when he was in a
lunch room with a group of prisoners, he took his cafeteria tray up to
a table and asked if he might join the men seated at that table.   One
of the prisoners sculled up at Jeff and said, “Get the Hell out of
here!”  There was stunned silence.  Another prisoner looked at the
first prisoner and said, “That’s his job!  ‘Getting the Hell out of
here!’”  That’s our job as Christians, too.  We are to get the Hell,
the brokenness, the spiritual arrogance out of our lives so that God’s
love can pour into our lives.  One way we can open ourselves to God’s
love, is by frequently asking ourselves the question, “Where am I
spiritually blind?”  Amen.

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