22 Mar Spiritual Blindness
March 22, 2020
Sermon: Spiritual Blindness
Scripture: John 9:1-41
In today’s world it’s so easy to get caught up in our selfish pursuits that we become blind to what is going on around us. We can become blind to the needs to our family and friends. We can become blind to what is going on in our community and in our country. And if we don’t wake up, we can become so laser focused on ourselves that we don’t want to wake up. We simply keep our heads down; live our lives and we want to be left alone. When this willful blindness to our surroundings occur, we can develop Spiritual blindness as well. Spiritual blindness is going through the motions in life. Yes, we go to church, we volunteer, but we become spiritually disconnected from God, spiritually disconnected from the other people in our lives, and we become spiritually disconnected from ourselves. When this happens, we are susceptible to influence from outside sources that usually do not have our best interest in mind. In other words, if you walk around spiritually blind you will slowly drift away from God and from yourself. And now without God in your heart your ego takes over. You become ridged, selfish and like the Pharisees in our story today, you become accustomed to walking around in the dark.
One of the goals of Jesus’ ministry was to awaken people from their spiritual blindness and when called upon He would heal them of their physical blindness. In today’s scripture, we see Jesus healing a man’s physical blindness, and in the process, we discover the spiritual blindness of some of those watching the miracle.
The story begins with Jesus and his disciples encountering a man who’s been blind from birth. The disciples look at this man and what do they see? Do they see a man in need of healing? No, they don’t. They’re blind to his pain. They ask “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?” The disciples totally ignore this man’s problem. They are more interested in theology than compassion. But then, Jesus turns the tables on them and immediately points out their own blindness. Jesus says, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. The disciple’s assumptions have blinded them to the possibilities of the situation. Their understanding of the man’s blindness is in fact no different from that of the Pharisees.
In ancient times everything in their world consisted of cause and effect and todays scripture is no different for the disciples. So then illnesses must be the result of God’s judgement regarding sin. Whether it’s the person’s sin or his parents doesn’t matter. Clearly sin must be involved for this man to be born blind. But Jesus blows that idea out of the water. He says God’s intentions with this man’s blindness are that God’s works might be revealed in him. There’s nothing sinister about this illness. There’s no sense of revenge, on God’s part, associated with it. In this case, God is going to use this man’s illness to reveal his glory.
Jesus always knows what to do. He spits on the ground, makes some mud and uses it as a salve for the man’s eyes. Then He sends him off to the pool to wash and then he comes back able to see. As you might expect, this causes something of a disturbance in the crowd.
The people gathered that day have known this guy all his life. He’s been blind since birth and now he can see. And so, people want to know how it happened. Who did this? They ask the man, are you really the man we know who’s been a beggar all his life? The formally blind man he assures them that he is the same man, and that Jesus has done this miraculous thing.
If this happened today, we’d be taking the man to an eye specialist to check what’s happened. Was he blind? What’s happened to his eyes that he can now see? The people in today’s scripture don’t take him to the doctor; they take him to the Pharisees. They think there’s something supernatural going on here and they want the religious experts’ opinion. And here’s where we see spiritual blindness come to the forefront.
The Pharisees of course know all about Jesus, they’ve already reached their conclusions about him, and it doesn’t take long for them to discover that he’s been up to his old tricks again; healing on the Sabbath.
What’s the Pharisees verdict regarding this situation? They can’t deny the reality of the miracle. The man can clearly see the mans has been healed, though they do their best to find a loophole by suggesting that maybe he wasn’t blind to begin with. But no, it’s established that he was blind and has been healed. So, they put their heads together and begin to make a judgement about what’s happened. The Pharisees say, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” He can’t be from God if he doesn’t follow the law. And we begin to see how their traditions, their old interpretations of the law, their ridged lifestyle, and their egos blind them to reality.
What do the Pharisees do? They fall back on what they know by saying, “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man responds in amazement, he says, “Here is an astonishing thing. You do not know where he (meaning Jesus) comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. “Since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
The reality of Jesus’ origins is blatantly clear to this man, yet the Pharisees refuse to acknowledge it. Faced by this snub from an ignorant peasant they return to their traditions. The Pharisees respond to the man by saying, “You were born entirely in sin, and are you trying to teach us?” Like the disciples, they are confident that blindness is the judgement of God regarding sin, so they can dismiss everything the man says because obviously he was born in sin.
Here we have a man who was blind but now can see. A man whose ability to see clearly goes beyond the physical to the spiritual, while those who are meant to be the spiritual guides of Israel are shown to be spiritually blind. That’s not the end of the story. Jesus goes looking for the man and when he finds him, he asks him, not whether his eyesight is better, but whether he believes in the Son of Man.
We can see the discovery the formally blind man has made made. Jesus is the Son of Man, the one who in Daniel 7 is given all authority and dominion, who in John’s gospel is the one who will be lifted up, and who will judge all the earth. Not only does this man acknowledge that the son of man exists but he also puts his trust in him. The response of the man is to not only acknowledge his belief in Jesus, but to worship him. His eyes have been opened to the whole reality of who Jesus is.
Jesus’ response is to say: “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees who are listening realize that Jesus is talking about them. They ask whether he’s accusing them of being blind. Jesus reply is puzzling: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” They are blind in fact, but their claim to be able to see establishes their fault. The passage from John 3:19-20 says: “this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” The Pharisees claimed to be able to see, but when the light of Christ they appeared in their midst they became confused and ran from it. Jesus’ very presence among them blinded them to the things they should be able to see, even as Jesus opened the eyes of others who perhaps didn’t have the enlightenment of the learned Pharisees.
So, how is our spiritual vision? Are you open to seeing God at work in every circumstance or are you narrow-minded by your theological or professional or rational assumptions? Or, is your vision clouded by the various traumas of life you have experienced.
There are many people in our world who are so convinced by a rationalist scientific worldview that they refuse to admit the possibility of miracles, either today, or even in Jesus’ time.
So, they argue away the miracles of Jesus, perhaps even more strongly than the Pharisees did. Ignoring the miracles of Jesus is to blind ourselves to the possibility that God might indeed intervene in our world. And then we shut our eyes to what God is doing around us. Similarly, there are those who have been so hurt by events, or people, in their past that they can’t acknowledge the possibility that God might be doing something good.
Conversely, many of us have inherited a theology that expects that God will bless us in everything we do, so when tragedy happens, we’re confused, even disillusioned about our Christian faith. The danger with this way of thinking is that we judge from a standard we have created rather than from reality. We judge from what we’ve heard from others, or from what we’ve worked out by ourselves, rather than letting the facts speak for themselves.
That’s the contrast in today’s passage. The Pharisees looked at what had happened and got out their play book to help them pass judgement. While the man that was healed looked at what had happened and let the facts speak for themselves.
And what was the result? Judgement was passed, but it wasn’t the judgement that the Pharisees had in mind. The judgement that was passed was that those who had eyes to see saw the miracle, while those whose eyes were blind to the reality of Jesus’ work, had their blindness made clear for all to see. The only people that reminded blind were the Pharisees. They simply couldn’t comprehend that God was at work that day just like he was at work at the time of Moses.
Are you looking to see God at work in the world? Are you pointing out those works of God to others so they can see too? Think about these words of Jesus, He says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” These are words for us today as well as to the disciples. When God shines his light on the world we need to be ready to point out how God is at work in people’s lives, so we can give him the glory, and so we can bring people from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight.
Ask yourselves these questions: Do we let outside influences dictate our spirituality? Have we become so set in our ways, so frightened of life that we are willfully blind? Have we become spiritually disconnected from God, spiritually disconnected from the other people in our lives, and have we become spiritually disconnected from ourselves?
If you can honestly answer yes to these questions. Wouldn’t today be a good day to reconnect to God? Wouldn’t today be a good day to open your eyes to the world and what’s going on around us? And wouldn’t today be a good day to say no to spiritual blindness and to the darkness that infects our world, and say yes to spiritual power of God and the eternal light of Jesus? Amen.