John 9: 1-38
By The Reverend H. Frederick Gough, GCSMA

Jesus saw a man born blind and a very meaty passage of Scripture records the subsequent events. I mean – this passage is chock full of weighty theological issues. I would relish contemplating all of them with you this morning, but I seem to recall that Sundays, even Sundays in Lent, are feast days, so I feel a certain obligation on your behalf to send you home in time for a suitably sumptuous luncheon. Second, but I would be giving up for myself those promised blessings on the merciful were I to attempt to handle all the possibilities of today’s Gospel in one great homiletical orgy.
I’m kind of grateful that at St. Barnabas’ we don’t post sermon titles out front… The catchiest title I could come up with for the thoughts I want to share with you about this healing miracle of our Lord’s is Spit, Dirt and New Life. Now, I realize that Spit, Dirt and New Life doesn’t seem to measure up to the kind of class for which we Anglicans are famous – it even clashes with the architecture, I think, so I felt really embarrassed about it for a while – until I realized just how marvelous those things really are.
Take spit, for example, or saliva as it’s known in our circles. I dimly recollect that it begins the digestive process, a miraculous system that can transform lima beans into energy. I know, too, that I’m sometimes made aware of its importance by its absence, such as when I’m nervous and my tongue starts sticking to the roof of my mouth. Or consider lowly dirt – we take it so for granted and yet it provides those lima beans I mentioned earlier… It shapes into anything from talcum powder to printed circuitry chips, from the softness of oil drillers mud to fired ceramic bodies harder than diamonds.
Spit and Dirt – the materials of miracles…
Now for years, whenever I came across that passage with Jesus spitting in the dirt and smearing that mess on the man’s eyes my reaction was always sort of a religiously repressed YUKH. That was before it occurred to me that millions – nay perhaps billions of women every morning, especially on Sundays, smear mud on their faces… and the effect is not that bad (though sometimes it may seem miraculous) unless, of course, a man is blind – and then there’s little effect at all.
“…a man blind from his birth.” There are many possible medical reasons for people being born blind. Of course, these were little understood in the 1st century, in Jesus’ time. The disciples therefore give voice to the prevalent notion of the period – that the man’s blindness was the result of divine retribution for sin, either his own sin or his parents. It seems fairly peculiar to us these days to give any serious consideration to the possibility of someone sinning before they’re born. But then – in those days they didn’t have as many answers as we have now.
We do know that there are ways in which parents can contribute to such birth defects in their children. “Which was it – whose sin caused the blindness, the man’s or his parents?” the disciples ask. Jesus’ answer is, “Neither.” He is negating their assumption that Almighty God smote this man blind for his own or anyone else’s sin. And there is a lesson there for us. Too often we are willing to assume that the tragedies that befall us or others are ordained by God, or that they are part of a divine plan. That sounds good, sounds pious, even holy, when it is shouted at us from the television or murmured unctuously in the funeral parlor. The trouble with that cozy little doctrine is that it absolves us of any responsibility for the rotten things that happen in the world. A devoted mother of three dies in a head-on collision with a drunk and someone is bound to shake their head and say piously – “Well is was God’s will.” That’s bunk. What kind of a God goes around staging bloody car wrecks? Those dead innocents on our streets and highways are victims, not of God’s plots, but of a society abusing its freedom, a society which worships speed more than safety, a society which has more concern for pouring one more shot down the throat of a departing guest than for its responsibility to see that said guest gets home without killing himself or others, a society so godlike in its imagination that it sees its freedom to take those risks with the lives of others as a right, forgetting the responsibilities.
And that example hardly scratches the surface of our societal love affair with itself. But that is to speak of a blindness of a more disabling sort. “that those who do not see may see…” says Jesus later in Chapter 9 of John, speaking of why he came into the world. Isaiah had foretold a Messiah who would give sight to the blind. It is inconceivable that they, Isaiah and Jesus, spoke solely in the physical sense. We know that they recognized the limited vision of a world focused on itself, the blind spots of people looking out only for themselves.
Surely, we can recognize the transformation wrought in a man, once, not merely blind and largely helpless, but carrying as well the stigma of being considered an object of God’s special displeasure. No longer a pitiful figure, cast down, dependent, he stirs our admiration as he flexes a new-found life in debate with the pharisees. No backing down – he knows what he knows. At a moment when he could have accepted their views and for the first time in his life had a respected place in society – he stuck by the facts, witnessed to the truth almost certainly knowing he would be cast out again. Jesus touched more than the man’s eyes. He touched his soul as well.
“We must work the works of him who sent me…” says Jesus to the disciples and by inheritance to us as well. I have heard it said that the winners in the rat race have only proven that they are fast rats. There’s a lot of truth in that. Often, they outrun their families and friends.
Sometimes, like Pheidippides, carrying home the news of the Athenian victory at Marathon, they drop dead at the finish line never getting to enjoy the laurels. We hear so much about how difficult Christian living is, but now many, many fortunes are spent on Madison Avenue playing down the price of service to this world.
You see, the fast rats, if they don’t die at the finish line, usually wind up lonely, disillusioned rats. “We must work the works of him who sent me…” Jesus doesn’t say – “We must be successful; We must be prestigious; We must be popular in the world’s eyes.” It is the world’s eyes that are blind. It is the world’s eyes that we are called to open. It is the world’s stoney gaze that we are called to lift up beyond itself…
“that those who do not see may see…” The man born blind – A man transformed – “…one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.” We are all born spiritually blind. By the touch of God the Holy Spirit, the abiding Presence of our Lord, in Baptism, in Communion, in prayer, in love of neighbor, we are transformed, empowered, like the man born blind, to witness to the truth, to stand firm among the pharisees and hypocrites – and tell the truth of the Lord Jesus.
We can do it, you and I. “We must work the works…” When we venture forth we shall, all of us, find along the way folks who have been blind from birth – blind to the possibilities life holds for them, blind to their own value to the Lord of the Universe, blind to the potential of new life, now, life with eternal impact on others.
Through us, transformed, empowered, called, they can feel the touch of Jesus Christ, can have their eyes opened – you see, we too, in the Name of the King, can work miracles.
Thanks be to God!

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