Now We See
Sermon 1850 John 9.1-7, 13-17, 34 March 19, 2023
He is but one voice in a long line of distinguished voices decrying religion (mostly Christianity) as a force for moral depravity in the world. Richard Dawkins, like so many others, sees Christianity as the seedbed for conflict. Religion starts wars. Christians commit great crimes. Pious prayers sanctify horrors.
Dawkins has been trained as an evolutionary biologist. Dawkins claims to go by what he sees. Dawkins doesn’t seem to be looking very closely at the evidence today’s Gospel lays before us.
One precept of modern science is that we simplify the problem to remove as many variables as possible. Let’s not talk of nations and races, the sweep of history and the passage of centuries. Let’s look at how Jesus healing one blind man affected three groups of people. The time frame is under a day. That should be simple enough to see if Jesus is the source of all the trouble in the world.
Now We See
1. Jesus is the answer (4-7)
2. Man is the problem (1-3, 13-17, 34)
Let’s look at the presenting cause of the events we will be studying. At the heart of our experiment is the miracle of Jesus healing a man born blind.
“As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world (4-5).”
What is the work Jesus was sent to do? If Dawkins was correct, it is to start a fight. Jesus is here to set people against each other, cause divisions, allow the baser nature of the weak and ignorant (none of them holding advanced degrees from a proper English university) to cause mayhem on a large scale and call it devotion to their deity.
Jesus has come for a purpose. He is focused, single-minded. It all boils down to him. “I am the light of the world.”
“Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam,’ (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing (6-7).”
No riot. No assassinations. No colonial conspiracies cooked up in dark Boston taverns. He gives sight to a man who was blind. It isn’t even a big PR stunt. All he does is make some mud—he spit on the ground, so it isn’t even a lot of mud. He makes a little mud and puts it on the man’s closed eyelids. Then he tells him to wash it off in the nearby Pool of Siloam. The man believes in Jesus. He trusts in Jesus’ words. He does as Jesus says. Faith saves. Faith is trust. He trusts in the words of Jesus. He obeys. He goes and washes. Jesus isn’t around anymore. Nobody else seems to be around anymore, just the man’s few friends who have led him to the pool. No publicity. No hubbub. A blind man now sees. His faith saved him. A nice story. The world is a better place.
If someone finds fault with Jesus for this, they have such big problems, they shouldn’t be taken seriously.
Let’s examine Group Number One. The disciples. Are they a source of conflict?
“As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ ‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned,’ said Jesus, ‘but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life (1-3).’”
Here’s a cold-blooded group. Should we call them determinists? Materialists? Evil must have a genetic component, because it is passed along from parents to child, perhaps. A lot of people today nod their heads in agreement. Mom was a drunk so the kid is a drunk. He inherited the risk gene from his father. No cure. Education can help them understand their weaknesses and learn some coping mechanisms.
I scratch my head about the disciples wondering if this man sinned to be born blind. How can evil follow you into this life when you don’t even exist? That’s a kicker. And they are not talking about the sinful human nature which we have inherited from Adam’s fall. They are talking about personal accountability. It’s almost like Hindu karma. Oh, yeah, I guess about a billion people believe in that. It is the reason they don’t go out of their way to make a lot of people’s lives better in India. They deserve their poverty. Karma. By their suffering in this life they will get a better position when they are reincarnated. Don’t help them cut corners.
Jesus says that thinking is wrong. He came to alleviate suffering. The time to do it is now.
This bunch disproves Dawkins proposition that Jesus is the source of all trouble. Jesus doesn’t cause conflict. Man is the problem as we twist and distort the truth into a loveless assessment of our fellowman. It gives us a flimsy excuse for not helping, but is that praiseworthy?
Let’s move on to the second group, also a group you would think is a force for good in the world, the educated leaders.
“They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. ‘He put mud on my eyes,’ the man replied, ‘and I washed, and now I see.’ Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.’ But others asked, ‘How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?’ So they were divided. Finally they turned again to the blind man, ‘What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened (13-17).’”
Now we get division! Now we get conflict! See! Jesus is, oh, wait. Jesus isn’t even in the picture. He’s not even around. These aren’t even Jesus’ followers. They are the religious leaders of the Jewish nation. They have their own way of seeing things and, if Jesus did it, it’s bad with a capital B. If he walks on water, it is only because he cannot swim. They feel you cannot do any work on the Sabbath. And Jesus “made mud.” The horror! And Jesus gave this man sight! A double horror! How can any person claim to be godly when they work on the Sabbath? I will let slide the fact that the Pharisees are conducting an investigative meeting (billable hours) on the Sabbath.
One group can’t get over the fact that something good happened here, something very good. Jesus can’t be all that bad if God is doing such things through him.
They compromise. The man probably had not been born blind. He was faking it. Lots of layabouts out there. Maybe he had been concussed and temporarily lost his sight. Maybe it’s a double ganger and he only looks like that blind man who is still (God love ‘im) somewhere out on the streets.
Joy. Celebration. Welcome. Assimilating back into society. None of these things are happening. The man Jesus healed is as welcome as the ex at the wedding.
We must include one last group. Because the account is so detailed (scientists should love that) we can’t read it all as the Gospel lesson. The Pharisees subpoena the man’s parents and drag them into court. They ask the parents three questions. “Is this your son? Was he born blind? How did he get his sight?” They are scared. It was already common knowledge that if you said anything good about Jesus you would be kicked out of the synagogue and a lot of other unpleasant things would happen to you. They testify he is their son and he was born blind. He wasn’t faking it. It is not a case of mistaken identity. But, cowed by the authorities, they add, “He is old enough. Ask him for yourselves.”
Quiet bystanders. Afraid to speak to speak up. Does that make the world a better place? Fact and fiction tell us that’s a terrible idea. In High Noon Gary Cooper has to face a renegade gang single-handedly because none of the townspeople will stand up for their sheriff. Great drama—if you’ve never seen it, stream it soon. Terrible behavior. The Western Alliance was remarkably silent about the horrors of Hitler’s attacks on the Jews, that is, until they liberated Buchenwald, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen. If leaders think we can ramp up world opinion against Putin for his war of naked aggression on Ukraine, weren’t these options also available in in 1938 against Hitler? Silent by-standers don’t help. All are offended when a mugging on a New York subway only arouses witnesses to record the event on their cell phones.
Prejudice. Hatred. Passivity. Those are the results we’ve come up with. These are the things that are stoking the fires of conflict. Oh, but is it really that bad? Here’s the end of the story.
The Pharisees drag the man back in court. They want to reexamine his prior testimony. “What have you to say about him?” He confessed Jesus was sent by God. Nobody could do what Jesus did if God had not sent him. “Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind.” “To this they replied, ‘You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!’ And they threw him out (34).”
They said he was going to hell. They threw him out of the synagogue. You are such a child of the devil don’t even waste our time by coming here. Suffering. Hostility. Conflict. Man is the problem. Jesus is the answer.
Richard Dawkins cares not what I or the Bible says. Strange--a scientist with such a closed mind. But your mind isn’t closed. You recognize the danger, caught as we are in this world with a sinful human nature and a better angel inside us.
We see each of these groups in our hearts. We have a tendency to look down upon those less fortunate than we. Some even call them “the undeserving.” What did you deserve when you came into the world? What did the world owe me when I came into the world? Nothing. “Do good to all men,” the Bible commands us. Our Lord teaches us that we all need his forgiveness to enter into the eternal reunion of heaven.
We have a tendency to stand aside and keep our mouths shut. I think our Lord has said something about that, too. Both the priest and the Levite walked on the other side of the road and pretended not to see the man left by robbers half-dead by the side of the road. Aren’t we bombarded with advertisements during every sporting event imaginable to not “look the other way,” but report physical abuse, sexual harassment, self-destructive thoughts?
As for outright battles, none of this can be laid at Jesus’ doorstep. The evil in the world is the product of man, pure and simple. Sin begets suffering as sure as campfire sparks fly into the night. When has the cause ever been the cure? Oh, we could define peace as a cemetery. If the mayhem of this world would kill off every human being, then, I suppose, there would be a peace, of sorts. I hope that’s not what Dawkins is praying for.
If you eliminate all the impossibilities, you are left with the only possibility. Jesus is left. As the cure. As the solution. As the answer.
The teachings of Jesus certainly show us the way to a brighter future. But that is only the tip of the iceberg. He is the light that brings life to us. His light reveals the forgiveness of sins, a forgiveness so costly he was the only one able to make that payment. That forgiveness blots out all our prejudice, apathy and hateful actions. God no longer remembers them.
That forgiveness creates a new life within us. Forgiveness changes us. We don’t want to be that prejudiced, don’t get involved, get even type of person any more. We want to be better. We want to be godly.
That forgiveness gives us courage. Since I know God is taking care of me, I can take care of others. Since I know there is another life, a glorious life in heaven, this life is not something I have to hold so tightly. I’m not going to be reckless, but I will take risks, especially if it means saving someone else. I will curtail my dreams and pleasures to help others.
Now We See
1. Jesus is the answer (3-7)
2. Man is the problem (1-2, 13-17, 34)
The experiment is over. We’ve simplified the problem, eliminating all inconsequential variables and gotten to the heart of the issue. Our findings disprove the common consensus among the wise of this world. Jesus is not the problem. Man is the problem. Jesus is the answer. Anybody who is looking can see it.