April 3, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“[Jesus said]: ‘As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.’ Having said these things, He spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then He anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent).”
Leaving the Temple after engaging in a discussion about His identity, Jesus “saw a man blind from birth.” Jesus’ disciples notice this man, too. His presence leads to a question posed to Jesus: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Something must have caused this blindness. Surely, it had to be a sin that his parents committed. Or perhaps there was something the man did while in utero. The blindness must be a divine curse of some sort. So, Jesus, who sinned to cause this blindness?
There are two answers to this question. First, the man’s parents were sinners. They were descendants of Adam, the first man whose sin subjected all creation to frustration and corruption. The man’s parents were sinful from the time their mothers conceived them. By nature they were sinful and unclean. That imperfection was passed down to this man, manifesting itself in the dreadful disability of blindness. But this is much different than a particular curse for a specific sin. And that leads to the second answer, the answer given by Jesus: “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.” The blind man provides an opportunity for God’s works to be displayed. Just as much as the man’s parents brought forth imperfection, Jesus’ actions will show superiority over sin and its effects. His perfection will manifest itself in healing the blind man.
Before Jesus displays the works of God in healing the blind man, He makes a statement about Himself: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus’ purpose for existing, for dwelling in this world, was to bring light into the darkness that sin had caused. Remember what you heard on Christmas Day from John’s Gospel about Jesus: “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” That light is what Jesus brings to this blind man: “Having said these things, He spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva. Then He anointed the man’s eyes with the mud and said to him, ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ (which means Sent). So he went and washed and came back seeing.” Helped by Jesus, the man now sees. He sees the light that the sun provides, receiving it through his eyes.
But there is another type of darkness, a more sinister darkness. It is more than a blindness caused by lack of sight. Instead, it is a blindness that is caused by lack of knowing and trusting the Lord’s will and ways. That is the condition all men are born in, including the man in Jerusalem’s Temple. This condition can be described this way, as our Lutheran teaching documents state: “Since the fall of Adam all men begotten in the natural way are born with sin, that is, without the fear of God, without trust in God, and with concupiscence.” The severity of this condition is further described: “This disease, or vice of origin, is truly sin, even now condemning and bringing eternal death upon those not born again through Baptism and the Holy Spirit.”
Yet, it is this greater darkness, the blindness that affects body and soul, which Jesus was to dispel: “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus’ actions fulfill what had been prophesied about Him by Isaiah: “And I will lead the blind in a way that they do not know, in paths that they have not known I will guide them. I will turn the darkness before them into light, the rough places into level ground. These are the things I do, and I do not forsake them. They are turned back and utterly put to shame, who trust in carved idols, who say to metal images, ‘You are our gods.’” Jesus brings the light of salvation to those who are blind, as you also heard on Christmas Day: “The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.”
Despite this great work of God that Jesus displays, there are some who still live in the greater darkness. In the narrative of this miracle, the Pharisees are such people. Remember their response to Jesus and the healing He gave to the blind man: “Give glory to God. We know that this Man is a sinner.” The blind man tried to explain, tried to show the Pharisees their error: “Why, this is an amazing thing! You do not know where He comes from, and yet He opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does His will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.” Yet this falls on deaf ears and remains unseen by spiritually blind eyes: “They answered him, ‘You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?’ And they cast him out.”
The Jews act just as Isaiah prophesied about their forefathers: “Who is blind but My servant, or deaf as My messenger whom I send? Who is blind as My dedicated one, or blind as the servant of the Lord? He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear.” Jesus’ statement shows that prophecy is true in His day, too: “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Even with the healing taking place in their midst, they would not believe. They remain in their spiritual blindness, despite their boasting about being experts in God’s ways spoken in the Old Testament: “You are His disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this Man, we do not know where He comes from.” They remain in darkness, not because no light has been shined on them, but because they refuse to receive it: “Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains.’”
But for the blind man, there is salvation. He receives light from Jesus. It heals his lenses, retinas, and pupils. Even more so, it brings healing to his soul, curing the disease caused by lack of fear of God, trust in God, and concupiscence: “Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him He said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’ He answered, ‘And who is He, Sir, that I may believe in Him?’ Jesus said to him, “You have seen Him, and it is He who is speaking to you.’ He said, ‘Lord, I believe,’ and he worshiped Him.” The works of God are truly displayed in this man, as he is healed and brought to belief in the Promised Christ.
The same works of God are displayed in you, as you have received the testimony about Jesus. Like the blind man, you suffer from the same disease. Some of you suffer from the same physical ailment, the same symptom of imperfection. All of you were born in the same spiritual blindness that plagues all humanity. You did not have fear of God or trust in God. Your desires were to break God’s Law, not keep it. His ways were foreign to you. But all this changed, as you were born from above and the well of living water sprang up in your heart through the work of the Holy Spirit. Hearing of who Jesus is and what He has accomplished, you have been given new life, sight that is greater than 20/20.
St. Paul’s description of the Ephesians testifies about you: “At one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.” That change is given through the reception of the Holy Spirit’s work through the Word of Christ. The question is posed to you: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” Like the blind man, you answer: “Lord, I believe,” and you worship Him. That answer is given because the Son of Man has spoken to you through the proclamation of His Gospel. You have His words taught to you. They show Him to you. So you believe.
But the words that you have received today also provide a warning. What Isaiah spoke about concerning the Israelites and how the Pharisees acted are potential hazards for you. The Israelites had heard what the Lord said and knew what He had done. But how are they described? “He sees many things, but does not observe them; his ears are open, but he does not hear.” The Pharisees had the word of the Lord given through Moses, yet they would not receive the One who fulfilled the promises that the Law and the Prophets recorded: “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this Man, we do not know where He comes from.” Even further, there are the temptations to return to the state of not fearing God, not trusting God, and desiring to transgress His Law. So St. Paul exhorts all of Jesus’ followers: “Walk as children of light (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.”
Failure to receive Jesus’ word, failure to believe in Jesus’ identity, failure to follow Jesus’ teaching: all three are ways to take you back into darkness, to restore the blindness that Jesus has dispelled for you. That is part of the message in this Season of Lent. You have heard how Jesus began His conquest of Satan for you, how Jesus has given you birth from above, how Jesus provides you with living water, and now how Jesus takes away the darkness of your sin. All of these are the works of God displayed for you and in you. But they are all for naught, should you return to Satan’s slavery, renounce your new birth, cut yourself off from the living waters, and shut your eyes to Jesus’ light of salvation.
But that dreadful end need not be. Jesus continues to display the works of God in your sight. They are found in this place, where His Word is still taught and His gifts are still distributed. Instead of reverting to blindness, you can have Jesus’ light given to you again and again. The darkness has not overcome it; it overcomes your darkness. You are light in the Lord. You have heard the Son of Man speak to you. He has anointed your eyes and your souls. You know who He is and believe in Him. As you do believe, then when the Last Day comes, it will not be said: “Your guilt remains with you.” Instead, the Lord will say: “Awake, O sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.