Fourth Sunday in Lent
I have occasionally wondered if it would have been better to be born blind. That way, you couldn't see to be distracted from anything; you could never have seen and be distracted. Still, I don't want to take for granted that I have been born with the gift of sight. Man was created with the ability to see, and even this was called very good; so far be it from me to denounce what has been given by God as not good.
But, that brings up another point. All that God created He called good, culminating, of course, with very good on the sixth and final day of creation. Since the fall, however, man gazes upon creation and has a hard time seeing or refuses to see the Creator behind it. The world gazes upon this wonder and says it happened by chance. Fossils found on the peaks of these Colorado mountains is proof for them that the mountains formerly were sea bed. Similarities between man and primates prove that we had a common ancestor from which we both evolved. In fact, the worlds and stars were all formed by the amalgamation of materials that happened to be floating in proximity in space. The complex order in which everything moves and flows happened only by chance, according to the eyes blinded by sins.
It is as we heard from Isaiah this morning: "Seeing many things, but you do not observe; Opening the ears, but he does not hear." (Isaiah 42:20) Because of sin, we have eyes but we cannot see and we have ears but we cannot hear.
And that's the point I was trying to make earlier. That's why I wonder about being born blind. Would my sight, or lack thereof, be blinded by sin. Granted, I have no senses unaffected by sin, but would it be at all be different to have one fewer sense so affected?
It is, after all, Adam's fall into sin that affects us all, and in which we still participate. It turns that beautiful gift of sight into blindness. Oh, sure, physically we may be seeing, but we have, as it is, scales over our eyes that blind us to the fullness of the truth. It's like we're wearing spiritual shades through which we cannot see the full glory of God, as it was intended that we would see walking in the Garden in the very spiritual and physical presence of God.
Case in point, Jesus and His disciples were leaving the temple, they passed by a man born blind from birth. Seeing him, the disciples begin to wonder: "Did he sin so greatly as to be born blind? Well, that doesn't make sense. Maybe his parents sinned so greatly that he was doomed to blindness; though, that seems unfair."
Isn't that the way it always goes? It's so easy to blame the wrongs that we suffer as a result of the sins we committed or some imaginary level of sin. And it goes with this sinful sight in the opposite direction, too; after all, to quote Dr. Normal Nagel, "The opposite of an error is an error in the opposite direction." And so, many will say that you didn't get the blessing you were hoping for, praying for, longing for because you didn't believe hard enough or you didn't pray well enough. It all comes back to these senses being negatively affected by sin, here getting sin, suffering, faith, blessing, and prayer all wrong.
So, seeing this blind man and wondering among themselves, the disciples ask Jesus.
Oh, you poor, blind disciples. It's not that he sinned or his parents sinned that he was born blind, but that the works of God should be revealed in him. And this blind man becomes an object lesson. Though He doesn't explain here the wrongs suffered by mankind, He does give us a little, uh, glimpse into why. That is to say, it wasn't that the blind man sinned or his parents sinned that he was born blind, but because of Adam's sin by which he and all of us were born sinful. His blindness and all the wrongs suffered by mankind are not the result of any sins they committed but because of the sinfulness with which they are infected.
And so, the works of God are to be displayed right here in this blind man. What are the works of God? Well, recall that it was God who, in the beginning, created the cosmos out of the universe. Then, out of the dust of the earth, God created man and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. (cf. Genesis 1:1—2:7) God's work is to create and recreate, or regenerate. So, God-in-the-flesh spits into the dust to form some mud, places it on the blind man's eyes and recreates his sight—you could even say he creates sight for this man where there was none.
There is some amazing imagery going on here. You have Jesus' saliva, and in that we should see water combined with the Word of God, and the regeneration that comes from Holy Baptism. It was propelled to the dust by his breath, and there you should see the Spirit of God at work in creation and recreation. And you have the dust, the very particles of creation from which man was formed. And these are being applied to the blind man. Here you have signs of creation and regeneration, and the blind man sees!
It all goes to the way that God works in this sin filled world. Recall that I compared this sin-infection as wearing shades that prevent us from seeing the full glory of God. And it's a good thing, too; at least, in one manner of speaking. It's not only the senses that are negatively affected by sin, but the whole being. If, in our sinfulness, we were to see the full glory of God, it would kill us. So, God, in His infinite mercy, does not work in ways that reveal His glory to us. His glory is hidden, but His work is true. So, given our condition, it is better to say that it is a good thing that God hides His glory from us in His work.
God's work among us now is done "under the opposite," as Dr. Nagel has often said. Look no further than today's text: in order to see, Jesus tells the blind man, "Here's mud in your eye." And Scripture is replete with God working "under the opposite," not the least of which is the way in which God is the Savior of the world. For He made His Son who knew no sin to be sin for us. He saves the world from Death by giving His Son over to Death. He brings sinners into life through drowning in the waters of Holy Baptism.
Christ on the cross appears so inglorious, but that is the way God, in His mercy, completes His work among us. He hides His glory but completes His work, so that we may live and not die. As it is written, "‘As I live,' says the Lord GOD, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live...'" (Ezekiel 33:11a) And, to say it another way, despite what we see on the cross, Christ's death there, as inglorious as it appears, completed the work for the forgiveness of sins. For there, Christ took all sin upon Himself and died with it, destroying Death, and winning for all forgiveness and life!
"I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked," God said through Ezekiel, "but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?" Then He sends His Son to take on human flesh, hiding His eternal, divine glory in that flesh from our sinful eyes, lives a completely sinless life without drawing any attention to Himself, takes all sin upon Himself and dies with it in order that we would be turned from our evil ways and live! "[He] by His death hath destroyed death," the Easter Proper Preface reminds us, "and by His rising to life again hath restored to us everlasting life." We'll get to that second part in a bit.
As it happened, the formerly-blind man was kicked out of the synagogue for confessing that Jesus was sent by God. Jesus, hearing of this, goes to the man. "Do you believe in the Son of God?" "Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?" the man asks. "You have both seen Him and it is He who is talking with you," Jesus replied. "Lord, I believe!" the man exclaimed.
Up to that point, the formerly-blind man had not seen Jesus. Jesus put mud in his eyes and sent him to the pool to wash. When Jesus returns to talk to the man, that was the first time the man laid working eyes on Him. And so, when Jesus identifies Himself to the man as the Son of God, His first words are, "You have seen Him." You have seen Him! You who were once blind have seen the Son of God before!
The Word of God has a miraculous effect on people. It gives sight to the blind. Jesus is, after all, the Light of the world that opens eyes and gives sight. And so it was with this man who had never seen Jesus before, let alone seen anyone, that after His first encounter with the Word of God, had seen Jesus.
That's you, dear Baptized, for you, too have had an encounter with the Word of God, and now you too have seen Jesus. For when you were brought to the waters of Holy Baptism, the scales that blinded you were removed from your eyes. There, in those waters, you were, as the opposite goes, drowned, and a new man came forth to walk before God in righteousness and purity forever. There, your eyes were opened and you were given sight, much as the Gentiles to whom St. Paul was sent, as he recounted his own eye-opening experience to King Agrippa: "[Jesus said,] ‘I will deliver you...from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.'" (Acts 26:17-18, emphasis added) Physical sight or blindness...there is no difference, for when the Word of God is received, it creates sight to see the Son of God.
Now, you come into His presence wherever two or three are gathered in His name. You come into His presence whenever His Word is proclaimed. You come into His presence whenever you receive His body and blood. Yes, He is still hidden in these means. He does not reveal His full glory to you, for you are still saints struggling with sin, living in a world filled with sinfulness, where you are still tempted to doubt the truth by the blindness of sin. But, you see Him with eyes unblinded by faith. You see Him, and you know He is there.
Yes, dear hearers, we like to say that you are simul justus et peccatur, at the same time justified and sinner. Likewise, you are simul vides et caecus, at the same time seeing and blind. As much as you are sinner-saints, you are blind-seers. It's the beautiful paradox of now-not yet.
So, as you will one day live in the fullness of your sainthood, there will come a time when you will see Him in the fullness of His glory. One day, the Christ will return in judgment, as He said in today's text, wherein the sinfulness will forever be destroyed and God will set about His task of creation and recreation again, building a new heaven and a new earth. There, you dear hearers, who have received faith, will be in the fullness of the glory of God. For, as it is written, "There shall be no night there: They need no lamp nor light of the sun, for the Lord God gives them light," (Revelation 22:5) and, "The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light." (Revelation 21:23)
There will be restored to the faithful everlasting life. There will the curse of exile from Paradise be reversed. For as Adam once walked in the very spiritual and physical presence of God in the Garden, you, dear Baptized, will walk in the very spiritual and physical presence of God in Paradise, and it will have no end—everlasting Light and life, all for the sake of Jesus the Christ who is the Light and gives the light of life. Even the curse of physical blindness will be cured, as Job proclaimed, "For I know that my Redeemer lives, And He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know,That in my flesh I shall see God. Whom I shall see for myself, And my eyes shall behold, and not another." (Job 19:26-27a)
Jesus said in St. John's 8th chapter, "I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life." (John 8:12) You, dear hearers, by faith are followers of Jesus, like the formerly-blind man in today's Gospel. Like him, you once were blind, but now you see. You have a place in the new heavens and new earth, prepared for you by the Light of the world; He is your light, your light of life, and you will be where He is and see Him with your own eyes, in the fullness and brightest of His glory, because you are forgiven for all of your sins.