19 March 2023: Fourth Sunday in Lent

Faithful Conversations #5
Jesus and the Blind Man

1 Samuel 16:1-13
Psalm 23 (5)
Ephesians 5:8-14
John 9:1-41 (Below)

** Note: This week we pass the mid-point of the 40-day Lenten Journey (40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter, not counting Sundays). 

“Healing of the Blind Man” by Danish painter Carl Bloch (1834-1890)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

As he walked 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?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming, when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am he.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” Others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son and that he was born blind, 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment, so that those who do not see may see and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees who were with him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.


John Newton (1725-1807)
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Born in East London in 1725, John Newton first went to sea at age 11 with his father and was “pressed” into harsh service in the Royal Navy in his teens. By 1743, young John joined the crew of a slave ship and for nearly 20 years, actively participated in capturing African people and profiting from their sale in the Americas. In a 1748 voyage, Newton and his crew nearly died in a horrific storm off the coast of Ireland. He claimed forever thereafter that his conversion to Christianity started at that frightening moment when he thought all was lost, and the evidence bears this out. Though he continued to profit from the slave trade for several years, by the mid-1750s Newton jointed the abolitionist movement and began serious religious studies, becoming an Anglican priest in 1767. In 1772, in part as an illustration for a sermon, Newton penned a poem titled,  “Faith’s Review and Expectation,” clearly based on his ongoing journey of conversion. We know that poem today because of its familiar first stanza:

Amazing Grace how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

The melody we sing with those words, by the way, did not arrive until 1835, long after Newton was dead. American composer William Walker, applied the words to the tune, “New Britain,” and the rest, as they say is history. The beloved hymn “Amazing Grace” resonates across time. (I have had the pleasure of sitting in front of Keith Brown during this hymn and he booms it out!) Conversion stories, like that of Newton’s, attest to God’s presence in our world and the reference to John 9:25 is plain to see. Newton’s eyes were opened on board that ship.

This Sunday’s Gospel reading recounts an exciting miracle and conversion. It is one of seven “signs” in John’s Gospel — miraculous moments in Jesus’ ministry that authenticate his true identity and encourage the various witnesses to believe in him. The healing of the blind man is the sixth such story (sandwiched between the feeding of the 5,000  in chapter 6 and the raising of Lazarus in chapter 11). In it, we witness Christ’s compassion for the blind beggar whose dismal life is forever changed by the encounter. We also observe the various reactions by those present. Some were astonished by what they saw (I love the presence of those children in the image I included today — check that out!), others were skeptical, and some were mortified . As was often the case, the religious leaders of the day were most appalled by the actions of Christ. Angry because Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath Day, a violation of their teaching — something he did seven times out of his more than thirty recorded miracles — Jewish authorities confronted Jesus in a tough exchange (verses 40-41).

Where do you find yourself in this encounter? It happened THEN, but Christ is speaking to us NOW! Like the blind man, Christ brings us from our spiritual darkness into the light of all that is “good and right and true.”  (Ephesians 5:8-9). Yes, conversion stories are exciting and attest to God’s presence in our world and we are invited into that story every day.

PRAYER (inspired by Ephesians 5: 8-14 and Psalm 23)
Heavenly Father, restore our souls when the valleys of this life overtake us. As we depend on your loving grace to uphold us, help us to walk as children of light in our community and within our relationships. Amen.

And, some humor for our day today (from the world of Charles Schultz):