Joe Neville

John 9:1-41



Born Blind

I recall a conversation with a new friend who rediscovered her faith after some seventy years. She had begun to read a number of remarkable books that some of you may have read: Books written by progressive thinkers like, Jack Good, Karen Armstrong and a remarkable little book, Meeting Jesus AGAIN for the First Time, by Marcus Borg.  My friend expressed a mixture of emotions as she described the effect these books have had on her: wonder and regret, joy and sorrow, and even an emerging sense of betrayal, as she told me of her experience with this book. "Why don't you ministers share the truth with us?" she asked. "Why don't you talk to us more about the pre-Easter Jesus and the post-Easter Jesus, the living Christ of the Christian experience and the purity codes and the spirit person of Jesus, rather than having those of us who sit in the pews think you believe in all this literally?"

I suppose I tried to calm my friend down by saying something soothing like, "Ministers are always discovering new truths and reasons to believe, too,"  but what I was really thinking about was a long way off; I was remembering the line from Amazing Grace, "was blind but now I see."  I was thinking about how my own faith has been moved and shuffled about and changed throughout my life.  Like Marcus Borg, I no longer see the Christian life as primarily about believing; rather it is about entering into a relationship with that to which the Christian tradition points, a relationship with God, the Living Christ, and the Spirit.

As my friend talked on about all she was learning that was new and exciting as she met Jesus again for the first time, I thought to myself that what the Christian life is all about is a relationship, which is not static, but dynamic and moving; not merely historical, but mysterious and transformative.  As you are beginning to hear again and again from me, itís a journey of transformation from darkness to light, from spiritual starvation to whole-making nourishment, from death to life, from knowledge to knowing. // The journey to Christ and the richness of all that journey implies, is the most energizing, creative, challenging, and terrifying journey of one's life.

My friend is engaging in this journey of transformation and spiritual renewal!  How beautiful and awesome the journey is for those who wish to keep their relationship with Christ alive and always growing!  Marcus Borg has said that if he were to write his spiritual autobiography, he would call it Beyond Belief ; the fuller title would be Beyond Belief to Relationship, for his journey has led him beyond seeing as believing, even beyond doubt and disbelief (pay attention here, doubters--fruit for your dialogue!) to an understanding of the Christian life as a relationship to the Spirit of God, involving him in a journey of total transformation.  My friend jokingly said that her spiritual autobiography would be "It takes a lifetime to find wisdom." (Incidentally, I said mine would be, "Ain't going to let nobody turn me around!")

This discourse leads us straight to the story of the One Born Blind, the star of this morning's Gospel lesson; for in a way, he reminds us all of how we all begin--blind and unseeing, but with a tremendous capacity for sight.  His was an experience of going beyond belief, for he was cured of his physical blindness; but far more importantly, he was capable of reaching deep within for spiritual insight and knowledge.  He, too, met Jesus for the first and possibly only time; and what a powerful and life-transforming meeting it was!

Remarkably enough, as we read the account in John, Jesus doesn't have a big part in this story; he basically performs a healing and disappears from the scene, leaving the blind man to fend off all the questions and controversies by himself.

The disciples are off in one corner musing about whether or not the man's blindness was because of his own sin or his parents'. The Pharisees gather about him and question whether or not he should be healed on the Sabbath. Even his parents come forward and back off again, in fear for their own status and safety.

Does anyone notice what is going on here?  A man who was blind from birth is given the gift of sight; and no one, no one, not even his own mom and dad, is even mildly excited.  No one says, "It's a miracle!" or "Thank God!" or even "Who was that man?" // No one volunteers to show the newly sighted around town or even asks him what it looks like to see the neighborhood for the first time or whether he likes what he sees or needs sunglasses or wants a mirror or if he would like to see what his wife or children or his parents look like.

Everyone is caught up in whether what happened should have happened; so stuck are they in the righteous search for real truth that the stunning reality of a sacred, miraculous moment slips right out of their hands. ///   But,

Despite the lack of celebration, the scene is beautifully constructed, and the blind man is developed as a person of some depth and integrity. // Notice that three times, the once-blind man describes Jesus, and each time he deepens in his understanding and confidence. The first time he describes Jesus as "a man," the second time as "a prophet," and the third time he sees Jesus as the "Son of Man" or the "Son of Humanity."

But, while the former blind man is awakening to his deeper spiritual self, the Pharisees are digging themselves into a big, black hole. Notice, again, that they proceed in a trinity of resistance and interrogation, like NYPD Blue. . . While at first they accept the healing, some are offended by the violation of the Sabbath rules. By the second interrogation, hostility dominates the crime scene. They have begun to question the miracle by seeking out the blind man's parents to prove that he was never really blind after all.  In a final scene with the man born blind, under the blinding lights of their interrogation, they seek to trap him by having him repeat the details of the miracle.

John's story-telling is masterful. Here we have a drama in which the hero gains not only physical sight, but increasing insight and spiritual awakening, while those characters who would be heroic by searching for the authentic truth, plunge deeper and deeper into abysmal darkness by trying to control what all this means.

I we were in this drama, we would like to be cast as the blind man, wouldn't we?--if only because we have difficulty identifying with the Pharisees and those who would control truth.  But I think we too often get caught up, as did the Pharisees, with failing to see.  We get caught up in living life the way we THINK it should be, rather than looking more deeply within for answers to our struggles.  Too often, we stubbornly commit to the way things are because it is easier to do it the way we have always done it. // Rather than liberating ourselves from our routines, we cling to them, hoping that by following the rules, we will make sense out of this life and discover a way out of the darkness by attempting to control our knowledge and life around us.

But for the one born blind, seeing is actually, believing!  Receiving his physical sight is only the tip of the iceberg, for he also sees with spiritual eyes and happily accepts the truth.  He quickly moves from bewildered gratitude to recognition and from recognition to relationship.  When he finally lays his eyes on Jesus at the end of our story, he says, simply, "Lord, I believe." And he worships him.

The one who was blind at birth met Jesus for the first time, received the gift of physical and spiritual sight, and learned how to live in a stream of inner-light.

This is our story, too! May we be mud-anointed, God-infused followers of the inner light and radiance of Christ!  May we who cling so fiercely to what we know be willing to let go, to live with deeper spiritual sight! May our seeing welcome our believing, and may we move beyond belief into a living relationship of wonder and grace!  May we move through our valleys of shadows, knowing that God is truly with and within us!

At the beginning of this century, a woman named Millie Haskins wrote these words as she anticipated the unknown:

And I said to the one who stood at the gate of the year, "Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown." And she replied, "Go out into the darkness and put your hand in the hand of God. That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way."

(Millie Louise Haskins, "God Knows," in Desert, 1908.)