John 9:1-41

In the series “Heart-to-Heart Talks”

The process of raising toddlers at home is an ongoing adventure for us. Our three-year old daughter Hannah has just come through the stage where it seemed her response to everything was “No.”  As her language and social skills continue to develop, she’s entered a new phase – she’s started asking, “Why?” 

After lunch the other day, I told her I was going to put her down for a nap. She looked at me and said, “Why?”  When she got home from a ride in the car and I offered to help her take her shoes and coat off, she replied, “Why?” One night, when she wanted to see the moon, we found it in the sky. She pointed at it and asked, “Why?”

So many questions from Hannah, along with the 2-, 5- and 16-year-old in our home. Our house is full of so many questions. 

Questions are an important way we learn and grow. They can also help us express things we’re feeling or pondering.

In these days of a still-unfolding pandemic, there are so many questions being asked.  Researchers ask, “How exactly does Covid-19 spread?”, “How many cases are there really in the U.S., and where are we on the curve?” and “Why do some people experience the worst symptoms?”[1] Government officials, public health experts, school leaders are asking many questions.

Ordinary people also have lots of questions. Maybe you’re thinking about some of these: “What are the symptoms of this viral infection?”; “How long will our lives be disrupted by Covid-19?”; “What will this mean for my job, my finances, or my family?”; or “What should I tell my children and grandchildren about all this?” There are so many questions to consider.

Our story from the ninth chapter of John’s Gospel has so many questions. In fact, in this one story, there are at least 16 questions asked by various people.

The story begins with a question from the disciples, as they walked along and encountered a man blind from birth.  They asked. “Why is this guy blind? Is it because of something he did, or something his parents did?”

It’s a common way of looking at things. If someone is afflicted or experiencing problems, we want to know why things are as they are. The disciples display our all-too-human tendency to blame the victim. One thought in their time said that if someone suffers, it’s because God is giving them well-deserved and justified punishment. This guy’s a sinner, and he gets what he deserves.

There are questions today about where this novel coronavirus came from. Scientists don’t know for sure; conspiracy theorists offer wild schemes; and a few voices proclaim that God caused this pandemic to punish someone or something. We’d do well to pay attention to Jesus’ response to the disciples.

Jesus challenged their perception. He said sin had not caused this man’s suffering.  Instead of engaging them in a theological discussion on this man’s situation, he said that their encounter with his suffering was an occasion for God’s works and grace might be revealed in him. “We must work the works of the One who sent me,” Jesus said. “I am the light of the world.” (John 9:4,5)

So, Jesus mixed up some mud, rubbed it in the man’s eyes, and told the man to go wash in the pool. When he did, the man could see! It was a miracle! Off he went, and he ran into some neighbors.

Some of them recognized him, but others had questions.  “Is it really him? How were your eyes opened? Where is the one who did this?”

The man answered, “The man Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and told me to wash. When I did, I received my sight.”  The man Jesus …

When the Pharisees, the religious leaders, got wind of what happened, they investigated and questioned the man about how he received his sight. The man explained, “He put mud in my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”  The Pharisees debated the meaning of it all, and then asked the man, “What do you say about him?” The man answered, “He’s a prophet.”  A prophet …

Because they didn’t believe this man had truly been born blind, they summoned his parents and questioned them, under threat of being expelled from the synagogue fellowship.  “Is this your son, who was born blind? Then how does he see?”

Unsatisfied by their answers, they summoned the man again and told him they know this Jesus was a sinner. The man answered, “I don’t know if he’s a sinner; I only know I once was blind but now I see.” (John 9:25) In response to their questions, he turned the tables with some sarcastic humor: “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples?” He added, “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” Angry at him, they drove him out of the synagogue. A man from God…

On his way, he crossed paths again with Jesus.  Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

The man responded with a question, “Who is he, sir?”

Jesus answered, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”

The man responded, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Lord …

Then Jesus proclaimed, “I came into this world so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 

Nearby, some Pharisees heard and asked, “Are we blind?” 

Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But because you claim to see, your sin remains.”

And so, the story ends.  It’s a story of two different blind folk, but only one knows he’s blind.

There’s the man born blind. He was stuck in a blindness not of his own creation, and Jesus walked into his life. Without the man’s permission, without him proving he was worthy, without asking if he knew God or deserved to be healed, Jesus rubbed some mud in the man’s eyes, and the man could see. It was a pure act of grace, a gift from God through Jesus. And Jesus left, as abruptly has he arrived.

Yet because of his one encounter with Jesus, the man grew in his understanding of what had happened. Did you catch the way he referred to Jesus throughout the story?  At first, he told his friends that a man called Jesus gave him sight. When questioned the first time by the authorities, he called Jesus a prophet. The second time, he referred to Jesus as a man from God. Finally, face-to-face with Jesus, he called Jesus “Lord” and worshiped him. The man had one brief encounter with Jesus, and as a result of so many questions, his understanding of Jesus grew until he confessed Jesus as Lord.

Contrast that with the religious authorities, the Pharisees. They held on to what they said they knew, even when faced with new information. They could not see that a miracle from God had happened in their midst. I wonder: How do we respond when something miraculous happens in or around us?  The Pharisees refused Jesus, over and over, until he left them, blinded by their own stubbornness and refusal to see Jesus for who he is and believe in him. The one they hoped for, the light of the world that brings eternal life, had shone in their lives, but they chose to remain in a darkness of their own creation. There are none so blind as those who will not see.

In these days of so many questions, it is easy to slip into a darkness of fear, despair and hopelessness.  Yet, if we keep our eyes and hearts open, I believe we will see the light of Jesus Christ shining in our midst. This is the time for people to do the work of God, offering grace, help and hope to one another.

We’ve heard about schools and partners feeding children in this crisis.  Pastor Becky and I have been part of a community-wide conversation of faith leaders with the United Way, identifying gaps in systems that address food and other needs. It is heartening so see churches working together to help our community. In the days and weeks ahead, we’ll see how God enables Christians to reflect the light of Jesus as we do the work of God.

A 23-year-old law student at the University of Chicago named Meredith McDonough learned that the coronavirus was leaving the vulnerable without access to basic necessities, so she set aside her studying and research and put her neighbors first.  She posted a message on social media, offering to run grocery and other errands for the elderly or anyone with compromised immune systems near her apartment. She had responses almost immediately. She rides her bike to pick up milk or other basic household items. McDonough has discovered that helping others has helped her, too. “Since I started doing this, it’s something I can focus on, it’s something I’m in control of. It’s this concrete thing that I can get up every day and help people and I feel great now.”  Her post has attracted at least 75 other volunteers. Some of her neighbors call her “God’s angel.”[2]

St. Andrew’s has some people who are willing to go to the grocery or do other simple errands. Just call our office to get connected. Praying for someone else is another way to help.  In what ways could we each be “God’s angel” to someone? 

As he was diagnosing our washer, the repairman said he’d had a call to clean out an elderly woman’s dryer. When he arrived, she said, “Oh, I’m so glad you’re hear. I was afraid you’d cancel. I just need someone to talk to.” He reminded her it was an $80 charge for his call, to which she responded, “It’s worth it – I’m so lonely.”

We’ve been advised to practice social distancing, that is, keep at least three feet from other people to avoid transmitting the virus. But I wonder if we haven’t confused physical distance with social distance, cutting ourselves and others off from human contact. Could we take time to call a friend, or to visit a neighbor and talk through the door, so that Christ enlightens their day and that no one needs to pay for a conversation?

That conversation might lead to a moment when we can share the reason for our hope and faith. Like the man healed by Jesus, our own story might be as simple as, “I once was lost but now am found, was blind but now I see” as we point people to Jesus Christ the Lord.

The man’s journey toward faith in Jesus also reminds us that it is process of growing to grasp who it is that helped him. Our own journey of faith begins with receiving the gift of grace God offers us, like the gracious healing with mud smeared on his eyes.

We face so many questions in our lives today. We may not know the answers to all of them and may not find answers to all of them, but one question I confidently know the answer to is this: Does God know and care about me?  Yes, God loves us, each one of us, every person in the world, and God wants to see us through this crisis and the next and all of life, giving us hope through Jesus Christ, who is God’s Son, the Lord, the Light of the World.

Please pray with me.  Jesus, we often have questions, so many questions. You offer us gracious life, but sometimes we blind ourselves to your light and love.  We blind ourselves as we rest on our knowledge, our self-righteous living, our status or position.  Open the eyes of our hearts, Lord, for we want to see you.  Then, by your grace, enable to us share the light we have known for ourselves with others, inviting them to receive spiritual sight and hope, and to see your light.  Amen.

[1] Brian Resnick, “The 9 most important unanswered questions about Covid-19,” Vox, 03/20/2020 (https://www.vox.com/science-and-health/2020/3/20/21173472/coronavirus-pandemic-unknowns-questions-seasonality-reinfection-covid-19)). Accessed 03/21/2020.

[2] Micah Materre, “’She’s just God’s angel’: Student helping neighbors without access to necessities during pandemic,” WGN, 03/20/2020 (https://wgntv.com/news/coronavirus/shes-just-gods-angel-student-helping-neighbors-without-access-to-necessities-during-pandemic/). Accessed 03/21/2020.

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