Sunday, March 30th, 2014 – Fourth Sunday of Lent
Scripture: John 9:1-41
Hymns: “Precious Lord, Take My Hand”, “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing”, “Open My Eyes That I May See”, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”
Special Music: “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”, by U2
If there is one thing I’ve learned in life – and obviously there’s more than that, but let’s say for the sake of argument that there’s one thing I’ve learned in life – it’s that for some reason, people really enjoy watching other people screw up. I’m not sure what exactly it is about human nature that causes this obsession, but there it is. I’m convinced it’s why there are legions upon legions of NASCAR fans. I mean, I for one enjoy NASCAR because I’m fascinated both by the cars (I’ve been what’s known as a gearhead since I was in diapers) and by the science, chemical, physical, and mechanical, that goes into the races. But survey a wide swath of NASCAR fans and I would be willing to wager that at LEAST half of them say that one of the things they look forward to most during races is “the Big One” – a wreck, especially at the huge, super-fast tracks at Daytona, Talladega, California, and Michigan, that takes out ten, fifteen, even twenty cars, and is usually predicated on a split-second lapse in judgment by one driver. And heaven help that driver if he or she is some poor nameless schmoe responsible for ending the day of, say, Tony Stewart or Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – NASCAR Nation will come down on that driver with all the fury of a pack of wild hyenas.
But lest you think it’s just the fans of NASCAR, consider the last time you saw an accident on, for example, I-29. Did the unaffected drivers just keep on cruising by, concentrating on the road and their own safety? Good heavens, no! Rubberneckers galore, to be certain! And I once lived in rubbernecker paradise – it often seemed as though if there were a minor fender-bender on a freeway in the middle of Los Angeles, it would paralyze the entire California freeway system for HOURS.
Don’t believe me on that count? Go on Google and search for “I-80 multi-vehicle accident Sacramento.” A CBS news crew, filming the aftermath of a multi-car accident on ONE side of Interstate 80, just happened to catch ANOTHER one as it occurred going the other direction! Somebody going the other way was rubbernecking, and a second later – boom! DISASTER!
Call it innate curiosity, call it voyeurism, call it simple human nature – for whatever reason, we human beings love seeing other people screw up. And let’s face it – Jesus’ disciples were no different from the rest of us. Consider today’s Scripture passage. In verse 1, Jesus sees a man who had been blind since he was born. So what happens in verse 2?
Why, the disciples want to know who sinned to cause this man’s blindness. Forget birth defects, and never mind genetics, obviously, SOMEBODY had to have screwed up to make this man blind. And the remarkable thing is that they somehow think it could’ve been him – “Rabbi, did this man sin while he was still IN THE WOMB? Is that why he’s blind?”
And of course, as illogical as that may seem, they also wondered if it might have been a sin on his parents’ part – and THAT is actually something that had long been part of Jewish culture at that point. If you go through the Old Testament, there are repeated references to how the sins of the fathers will be visited upon the next generation, and the generation after that. Traditionally, Jewish culture said that if the parents sinned, the kids paid the price.
Again, though, this is all based on the disciples’ deep and abiding desire to understand who messed up. They really want to know by whose error, whose mistake it was that this man came to be blind from birth.
Jesus, however, will have none of the disciples’ tomfoolery. As so many times before and as so many times to come, they have put the ways of the world ahead of the ways of heaven, and Jesus has to gently remind them of this fact once more. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” he tells them. “He was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
And then what does Jesus do? Well, he heals the blind man. He places clay on his eyes and tells him to go wash it off in the pool of Siloam. He does so, and is healed. The good works of God had been revealed through this healing, which took place at the hands of the light of the world.
This man had climbed highest mountains, and run through the fields, but he still hadn’t found what he was looking for. Now, however, he had found a friend in Jesus, one who could bear his pains and heal his ills, and I tell you what, if this story had taken place in Matthew, Mark, or Luke, that is probably where it would’ve ended. It would’ve ended on the positive note, on the healing and the revealing.
BUT NOT THE GOSPEL OF JOHN! No, John takes us a step further. John regularly does a more thorough examination of the human condition, and this story is no different.
Enter the rubberneckers.
And by the rubberneckers, I mean the resident Pharisees. Yes, these are the group of people who if they were going along the highway between St. Louis and Kansas City and saw a man on the side of the road, beaten and bleeding, they would react neither like the Levite and the priest and avoid him, nor like the good Samaritan and help him, but would rather act like a herd of bored drivers in Toyota Camrys, Ford F150s, BMW 3-series and a whole passel of other cars, and stare at the beaten man until they all managed to cause a gigantic accident.
You see, these guys had the man formerly blind since birth hauled in before them and asked what happened. His response? “I once was lost but now am found, was blind, but now I see?”
Had the Pharisees actually been able to see in front of their own faces, they would’ve concentrated on what the man was telling them. But looking right past the planks in their own eyes, they decide to try to find a speck in the eye of Jesus. “HE HEALED YOU ON THE SABBATH!” they declared, wild eyes darting up and down the road, looking for how this man must SURELY have screwed up. “This man is not from God!”
Of course, not ALL of the Pharisees were rubberneckers. Some of them actually considered what they were doing and insisted that Jesus couldn’t be a sinner – no sinner could do things like heal a man blind since birth. But as so often happens when there’s something of even the slightest interest to the rubberneckers, they weren’t paying attention to where THEY were going, and ended up metaphorically rear-ending the rational ones. They asked the man what he had to say about Jesus, and he said, “What a friend I have in Jesus, all my sins and griefs to bear!”
Well, he didn’t EXACTLY say that, but he did acknowledge Jesus as a prophet. Still not happy, the Pharisees pressed onwards, demanding the presence of his parents, who confirmed that this was indeed their son, formerly blind since birth, now healed. When the Pharisees asked them how it was he had been healed, his parents basically looked at these so-called leaders of the Jewish people and said, “He’s a grown man! Ask him!”
And this is the point where the Pharisees just drove completely off the road. Their behavior at this point turned into the kind of thing that causes folks in the southern part of this country to say, “Bless their hearts.” And as I explained to the search committee when I visited last winter, in the South, “Bless their heart” is just not a nice thing to say. At all.
You see, these Pharisees, having already talked to the man formerly blind since birth and now having talked to his parents as well, have him hauled in before them once again. This time, like an eighteen wheeler blowing its horn as it bears down on a car in its path, they basically start yelling at him – “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner!”
This man doesn’t budge. “I don’t know if he’s a sinner,” he replies to them, “but though I once was blind, now I see.”
“What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” they demand of him.
There’s only so much abuse a man can take, especially at the hands of rubberneckers who have, as far as he can tell, approximately the attention span of a two year old with a string of blinking Christmas lights in its hands. “Well, I already told you what he did,” he replies to them. “Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples as well?”
There are many ways to describe his response to the Pharisees, but I think the way my youngest sister would likely put it is the best way: “OOOH, BURN!”
I mean, seriously. Throughout the entire Bible, there may not be so wonderful, so fantastic, so incredibly humiliating a comeback as this man just gave the Pharisees. “Why are you so interested in him? Do you want to become his disciples as well?”
Of course, these Pharisees, being the blowhards that they were, bluster and sputter at the man about how they follow Moses, because God spoke to Moses, but they didn’t know where this Jesus came from, and so on and so forth. The man formerly blind since birth keeps his cool – “God doesn’t listen to sinners,” he says. “He listens to those who worship him and obey his will. If this man were not from God, he couldn’t do anything.”
And this is the point at which the Pharisees, like all good rubberneckers, simply run him off the road. They accuse the man formerly blind since birth of being a sinner and tell him to GIT OUT!
Now, there’s one person that you see at every accident scene who we haven’t talked about so far. You have your good drivers, who do their best to carry on; you have your rubberneckers, who can’t help but want to see how other people screwed up and as a result wreak havoc; and then you have your tow truck driver. The tow truck driver is the one who comes along to clear things up and get things moving back the way they should.
Who’s our tow truck driver in this situation? That would be Jesus. Having heard that the Pharisees basically ran the man formerly blind since birth off the road and into a ditch, he seeks him out and asks him if he believes. “Of course,” the blind man says. “Lord, I believe.” And as the Scripture says, he worshiped Jesus.
“I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”
Jesus delivers this little valediction at the end of this tale of healing, wild accusations, and rubbernecking. He no doubt intended it to be one of those many little wise anecdotes he spoke over the course of his ministry, speaking not of physical blindness, but of the blindness of the soul – he came that those who did not understand God could be led to believe, and that those who knew and understood but refused to believe would be turned away. It would go well with, “I came to heal the sick, not those who are well; physician, heal thyself…”
BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE!
THE PHARISEE RUBBERNECKERS WEREN’T QUITE DONE YET!
You see, they weren’t quite satisfied with just kicking the man formerly blind since birth out of their assembly. No, they decided to follow him back to Jesus just to see how badly both of them could screw up. And so anxious were they to see it that Jesus was able to dump them hoist on their own petard.
“We are not blind, are we?” they asked Jesus.
The man formerly blind since birth had seen his bonds broken, his chains loosened, the cross of his shame borne away. Able to see, he realized that he had finally found what he was looking for in Jesus. But the Pharisees, knowledgeable though they were, could not see what was in front of their own face.
“Had you been blind, but you still did not understand, you would not have sin,” Jesus tells them, “but since you say you see – and you still didn’t understand? – your sin remains.”
He who has eyes to see, let him see, Jesus says. See what the Lord has done, and believe.
But don’t be a rubbernecker.