Isn’t it quite stunning in Sunday’s gospel (John 9:1-7, 13-17, 34-39) that the only one besides Jesus who seems to see things clearly is a blind-from-birth beggar?
The disciples see this blind beggar, but they see him only as an opportunity to indulge a curious question of casuistry about whose sin was responsible for his blindness. In an arrogance that assumes this man (or his parents) must be far more sinful than themselves, they really don’t see the man himself. They are blind to the opportunity Jesus sees to put on display the gracious works of God.
The Pharisees fare worse as their blindness rises to tragic-comic levels. Standing right before their eyes is a blind-from-birth man who is now seeing. We watch in amazement as they remain blind despite the light of God’s glory beaming from this man’s impossible-to-contradict story. In the end, ignorant of their own blindness, all they can do is bluster their answer to the disciples’ question of casuistry (obviously this man was “steeped in sin at birth” ) and then excommunicate this suddenly-seeing testimony to the glorious works of God!
But then there is this man who began the day by not seeing anything but who ends the day as the most clear-seeing person (other than Jesus) in Sunday’s gospel! You can almost see the bud of faith ready to burst into full flower as the questions of the Pharisees compel this now-seeing blind-from-birth man to ponder and piece together out loud the only explanation to that day’s events. He goes from saying “He is a prophet!” to making a fearless testimony that it is clearly God’s work that has left its mark on him.
And then Jesus sums up everything that everyone has been seeing (or not): “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (39).
Where are your blinds spots? Jesus speaks of the whole world as belonging to one of two groups of blind people. And, sorry, neither spot leaves any room for boasting about our clarity of vision!
Group #1: there are those who proudly presume they see everything clearly, but, in fact, they misjudge almost everything. They are blind to their own blindness! So, what is it that you don’t see so well? If we claim that the answer is “Nothing!”, then we are among the most blind of all! See Jesus’ words right after our text: “Now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains!” .
And, as this text clearly proclaims, there is easy access to membership in this group for all in public ministry. We can fall into the trap of believing that our training and detailed knowledge of the Word means that our vision is already crystal clear on just about everything. We can believe that we have mastered seeing things as they are. Yet all the while, like the disciples, we can be blind to opportunities staring us right in the face (if we could only see!) to do the works of God while it is still day. We can fall into the proud trap of pronouncing our judgments on the evidence of the presence and effects of sin in the world we see, while failing to see the opportunity always present in the situation to display the works of our gracious God. Such blindness fails to see clearly the mercy of God at work both for others and for us. We can become like proud and stubborn Israel of old as referenced in the first lesson for this Sunday: “You have seen many things, but have paid no attention” (Isaiah 42:20).
Then there is group #2: as humbling as it is to admit membership in this group, it is a far better place to stand. Group #2 are those who freely confess their blindness before the Savior. It is to confess how often we struggle with blind spots which only Jesus can teach us to see in our own hearts. It is to confess how often we struggle with a blindness about others that judges, writes off, or ignores so many suffering from the presence and effects of sin. It is to confess how often we fail to see our own blindness and the blindness of others as opportunities to display the works of a compassionate God.
But as humbling as it is to stand before Jesus and confess our blindness, how wonderful it is to know that Jesus never abandons us to it! It is stated so simply in our text that we can miss its beauty! Jesus “found him” (35) after the formerly blind man had been excommunicated by the Pharisees. Jesus then completes the blindness destroying acts of God that he had begun when he spit and made the mud. He does so by asking a powerful blindness destroying question: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”” Jesus then hears from the formerly blind man a confession about his remaining blindness: “Who is he sir? Tell me so that I may believe in him.” And then with Jesus’ next gracious words, he skillfully directs the last burst of his Lasix-like laser by saying: “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking to you.” Jesus did not abandon him to his blindness before or now. He does not give up until his grace has left him in grateful, seeing worship!
Nor does he abandon us as we confess the many places we do not yet see so clearly! Instead, he who still remains ever present with us as “the Light of the world” (5) still knows how to shine his saving light into our blind spots. He helps us despair of our arrogant claims to see (which, of course, are the essence of arrogant blindness), and then leaves us seeing ever more clearly. Confessing our blindness always ends up in awestruck worship at Jesus’ feet, marveling at the saving brightness of he who is still with us as “the light of the world.”
And his light gives us a glorious double vision! For his light teaches us not only to see ourselves more clearly and honestly in the light of grace, but it enables us to see others more clearly as well. And how important that is! For notice, in verse 4, Jesus didn’t say it was necessary that “he must do the work of him who sent [him]” but that “we [Jesus and us!] must do the work of him who sent [him]” (4). Overcoming our natural blindness day after day and giving us an ever-clearer view of his grace is not just important for our own souls. It is important for the sake of those he places all around us whose blindness leaves them in need of the same enlightening grace. To use the Apostle Paul’s words from Sunday’s second lesson, we join Jesus in doing the work of him who sent him when we say to the struggling believer or the struggling unbeliever: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you” (Ephesians 5:14). It is an amazing thing, but when Jesus helps us see our blind spots, we are suddenly in a much better position to help our brother or sister see theirs!
So, don’t be sad that until heaven we endlessly need corrective vision care from Jesus! Be thankful, instead, that he gives it so freely! After all, he came into the world “so that the blind will see” (39)!