The beginning of the moving process is the sorting. Going through everything you own and wondering why you got it in the first place, and why you kept it all these years. Or how can you bear to part with it, even though you only vaguely remember where it came from. And then all those things you’ve saved, papers you wrote, letters and such, all those photos from a world you barely remember. Was that you? Did you once look like that? Did you once think like that? Who was that? What happened?
That’s probably the biggest question we ask ourselves in these moments, these reflective moments, looking back to a you you used to be but barely remember. What happened? Life happened. But it was more than that, wasn’t it? It was your life. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune that Hamlet decries in his famous soliloquy debating whether life is worth living given all that rolls over us with relentless consistency. Granted he was having a bad day, but still. What happened? It’s often a question we can’t really answer, even to those who have lived as long, through as much, as we have. But theirs is not ours and ours is not theirs and what happened is too personal, too specific, too intimate to even describe. That happening, however, made us who we are. New, different. Better? Hopefully. But different anyway.
Our story today is about a man who walked through one of those doorways into a new life. In some ways it is a simple thing. A miraculous simple thing. He met Jesus one day.
John 9:1-7 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3 Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6 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, 7 saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam" (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.
Simple, right? A miracle. But in this story he is hardly a person at all. He’s an object lesson, a theological conundrum. Who sinned and made him like this? Who’s to blame for his brokenness? Jesus’ impatience with this line of argument seems profound. This is about work, God’s work. About seeing every challenge, every opportunity, every turn in the road a chance to claim the goodness of God, the glory of God. Then he shows what he means. Make a life better because you encountered it.
The problem is that better is not always seen as better by those who got used to the way it was. Something isn’t right here, they said, the folks who were used to him being blind. They almost didn’t believe it was him.
John 9:8-12 8 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?" 9 Some were saying, "It is he." Others were saying, "No, but it is someone like him." He kept saying, "I am the man." 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."
He couldn’t explain what happened. You had to be there, he said. Something happened he said. I did this thing with mud and a voice and now here I am. But that didn’t satisfy them. They went for help, for authorities.
John 9:13-18 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." But 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."
Dang it Jesus, get a calendar. Quit just looking at people and wanting to help. Start paying attention to the rules, to the patterns, to the ways we have of doing things. It’s almost like He’s trying to pick a fight every time. Just say come back tomorrow, or wait until dark. The man was blind since birth, what’s a few hours?
The Pharisees put on their Sherlock Holmes hats and grabbed their pipes and decided to investigate. Talk to the parents. Something is afoot!
John 9:18-23 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."
So they did. John 9:24-34 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, and 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.
Some investigators. The facts don’t fit their way of seeing so they throw them out. Throw him out. This thing that happened, that you can’t explain, isn’t real, they said, you’re still blind, or you were pretending all these years just so you could pull this trick. This isn’t how things are supposed to go. Get out of here, they said. You’re messing with our way of seeing the world. Then they pretended nothing ever happened and they stuck their fingers in their ears and said na-na-na-na-na until the formerly blind man left, shaking his head at them as he did. Only to run smack into Jesus who was looking for him.
John 9:35-41 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 near 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.
“I have come so that those who don’t see may see and those who do see may become blind.” Something has to change. We get to choose how we deal with the change. We get to decide if we want our eyes opened or closed. If we want to see what happens as growth, as new and exciting and something that makes us stronger, better, more alive. Or if it asks too much of us and all we want is to close our eyes and stumble in the dark that feels more familiar. He lets us choose that. Embrace the One who comes and makes us different, worship in the hope that we can become even more, know even more, claim even more, live even more. Or cling to what was, even when it’s already gone. Cling to the ghosts of what we used to be, hold on to an image of youth that isn’t really us any more. All I know, the formerly blind man said, is that I was blind and now I see. Our call is to be ready to tell who we are now, even if we can’t always explain what happened. Yeah, that was me then, but this is me now. Thanks be to God.