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Sight And Insight

Preaching the Miracles
Cycle A
As he passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. 2And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" 3Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world." 6As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man 's eyes with the clay, 7saying to him, "Go, wash in the pool of Siloam (which means Sent). "So he went and washed and came back seeing. 8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, "Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?" 9Some said, "It is he;" others said, "No, but he is like him. "He said, "I am the man." 10They said to him, "Then how were your eyes opened?"11He answered, "The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me 'Go to Siloam and wash;' so I went and washed and received my sight." 12They said to him, "Where is he?" He said,, "I do not know."

13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. 15The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, "He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see." 16Some of the Pharisees said, "This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath. "But others said, "How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?" There was a division among them. 17So they again said to the blind man, "What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?" He said, "He is a prophet."

18The 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, 19and asked them, "Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?" 20His parents answered, "We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself." 22His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if anyone should confess him to be the Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, "He is of age, ask him."

24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, "Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner." 25He answered, "Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see." 26They said to him, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?" 27He answered them, "I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?" 28And they reviled him, saying, "You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from." 30The man answered, "Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if anyone is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." 34They answered him, "You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?" And they cast him out.

35Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, "Do you believe in the Son of man?" 36He answered, "And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?" 37Jesus said to him, "You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you." 38He said, "Lord, I believe;" and he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, "For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and that those who see may become blind." 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this, and they said to him, "Are we also blind?" 41Jesus said to them, "If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, 'We see,' your guilt remains."

How dark is dark? I did not realize how dark darkness can be until recently. We were conducting a teaching-preaching mission in Prestonburg, Kentucky. A member of the congregation was president of a local coal mining company which sold its coal to North Carolina's Duke Power Company for the production of electric power. He invited us to inspect his mine. After donning mining clothes and equipment, we were taken one mile into a mountain where we observed the mining operation. There were no lights except the lights on our hard hats. The president suggested that we turn off our lights to see how dark it was. We did and the darkness was overwhelming. It was darker than when you closed your eyes. It did not matter whether your eyes were open or closed. The darkness was darker than dark.

We got a new understanding of what blindness must mean to a blind person. It is life in this total darkness. There is no light to be seen. The blind cannot see a sunrise or sunset, the beauty of flowers, the face of a loved one, or the blue sky with white clouds. How dreadful blindness must be - only the blind know. From the time of his birth, the man in today's Gospel lesson had this experience.

As horrible as blindness must be, there is an even more dreadful blindness: spiritual blindness, the lack of insight. In our Gospel lesson we have this worse kind of darkness. The Pharisees were spiritually blind. They could not see Jesus as the light of the world, the Messiah, the Son of man. To exclude Christ is to live in darkness. When Judas Iscariot left the Upper Room to betray Jesus, John observes, "It was night (John 13:30)." For the blind man in today's Gospel, there was a twofold miracle: physical sight and spiritual vision. Those who already have physical sight may be in need of a second miracle giving insight.


The Situation
Jesus and his disciples are walking in Jerusalem and a man blind from birth is seen. We are not told how Jesus knew he was blind from birth. The disciples raise the question whether the sin of the man or his parents was the cause of his blindness. He explained that sin had nothing to do with it, but it was an opportunity to manifest the power and glory of God.

Then Jesus used his saliva to make mud which he smeared on the man's eyes. He told him to wash off the mud in the Siloam pool. The man obeyed and returned with vision. Here ends the first miracle, but the man's neighbors could not believe he was the same man. Some said he was and others said he only looked like the blind one who used to beg. He assured them he was the one-time blind man. They asked him how he happened to get his sight. He explained what Jesus did to him and how he washed in the pool.

Why his neighbors took him to the Pharisees is not explained. They asked also how he was healed. Again he explained. This divided the Pharisees. Some said that whoever did the miracle could not be from God because he broke the sabbath law by doing so. Others contended that a sinner could not perform such a miracle. So, to solve the issue, they asked the man about his cure and what he thought of Jesus. The religious leaders doubted whether the man was born blind. They went to his parents for the answer. The parents admitted he was their son and was blind at birth. However, they would say no more because they did not want to get involved. They were afraid they would be excommunicated.

Now the Pharisees are back where they started. They go again to the healed man for further information. They demand that he take an oath to tell the truth. They claim that Jesus is a sinner. The healed man responds by saying that he does not know whether Jesus is a sinner or not, but he does know that he was blind and now sees. They ask him again to tell them how he was cured. The man refuses and asks if they want this information that they could become Jesus' disciples. The Pharisees claim to be disciples of Moses but doubt Jesus' origin. The man comes to Jesus' defense by saying that God does not hear a sinner and if Jesus were not from God, he could do nothing. They could not answer his logic, and decided to throw him out of the synagogue.

When Jesus heard that the man was excommunicated, he came to him and asked if he believed in the Son of man. The man said if he knew who the Son of man was, he would believe. Jesus told him that he was looking at the Son of man. The man responded, "I believe, Lord" and knelt in worship of Jesus.

Then Jesus commented that he came to the world that the blind should see and those who see should be blind. The Pharisees asked whether he considered them to be blind. He assured them that because of their sin, they were blind.

The Setting
The Scriptural Setting. Chapter 9 is related to the previous two chapters. Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles. This was one of the most popular feasts. People flocked to Jerusalem for eight days. In memory of their wilderness sojourn, they lived in tents or booths. The festival took place in the autumn when the harvests were in.

It was a busy time for Jesus. He saved a woman caught in adultery from being stoned to death. There were many controversies with the religious leaders. The hostility was so intense that Jesus was aware that they were trying to kill him (7:19). In his discussion with the Pharisees he referred to himself as "the light of the world." In chapter 9 Jesus brought light to the blind man. In the midst of the turmoil caused by opposition, Jesus takes time to give sight to a man born blind and to reveal his identity as the Son of man.

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See Our Lent Easter Resources
The Church Year Setting. The miracle of healing a blind man comes in the Lenten season. For Lutherans it occurs on Lent 3; for the Common Lectionary it is on Lent 4. Passion Sunday and Holy Week are only a few weeks ahead. The opposition to Jesus is increasing and Jesus is in controversy with the religious leaders. This intense hatred comes to a climax on Good Friday when his enemies have their day of victory.

For some the length of the Gospel lesson may be too long, for it covers the entire ninth chapter of John. Some may feel that with the other two lessons appointed for this day too much time is given to reading. Preachers may have a problem of dealing with a text that is 41 verses long. However, it is appropriate to the season of Lent because it reflects the growing opposition of the leaders to Jesus and his teachings. Within the coming shadow of the cross, we see a man whose compassion moves him to help a man living in darkness. And who is this person the Pharisees hate so much? The miracle story reminds us that the one to be crucified is the Christ.

Related Passages
Exodus 20:5; 34:7 - Children suffer from the sins of parents.
Job 42:1-6 - Job sees God.
2 Kings 6:15-20 - Elisha prays for open eyes.
Isaiah 35:4-6 - The Messiah will give sight to the blind.
Matthew 9:27-31 - Two blind men.
Mark 8:22-26 - The gradual healing of blindness.
Mark 10:46-52 - Another blind beggar.
Luke 13:1-5 - The massacre and fallen tower.

The Lectionary
Lesson 1 (1 Samuel 1 6:1-13). The problem was, who shall succeed King Saul who was rejected by Yahweh? The Lord sends Samuel to Jesse's home where there were eight sons. One of them Yahweh wants as the new king. One by one seven sons are passed by. David is called home from caring for his father's sheep. At once Samuel is given insight that David is God's choice. Here is a case similar to the Gospel's account of Jesus' giving the healed man the insight that he was the Messiah.

Lesson 2 (Ephesians 5:8-14). According to Paul, Christians are people of the light. Before accepting Christ they lived in the darkness of sin. Christians are to shun the works of darkness and to live in the light of goodness and truth. In the Gospel miracle account Jesus, the light of the world, brings light to a blind man both physically and spiritually.

Gospel (John 9:1-41). Except for Passion-Palm Sunday, today's Gospel reading consisting of the entire ninth chapter is probably the longest in the Lectionary. It is an account of not one but two miracles. The first miracle is told in the first seven verses. The rest of the chapter deals with human reactions to the miracle: the healed man, his parents, the Pharisees and Jesus. The second miracle is the insight the healed man was given enabling him to confess Jesus as the Son of man, Messiah. The chapter begins and ends with blindness. At the beginning a man was physically blind. At the end, the Pharisees were spiritually blind because of their sin. The healed man experienced a double miracle: sight and insight.

Liturgical Propers. Psalm 23 is the Psalm of the Day. It harmonizes with the miracle's account of Jesus' compassion for a blind person. In the Prayer of the Day, healing is mentioned: "God of all mercy, by your power to heal and to forgive, graciously cleanse us from all sin and make us strong." The Hymn of the Day, "Lord Of Glory, You Have Bought Us," reminds us of the price paid on Calvary for our sins.

With the three pericopes and liturgical propers we can see the theme of light, vision and insight. Samuel is given insight to anoint a shepherd boy to be king. Paul urges the church to be people of light. In the Gospel the healed man is given sight to see Jesus the Messiah. As we approach Holy Week, we are given the insight that the person to be crucified is the Son of man.


Sinned (v. 2). By their question the disciples revealed that they believed that sin was the cause of sickness. In the case of the blind man, did he or his parents sin? How can an unborn child sin? Sometimes children suffer physical and mental deficiencies if parents indulge in alcohol and/or drugs. Jesus refuses to accept this view. He sees the blindness as an opportunity to glorify God through his power.

Spittle (v. 6). Jesus uses his saliva to make mud by mixing saliva and dust. It was believed at that time that saliva had healing power. The dust may refer to the creation account of Adam's creation out of dust (Genesis 2:7).

Sent (v. 7). Jesus sent the blind man to the pool of Siloam which means "sent." Siloam was a pool fed by a spring outside the city walls of Jerusalem. It was built by King Hezekiah. Along with the mud, the blindness was washed away. It reminds us of Naaman's washing himself in the Jordan to be healed of leprosy as ordered by Elisha. The water of Siloam can be allegorically understood as today's washing away of sin in the water of baptism.

Not from God (v. 16). The Pharisees claimed Jesus was not God because of two accounts against him. He healed on the sabbath and he kneaded dust and saliva. Both of these were violations of Mosaic law. Of course, they were legally correct, but they were blind to the need and to compassion. For them the law was more important than human concerns.

Give God the Praise (v. 24). The Pharisees ordered the healed man to "give God the praise." This was a customary oath taken before giving testimony. It is similar to our asking witnesses "to tell the truth, the whole truth. So help me God."

Too (v. 27). The healed man asked the Pharisees if they "too" wanted to become disciples of Jesus. The "too" indicates that he considered himself a disciple of Jesus. Since he received his sight, he naturally was grateful and appreciative. Who wouldn't be? He must have had the highest respect and admiration of one with so much compassion and power. When a person is touched, healed and blessed by Jesus, he wants to be a follower of Christ.

Out (v. 35). "Out you go!" said the Pharisees to the man who out-reasoned them. They had no answer to his argument except to excommunicate him from the synagogue. This was the worst penalty next to crucifixion. He was rejected. People henceforth would have no relations with him. He was no longer to be a part of God's people. It meant eternal lostness and damnation.

Son of Man (v. 35). The title referred to the Messiah or Son of God. The King James Version translates it "Son of God." The term is found in some Latin manuscripts. Giving sight to the blind was a function of the Messiah (Isaiah 42:7). John says he wrote his gospel that readers might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God (John 20:3 1). In a dramatic and direct way Jesus tells the healed man that he is the Christ.

Believe (v. 38). Here is the climax of the story! It is the miracle of faith based upon Jesus' disclosure of himself as the Son of God. The blind man now had insight added to his sight. Now he could see in this peasant preacher the precious, longawaited Messiah. Now we understand what Jesus meant when he said the blindness was to demonstrate the power of God. Great good came out of the blindness. If the man had not been born blind, probably he never would have learned who Jesus was. He gained a Savior and a Lord.

Found (v. 35). Here we find the gospel in this miracle. The healed man was thrown out of his religion. Now he was an outcast and ostracized with no human or divine relationship. And it was all because he defended Jesus as a man from God. The gospel is in the fact that Jesus came to him, looked him up, and found him. Here was grace in action. Jesus came to a blind man and healed him without being asked to do it. Again, he came to a healed man who was suffering human isolation and condemnation. But, he had a friend in Jesus.


Relevance Of Revelation
1. When we deal with vision, we deal with every person, for everyone was born with two eyes. Physical vision may not be perfect. There is near-sightedness and far-sightedness. Some must wear glasses or contact lenses. Without them people are often helpless to read or work. Partial blindness is a handicap. Total blindness is a life of darkness in spite of the fact that there are seeing-eye dogs, braille and a new electronic device that can translate printed words into audible words.

2. Even if we have 20-20 vision, we may be victims of a greater blindness which is the lack of insight. Spiritual blindness shuts out spiritual realities. With perfect eyesight we can be blind to truth, to the meaning of life, to life's potential and to spiritual realities. This type of blindness is more deadly than lack of physical vision. Leaders can be blind guides leading the blind. As the scripture says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish."

3. People face the problem of getting spiritual vision and insight. They ask the preacher, "How?" There is always the possibility of immediate insight as Job saw Yahweh and as Elisha's servant received sight when Elisha prayed for him. But, today's miracle shows us that vision may be a process and may take time. The miracle in the gospel did not happen instantaneously. Jesus took time to make mud and smear it on the man's eyes. Then the man was sent to a pool to wash off the mud. When he returned, he had sight. Likewise, getting insight took time, too. It is a long way from seeing Jesus as a man only, then as a prophet, then as a man from God and finally as the Messiah. It took some time to reason, discuss and finally encounter Jesus. Probably most people in our pews would experience this slow, gradual gaining of spiritual insight.

Sermon Suggestions
With a whole chapter for a preaching text, many themes are possible coming from individual texts that may not be related to the overall theme of the chapter. Some of these may or may not be connected with the miracle of giving sight to a man born blind.

1. Sin and suffering (vv. 1-3). Is there a relationship between sin and sickness? Was the man blind because of his or his parents' sin?

2. Purpose of suffering (v. 3). In the case of the man born blind, Jesus does not agree that sin caused it. The cause is not known or given. Jesus sees sickness, handicaps or misfortune as an opportunity to show the power and glory of God in terms of overcoming the problem.

3. The opportunity of the present (v. 4). The time is short. We do not live forever. In the short time we have, we must do what we can for the kingdom before the night comes when no one can work.

4. The washing of regeneration (v. 7). Blindness was overcome by washing in the pool of Siloam. This can be a paradigm of Christian baptism. By the water of baptism, the mud of sin is washed away and spiritual sight is gained.

5. The certainty of personal experience (v. 25). The healed blind man was certain of one fact: he could now see. This personal experience enabled him to witness to his condition and defend the One who healed him. Because of the lack of spiritual experience in which our eyes were opened to the significance of Jesus, we today do not witness for Jesus.

6. You are old enough (v. 23). Here is a text for a Confirmation sermon. The blind man's parents told the Pharisees to ask him how he was healed and who healed him. He was of age, at least 13. He could speak for himself. At confirmation a youth expresses for him/herself the faith in Christ that was confessed for him/her at the time of infant baptism.

7. The miracle of faith (v. 38). "Lord, I believe." What does it mean to believe, to believe in Jesus? How does one get this faith? The blind man received faith from his encounter with Jesus. But, Jesus is not physically on earth today. How can modern people get a similar faith?

Central Themes
We need to see the overall truth of the chapter dealing with the miracle. Consider some of the themes that deal with the issue of the miracle.

1. The issue in this miracle is not physical but spiritual sight. It is not enough for the fullness of life to just see things and people. The problem is to see who Jesus is. Can we see God in Jesus? Is he only a man or the Son of man? Christ came as the light of the world to enable us to see spiritual truths. Physical sight is most desirable, but we can still live bountifully, though physically blind, if we have spiritual vision.

2. The miracle of grace. This miracle results from pure grace. The blind man did not beg for sight. He did not come to Jesus for help. He did not express faith in Jesus' ability to give vision. Rather, Jesus saw him, came to him and healed him. The man was totally passive. There was nothing he did or said to get his sight. Moreover, the grace of God is demonstrated when the healed man was excommunicated. Again Jesus came to him and found him. Then he revealed to him that he was the Messiah. This resulted in faith and worship of Jesus as Son of God. It was an example of "amazing grace."

3. The identity of Jesus. Who is this man from Nazareth? Is he or is he not from God? Is he or is he not the Christ? Various opinions are held. What is the truth about Jesus? For the blind man, it was a torturous route to the final destination of believing that Jesus is the Christ. For many in our day that destination has not yet been reached.

Sermon Structures
1. What do you see in Jesus? (9:1-41). When a girl or boy starts going steady, sometimes a remark is made, "What does he or she see in him or her?" What did the healed man see in Jesus?
A. A man - v. 10
B. A prophet - v. 17
C. A man from God - v. 33
D. The Son of man - vv. 35-38

2. A Hot Dialogue (9:1-41). The ninth chapter is one of controversy and confusion. There is a hot debate after debate. There develop disagreement and dispersion. Here are some of the issues. On which side do you stand?
A. Is sickness caused by sin? vv. 1-4
B. Can a sinner perform miracles? vv. 24-34
C. Is Jesus from God or not? vv. 29-34
D. Who are the blind? vv. 39-41

3. Light that Blinds (9:1-41). Light can give sight or blind. The sun can melt wax or harden clay. Look into the sun with the naked eye and one is blinded for a time. Jesus is the light, and for some it is so intense that they are blinded to the truths of God proclaimed by Jesus. In this miracle account we see some forms of blindness.
A. The blindness of legalism - v. 16
B. The blindness of unbelief - v. 39
C. The blindness of sin - v. 41

4. One Thing I know (9:1-41). Like us, the blind man did not know some things, but he came to the point of being sure of one thing: Jesus.
A. What the man did not know -
1. Where Jesus was - v. 12
2. Whether Jesus was a sinner - v. 25
B. What he did know -
1. Was blind but could see - v. 25
2. Jesus was from God - v. 33
3. Jesus is the Christ - vv. 35-36
C. What he did about his knowledge -
1. Believed - v. 38
2. Worshiped - v. 38


The Light of the World. In today's Gospel lesson Jesus said that he was the light of the world. A little girl was scheduled to give her first "piece" in a Sunday School program. She had but one line, "I am the light of the world." When the stage curtain parted and she saw the crowd of people, she forgot her line. Her mother was seated in the front row and began to mouth the words, "I am the light of the world." Then she whispered it, but the girl did not catch on. Then the mother said in a loud whisper, "I am the light of the world." The little one came to and said, "Oh yes, my mother is the light of the world."

Eye in the Sky. In April 1990 the space shuttle "Discovery," launched the Hubble space telescope by which scientists will see the universe 10 times as clearly as any ground-based telescope. By this space telescope humankind will see things not ever seen before. The telescope cost the government 1 1/2billion dollars.

What do you see? Both the hummingbird and the vulture fly over our deserts. The vultures see only rotten meat and thrive on it. But the hummingbirds look for the colorful blossoms of desert plants. The vultures live on the past, the dead. The hummingbirds live on what is now and fill themselves with freshness of new life. Each bird finds what it is looking for.

Seeing the potential. There is a story about Michelangelo's pushing a huge piece of rock down a street. A curious neighbor sitting on the front porch of his house called to him and inquired why he labored so hard over an old piece of stone. Michelangelo answered, "Because there is an angel in that rock that wants to come out."

Seeing what you should be. When Barbara Mandrell was a girl, her father took her to the Grand Ole Opry one night. Impressed by the singing and the action, she leaned over to her father in the dark and whispered, "Daddy, I was never meant to sit in the audience. I belong up there."

Vision of what might be. In 1918 an engineer, Joseph Strauss, stood alone on a cliff overlooking the Golden Gate of San Francisco Bay. In his mind he could see a bridge with a span of more than 4,000 feet. It took Strauss 15 years to convince some people that it could be done. In January 1933 construction of the bridge began. On May 24, 1937 the bridge was completed and 200,000 people that day walked across it. His dream, vision and goal became a reality.

Seeing the face of Jesus. A friend of Leonardo da Vinci looked at his painting of the Last Supper. He was entranced by the two silver cups on the table in front of Jesus. He exclaimed at the artistic skill of their design. Leonardo responded by taking a brush and painting them out. He explained, "It is not that I want you to see. It is that Face!"
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