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St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Wesley Chapel, FL
Preacher: The Rev. Adrienne R. Hymes
March 19, 2023● Fourth Sunday in Lent (Year A)
Gospel: John 9:1-41
I speak to you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If you have ever commented on some chaos that you have witnessed with the phrase, “Goodness, this is like the blind leading the blind,” then you would not be the first to speak such commentary.
In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus said the same thing about the Pharisees. When the Pharisees challenged Jesus about his disciples’ breaking tradition by not washing their hands before eating. Jesus told his disciples, “Let the [Pharisees] alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” It appears that in our Gospel Passage in the ninth chapter of John, the narrator takes a different approach to emphasize the same point—that blindness comes in, and is experienced, in different ways.
Today we read about Jesus’ unsolicited healing of a man born blind using a mixture of mud made with Jesus’ saliva and the man’s washing (his cleansing) in a pool of water. This healing protocol revealed the miracle of a sighted man, who had been outcast as a beggar, and had now returned to a community of unbelief.
The man was bombarded, first, with the curiosity of the neighbors—they wanted to know the who, what, why, when and how of it all. The man could only respond that he did as he was instructed by the man called Jesus. Then, the man was bombarded by the questions of the Pharisees, and he told them the same story. But they were blind to the miracle of the man receiving his sight. Instead, they fixated on Jesus’ nonobservance of the Sabbath, which in their tradition, made him a sinner, incapable of performing such a sign of God.
The Pharisees went through their own stages of denial, questioning the man’s parents and back to questioning the man a second time. The now-sighted man challenged the Pharisees about their condemnation of Jesus by saying, “We know that God does not listen to sinners; I’m living proof that God listens to one who worships him and obeys his will.” Offended by the man’s rebuttal, the Pharisees drove him out of the synagogue. And, the Pharisees remained spiritually blind, even when the light, who enlightens the world, was physically standing in their sighted presence.
Jesus found the outcast man. And, for the first time, the man was asked if he believed in the Son of Man. The man said that he would believe if he knew who the Son of Man was. Jesus said, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” Now, remember, the man had previously heard the voice of Jesus when he was still blind. And, I wonder if his human sense of hearing called to mind a familiar, safe, voice that led him to respond, “Lord, I believe.” While the man was now able to see, it was his human sense of hearing that made it possible for him to grow beyond what his eyes could see, into the spiritual sightedness—enlightenment.
I am struck by how the blind man’s sense of hearing made it possible for him to respond to Jesus’ instructions at the healing encounter, and how our Psalm for today, Psalm 23, reminds us that the Lord is our shepherd. The blind man heard Jesus before he was able to see anything. Just as the sheep hear the voice of the shepherd, and go where that voice leads them, this once-blind man, an outcast, heard the voice of Jesus who led him into belief in the Son of Man.
Many years ago, I had a unique dining experience at a restaurant called Opaque. What made this restaurant so unique was that the servers were all blind—some were born blind and others had lost their sight. From the time guests enter the dining area to the time that they leave, guests become temporarily blind in a simulated pitch-black world—the sighted being led by the blind, single file, hand to shoulder, into the darkness. Throughout the three-course meal, it is not possible for the sighted to see, even with their eyes wide open. It was not long before my own eyes ached as I struggled to see the person’s face next to me. Adaptation happened quickly, as I found it easier to navigate the table and the space around me with my eyes closed.
In a very short amount of time, my hearing was heightened, making me keenly aware of the conversation at my table; those at tables surrounding us; and even the sound of the air that brushed past me as a server glided past. My sense of awareness deepened. Choosing to abandon my reliance on my human sense of vision in the beginning, made it possible for me to truly “see,” if you will, the invisible activities in motion around me, as my other senses heightened to make sense of this new world in which I had been immersed. In that setting, reliance on my eyesight, for understanding and guidance, was useless.
Our gospel passage today is disturbing as we are challenged to consider that people of faith (like the Pharisees, like those in the synagogue and like you and me) are not immune from walking in darkness, or from being blind to the light of Christ, even as it shines upon the face of one’s neighbor. The hope is that, by our faith, we can access our human senses, beyond our eyesight, in order to tap into the divine, invisible nature of God, in whose image we are made.
Certainly, there will be times when we stumble around in the darkness, feeling like the light of the world has been removed. Perhaps our hearing might lead us to the voice of the light that calls to us to find hope, as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Blinded by the darkness, we are forced to listen in order to see light, and believe that the Light is there. Belief is not solely a head experience or solely a heart experience; both join together for belief to ultimately be what it is—the work of the soul. It is this work of the soul that ensures that believers experience eternal life lived in the presence of God now, and after our human lives are over.
When we can hear the Light through scripture reading; when we can feel the Light touching our hearts in prayer; when we can taste the Light in the sacraments, and yes, when we can smell the sweet aroma of Christ that wafts throughout our everyday lives, we must stand up and testify to the world that we believe.
The Lenten season is about listening and reflection so that we might be enlightened to the ways of darkness and sin that have blinded us from having the abundant life that Jesus came into the world to give us, and turn away from it. That repentance necessarily take place in our hearts. Guided by the hope that the light will be restored, we seek the Light of the world, Jesus, because we know that while we have the Light of Christ, the darkness will not overtake us.
 Matthew 15:14-16
 John 9:37
 John 12:35