Sermon - 4 Lent
Sermon: LENT 4, March 22nd, 2020
In the Name...
A minister told his congregation, "Next week I plan to preach about the sin of lying. To help you understand my sermon, I want you all to read Mark chapter 17." The following Sunday, the minister asked for a show of hands of how many had read Mark chapter 17. Almost every hand went up. The minister smiled and said, "Mark has only sixteen chapters. I will now proceed with my sermon on lying."
In this morning's Gospel, as Jesus is going along, he sees a man blind from birth and his disciples ask him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind."
How often have we seen or heard of someone enduring one kind of hardship or disaster after another and hearing ourselves saying things like, “Well, you know what those people are like”, or "Well, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, you know."
Assigning blame for misfortune, be it ours or someone else's, is a human pastime. In fact, it's so popular that it's always been politically correct. The misfortunes of minorities are the fault of the majorities. If you live in the West, poverty is the fault of capitalism. If you live in the former Eastern bloc, it's the fault of having lived under Communism. Losing a job is the fault of how we were treated by parents or teachers. Someone is stabbed with a kitchen knife – it’s the fault of the store that sold it. A building is destroyed by a tidal wave - it's the fault of the builder for not expecting it.
Who sinned that this man was born blind?
It was a common teaching in Jesus’ day that basically any kind of suffering - poverty, sickness, injury - was the result of personal sins. And there is some truth in that we can injure ourselves by our actions. Heavy smoking can lead to lung cancer, and heavy credit card use leads to debt, but even Mother Theresa suffered from migraines. Which is why Jesus replied that this man's condition was not the result of having broken the Ten Commandments; it was result of living in a broken world.
On the other hand, there is a blindness for which one can be held responsible and it is with this blindness that today's Gospel is concerned. The disciples are talking about this man in the third person when he's standing right there in front of them. They don’t see him as a person. After he's healed, the neighbours of the man don’t recognize him because they don’t see him begging by the side of the road. The Pharisees are unable to accept that he has been healed because they don’t believe he was born blind.
Everybody - the disciples, the neighbours, the Pharisees - are more hung up on knowing the what, why, when, and where, of the situation than they are in knowing the man. To them, he is an object. They don't care who he is, but Jesus does. In fact, Jesus knows everything there is to know about him and treats him with the respect he deserves.
Consider what Jesus does. You notice, he doesn't give the man his sight then and there as he did in other cases. That tells us he knows something about this man. Perhaps, he knows that this man is self-reliant and self-assured. So, he gives the man something to do. He tells him to go and wash in a pool. Well, how did the man get to the pool? Jesus didn't go with him. Evidently, this man is quite capable of making his own way.
And what motivated him to do what this total stranger told him to do? He may have heard of Jesus, but, maybe not. You notice, he's not asking for healing. So, how do you think he feels when Jesus starts pawing his face, spreading mud over it? Obviously, he senses that Jesus isn't someone taking advantage of his condition to make him look stupid.
And an important detail we can miss is that the pool of Siloam was not, like the pool of Bethesda, a place associated with healing. It was a public swimming pool associated with recreation. Maybe this man was in the habit of going there for a swim and that's why Jesus sent him there. It was somewhere he was comfortable. Sending him to the Bethesda pool may have also sent a patronizing message.
People with disabilities are not inherently inferior to others. A disability is but one part of who a person is. We all have different gifts and disabled people are just as called to use their gifts for the service of God as anybody else. After all, the real Moses (not Charlton Heston) had a stutter, but he was still called to lead the Hebrews and St. Paul had his own issue - his "thorn in the flesh." - but that didn't affect his drive and determination.
Yes, Jesus healed people, but, more importantly, he talked to them and associated with them. The Jesus who suffered on the cross was also raised from the dead. People with disabilities, then, can take hope from a God who suffers with them, but for whom that suffering is not the last word, for God can empower them to overcome both the physical limitations with which they live and the societal attitudes that limit how they live.
Back in 1820, on March 24th, there was a girl born blind. Her name was Fanny Crosby and she became the author of 8,000 hymns, in fact, all the hymns we’re singing today* were written by her. She also gave Christian lectures in prisons and worked at homeless shelters in New York City. When she died at the age of 94, three thousand churches held memorial services for her.
She may have been born blind, but she didn’t use that as an excuse to retreat from the world and complain. She developed a strong character so that the works of God were made visible in her life.
In the same way, when the healed man took on the Pharisees, it's clear that he's not going to put up with their nonsense. He gives them as good an argument as any we find in Scripture. He’s not intimidated by them one bit.
Had living his life as a blind person given him the strength to do this? People with disabilities do not have to be ashamed. They don't have to be side-lined. They, like Fanny Crosby, can be leaders and that is the last word in this healing narrative. In the end, the blind man is the one shown to be open to revelation.
In one way or another, each of us has been born blind. It's not our fault or our parents. But, it is our fault if we choose not to be healed when the opportunity is presented. Assigning blame for misfortune; be it ours or someone else’s, is a human pastime. Maybe it's one we can give up for Lent, and forever.
In the Name...
(*all the hymns we had planned to sing, that is)