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Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Italian author Conte Vittorio Alfieri once wrote, “Often the test of courage is not to die, but to live.” This is especially true when you have experienced a great change or transformation in your life when people question you, your motives and your beliefs.
The young man born blind certainly didn’t consider himself courageous. Scripture doesn’t record the young man’s name, but ancient tradition states his name was Celidonius which means “Little Swallow.” For the early church fathers, Celidonius’ miracle of healing was even more remarkable. St Basil wrote that this was not just a case of giving sight to a blind man born with sight, but rather it was a miracle of giving sight to a man who had no eyes at all. In the Orthodox Church’s liturgy for the Sunday of the Blind Man, they sing, “Along the way, our Savior found a man who lacked both sight and eyes.” In their tradition, Jesus placed clay in the man’s empty sockets and told him to wash in the pool of Siloam. When he obeyed these instructions, the eyes of clay became living eyes.
Unfortunately, St. John doesn’t provide us with all those details. We do know that the man who had been born blind was being tested- especially by the Pharisees. He expected that they would marvel at the miracle of sight. He had after all been born blind, but now he could see. He thought that they would joyously talk with him about his new life in a seeing world and offer prayers of thanksgiving and sacrifices of praise. Instead, his courage and will were being challenged. He had suddenly become an outsider for a second time: once, for being born blind, and now, for being able to see. At the end of the day, he found himself driven out of the Temple because the Pharisees would have nothing more to do with him.
Now you may be wondering: What was so offensive and disturbing about this man? What could be so threatening about a personal transformation? I rather suspect that the Pharisees were angered because the timid young man had changed. He was no longer a poor beggar pleading for mercy and loose change. They were expecting a weak coward, one who in perilous emergencies would think with his feet. As an American comedian suggested, “If God wanted us to be brave, why did he give us legs.” Instead the young man was filled with confidence and courage. And they didn’t like it.
One of the hallmarks of St. John’s Gospel is that whenever Jesus arrives everything changes. Limitation falls by the wayside. Jesus has the power to change communities, marriages, families, and even broken lives. St. John teaches us that Jesus changes scarcity into abundance at the Wedding in Cana. He teaches that when Jesus arrives at the well of Jacob that divisions between ethnic groups and religions no longer exist. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that soon Jews and Gentiles alike would worship the Father in Spirit and Truth. St. John teaches us that when Jesus arrives disease is no longer defined by sin, but rather by the possibilities that God can bring. Jesus can heal even a man born blind and offers not just life, but life in all of its abundance. Yes, when Jesus comes into our lives, things change. That sounds good, but as the story of the man born blind teaches us, God’s change can also be disruptive.
The great American lawyer William Jennings Bryan once said, “Destiny is not a matter of chance, it is a matter of choice.” In this chance encounter between the Jesus and the man born blind, destiny is a choice. Jesus made mud and spread it on the blind man’s eyes. With courage, the young man chose to follow Jesus’ instructions. He went and washed himself in the Pool of Siloam, and when he came back he could see. But that wasn’t the end of the story. The miracle, you see, was the beginning of the dramatic change Jesus brought to this young man’s life.
So, how does Jesus’ entrance into our lives, change us? First of all, you must be prepared to take a chance. The blind man didn’t come to Jesus, but Jesus came to him. He heard the voice, “I am the Light of the World.” The blind man certainly didn’t know Jesus. He recognized simply that someone was showing him respect and honor and care. And so, in spite of his poverty and blindness, in spite of his hopelessness and the ridicule of the crowds, he allowed Jesus to touch him. He allowed him to place the saving earth and spittle mud upon his eyes. And then he took a chance… he went to the Pool of Siloam and he was healed. What is it that you are being invited to do? Perhaps there’s a risk for you- the possibility of failure is real. My friends, if you’re looking for the courage to make changes in your life, you need to take a chance.
Second, you must be prepared that people will doubt you. For those who are struggling to turn their lives around personal change doesn’t come easily. No one believed that this was the same blind man. His own neighbors couldn’t be sure it was him. They never questioned that he could see, but they questioned how he had changed. For you, there will always be those who doubt you. They will doubt your motives, your actions, and your intent to be a new person. They will question who you are, and try to lure you back to your old patterns and habits. It will be easy to follow and fall away. In these moments you must be prepared to be strong to your convictions and to seek the sources that will strengthen you. The blind man nobly confessed, in spite of all the doubts swirling about him, “One thing I do know, once I was blind, but now I see.” My friends, what is that one fundamental truth that you can cling to when men and women doubt the sincerity of your faith? Yes, you too must be prepared to make your confession, even when people still doubt you.
And finally, remember that loyalty has it price. Your Christian witness may not always be welcome in a hostile world. Your loyalty to Jesus may have its price. But Christian loyalty is two fold. If your Christian witness separates you from your neighbors, your witness will bring you closer to Jesus Christ. Jesus is always faithful to the ones who are true to him. And so we read that when Jesus heard that they had driven the young man out of the Temple, he went and found him. Yes, the young man was surprised that his daring to take a chance, his courageous persistence in the face of doubt, and his loyalty to the unknown man, would drive him out of the Temple. But he wasn’t surprised when Jesus came back to him. “Lord, I believe,” he said and he worshiped him. Courage, faith, and destiny, you see, are all matters of choice.
The man born blind did not stop proclaiming the wondrous things that Jesus had done. According to tradition he was one of the 72 apostles Jesus sent forth. After Jesus’ resurrection, during a time a great persecution, along with other Christian refugees from Palestine, he travelled to Europe where he settled in Gaul, in present day France. There according to tradition, Celidonius died after having established the Christian church in Nimes.
What is the price of Christ’s loyalty for you, my friend? Our Savior offered himself upon the cross, so that you could see and believe. He offered himself upon the cross, so that you could be free to begin again- if you will have him. Destiny is after all a matter of courageous choice, and not simply chance. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.