Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Had the healing of the young man born blind taken place on St. Patrick’s Day, the story might have ended differently. Perhaps, the crowds in Jerusalem would have celebrated with him, after all “On St. Patrick’s Day, everyone is just a little bit Irish, except for the Norwegians- Who are still Norwegian.” His neighbors might have raised a glass and said, “May the Good Lord take a liking to you.. but not soon.” Perhaps his loving mother and father would have toasted his gift of sight, “May those who love us love us. And those that don’t love us, May God turn their hearts.
And if He doesn’t turn their hearts, May he turn their ankles, So we’ll know them by their limping.” Perhaps, the Pharisees would have smiled, and nudged him on the shoulder, saying, “Here’s to a long life and a merry one, a quick death and an easy one, a pretty girl and an honest one, a cold beer – and another one!” But that is not what happened. Certainly, the young man didn’t consider himself a trouble-maker, but by the end of day he found himself a confused, outcast wondering why the world couldn’t the man who had given him sight, Jesus, as he did.
From the day the young man was born, he heard only voices around him. Observers often had a brutal way of characterizing people they did not know. Standing in front of him, they made vernal judgments based on their understanding of the world. Jesus’ own disciples dismissed the man. “Rabbi,” one disciple asked, “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” In the disciples’ minds there were only two possibilities for sickness and tragedy. Ancient tradition had taught them that someone had to have sinned, “The sins of the fathers will be visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation.” The nature of God was to punish moral failing.
Of course, there were the rewards and consequences of such a belief as well. The disciples and Pharisees accepted the notion that God blessed those who did good works. Yes, the good life they enjoyed today was the result “that somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have done something good.” It was a neat theological world of rewards and punishments.
Surprisingly there are many today who still believe this. They don’t say it directly, but they practice it in their words and actions. And more painfully, they impose their beliefs on those who are hurting. “Rabbi, who’s to blame that this child suffers with leukemia, the child or his parents?” Who’s to blame that the young girl down the street was killed in a car accident? Who’s to blame that this man uses drugs? Nature or nurture? Who’s to blame that one child should be born deaf while another is born hearing? For the Pharisees and disciples, and for many believers, regardless of their religion even today, sin and blame provide a neat, logical explanation to what takes place in our world.
But from the very beginning of this story, Jesus says that this is not God’s way. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned. But in order that God’s works might be revealed in him it is necessary for us to work the works of the one who sent me.” That is the heart of today’s gospel. When Jesus sees someone in need, he doesn’t use that person’s plight to underscore his own moral and theological beliefs. No. on these occasions, Jesus sees an opportunity to do God’s work. And so we read, that when Jesus saw the blind man, spat onto the ground, made a little mud, and smeared it into the man’s eyes. He then told the young man born blind to go, and wash in the pool of Siloam. And for some odd reason, the man born blind went. We don’t what motivated him. God’s amazing grace, I hope. After all, he experienced taunting and teasing every day and the journey was not easy. The pool of Siloam itself was outside Jerusalem’s city wall, and he would have to descend a long flight of stone stairs maneuvering against the crowd of pilgrims. And yet somehow, he found the courage and tenacity to do it.
The great American defense 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, the man was greeted with a choice, and he took it. Oddly, the man didn’t consider his decision to be courageous, but he was surprised by the reaction of the religious leaders who should have known the heart of God. Oh, that it had been St. Patrick’s Day. He expected that they would marvel at the miracle of sight. He thought that they would joyously talk with him about his new life in a seeing world. He expected that he would be presented before the temple as a man who had been blessed by God. Instead, they chose to doubt the young man and that he was ever truly blind. He suddenly became an outsider for a second time: once, for being born blind, and now, for being able to see.
One of the hallmarks of St. John’s Gospel is that whenever Jesus arrives everything changes and limitations fall by the wayside. Jesus came so the world so that by his light we could see God’s possibilities in our lives. He 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. In a midnight visit with Nicodemus, underscores that a new life in Jesus is like being born again. 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. And in today’s lesson, St. John teaches us that when Jesus arrives disease no longer needs to define one’s life, but rather he open our lives to the possibilities of what God’s amazing grace can bring. Yes, when Jesus comes into your life, things change. That sounds good, but as the story of the man born blind teaches us, even God’s change can be doubted and questioned.
My friends, for those who are struggling to turn their lives around, personal change never comes easily. Sorry to say, one cannot place their trust in the luck of the Irish, and a hope for leprechauns. 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 be those who doubt you. They will doubt your motives, your actions, and your intent to be a new person. Old friends will 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.” Ask yourself, what is that one fundamental truth that you can cling to when men and women doubt you? Yes, you too must be prepared to make your own confession.
Finally, in those dark moments when you feel most alone, remember the light of Christ that allowed you to see your life clearly, and that your loyalty to him may have its price, but it is two-fold. If your faith separates you from your neighbors, be assured your faith will also bring you closer to Jesus. Christ is always faithful to the ones who are true to him. When Jesus heard that the young man had been driven out of the Temple, he went and found him. The young man may have been surprised that his loyalty and confidence in Jesus, had driven him out of the community, but he was not surprised when Jesus returned. “Lord, I believe,” he said as he worshiped him.
How differently, the story might have ended if it had taken place on St. Patrick’s Day. The young man born blind might have raised a glass himself with the crowd, “May the joys of today, Be those of tomorrow. The goblets of life. Hold no dregs of sorrow.” But instead in that lonely place, by the power of God’s amazing grace, he discovered a treasure greater by far, a Jesus, who is the same, yesterday, today and tomorrow. May that be the true pot of gold at the end of your St. Patrick’s Day rainbow as well. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.