Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost, but now, I’m found.
Was blind, but now I see.
The story of the man born blind (John 9:1 – 41) is the text for this, the 4th Sunday in Lent, and the basis of the hymn Amazing Grace. It is a long text, but the lectionary reading ends before John is finished relating all there is to see and hear. Jesus does not stop talking in verse 41, but continues to 10:21.
Before you read on here, read John 9:1 – 10:41. Darkness and light. Blindness and sight. Hearing, recognizing and following. These central themes of the Gospel of John playout in this sign story.
Jesus is in Jerusalem for the Festival of Booths (Succoth). As a faithful Jew, Jesus will not stay away from Jerusalem during this festival even if it is dangerous (7:1 – 9). He just won’t go with his brothers, perhaps for more than one reason.
Jesus has been busy in Jerusalem, and is walking with his disciples when they come upon a blind man. We are told that he is blind from birth, and Jesus’ disciples immediately want to know who sinned to cause this. Jesus dismisses this, and that is our clue to move on as well, to the revelation of God’s presence in, and work through, Jesus in what happens next.
Jesus has to work while there is still light … before it gets dark. The light of the world (8:12 – 20) has work to do, more to make visible about who he is – who God is – before his hour comes (8: 21 – 30).
This blind man does not ask to be healed. We may assume that the man overheard Jesus’ conversation, but are told only that Jesus immediately makes a mud plaster. Made with his saliva no less.
Jesus addresses the man only after putting the mud on the man’s eyes, giving him instructions but nothing else, not even anything about what will happen. The man does what he is told, receives his sight, and Jesus removes himself from this brief encounter.
There is a huge temptation to focus on the failings in this story primarily as a contrast to the man. It is true that everyone is in the dark about what has happened to the man, seeking an explanation that makes sense to them. Actually, the man himself is clueless about what happened or who did it. At least at first, but let’s pay more attention to him.
Blind from birth is blind for life. That is what anyone, everyone would know; including the man himself.
Despite this, he allowed a stranger to put mud on his eyes. He listened and followed instructions. He may well have had no expectation that something would happen. Yet, he listened to an unknown man’s voice. Did he have only a foolish hope without any real reason to think something would happen? Probably, but he was willing to listen. Did he have faith? We don’t know that either, only that he was willing to ‘step out.’
The once blind man knows how he had always been and how he is now. The change – the before and after – is what is important to him. He seems baffled that no one else thinks that receiving his sight isn’t the big thing to be excited about. Everyone is missing the point.
The only other thing that is central to him is the stranger who performed this miracle, and what this miracle says about who this man is. While he doesn’t understand it, for the newly sighted man, this man is special.
In the course of things, the man is asked over and over about what happens, and he recounts the little that he knows about the specifics; which isn’t much. As he retells the experience over and over, he thinks more and more deeply about who did this and how. His ability to ‘see’ becomes more clear: he has met a man who has to be powered by the divine, whoever he is. When he sees Jesus for the first time he is ready to listen again, and believe. (Meanwhile, everyone else keeps asking the wrong questions and remain ‘in the dark.’)
Now, you know from reading the text that sin is a big topic in this story. Sin is of great concern to most people in the story, but not to Jesus and not to the man born blind. Neither sinfulness nor piety or merit play a role in this story. Rather, the power of God to overcome sin and to bring about radical transformation in every individual’s life is the thing.
The blind man is not described by Jesus as in special need due to sinfulness or of being especially worthy because of merit. The man doesn’t even ask to be healed. He is only willing to respond and receive. That is his only contribution to the miracle. After that, everything changes.
This comes to know who Jesus is, and to understand God in a new way. It is not a matter of having enough faith, of being worthy or anything else that humans establish as criteria. It is all about God’s love and the incarnation of that love in Jesus. It is a free gift that is priceless. A gift that we simply have to receive. After that, everything changes as we listen to the shepherd’s voice and follow.
The transformation is noticeable. And, even today, the noticeably different way of being in the world by followers of Christ can be unnerving to others. It begs for an explanation if for no other reason than the world views it as illogical to be known by love – love of God and neighbor – rather than by material achievements. (And, that’s before we get into the definition of neighbor Jesus teaches.)
Yes, it is all about God’s grace, and it is amazing.