John 9: 1-41 2-11-18 ACCUCC Rev. Tony Clark
My life is dark. My vision is blank. I cannot see.
Yet, I have learned that music is light, people talking is light, the sound of a coin tossed into my metal cup is light. I was born blind, but I can hear, and I hear things that you don’t even know I can hear. I can hear the whispers between lovers from across a courtyard, I can hear sheep bleating on the distant hillside, and I can hear the voices calling me sinner and unclean as they enter and leave the Temple. I can hear how different people walk, shuffle-step, clomp-clomp, heel-toe-heel-toe, or tippy-toes across the road. I hear the wheel of carts, and the whff whff of horses’ breath as they march past. I have created a beautiful landscape in my mind, a landscape of sound and smell, of touch and taste. This wall is rough, except for here, right around the mezuzah, where people touch it as they enter. This road is dry and dusty, but there is the sound and smell of water over there by the Pool of Siloam. And I can tell what farm a pomegranate came from merely by the taste. Landscapes. Maps. I hear these words, and I know them by sound and smell, taste and touch.
I hear the voices of rabbis and students chatting as they enter the Temple. As they enter the holiest site, the students want to know about holiness, and about purity, about being clean before God and why there are so many unclean among us. I could answer if they ever looked at me, if they ever talked with me. I could tell them that there are so many unclean because the laws tell us we are unclean. If you started seeing me as clean, calling me clean, then I would be clean. This isn’t about dirt under my fingernails, or mud on my tunic. This is simply a worldview that says I am unclean. But I am not unclean. I am blind. And I bet I can see better than most of you.
Another Sabbath, another rabbi and his students approach, and this time it seems I am the center of the conversation. “Why is he blind,” they ask. “Did he sin? Or did his parents sin?” The rabbi looked at me, and said “He is blind, not because of anyone’s sin. Let God’s power be seen at work in him.” Then I felt him kneel down before me, and I heard him spit and his spittle hit the ground, then I heard him scrape the mud with his fingernails. He said, “I am the light of the World.” Suddenly I felt his muddy hands touch my eyelids, and he told me to go wash in the Pool.
Open my eyes, that I may see
glimpses of truth thou hast for me;
àplace in my hands, the wonderful key
that shall unclasp and set me free.
Silently now, I wait for thee,
Ready, my God thy will to see.
Open my eyes, illumine me,
The people do not seem to care about the importance of this place, and not just this place, but the rites that have been going on here for a thousand years. The people are merely sheep. Do they think the Law of YHWH takes care of itself? It takes discipline, and work to maintain something so powerful as the ancient words of YHWH. You may think those words are as fragile as carved stone that can break, or parchment that can burn, but they are not. They are the most powerful words in the entire cosmos. The Law is a fence that protects the purity of our people, purity that the thieves and wolves who come barking at the gate want to desecrate. Do they not remember the destruction of the Temple and the Law when the Babylonians attacked? Do they look past the desecration of the Temple and the Law when the Greeks placed their idols in our holy rooms? The Law must be held, it must be protected, or else we will face desecration and destruction of YHWH’s most holy of houses and YHWH’s most powerful words.
Do they not see how fragile we are, how easy it is for us to stray from the Law, to leave the fence and wander unprotected? The unclean cannot have access to the holiest, purest site of our faith. The Law cannot be diluted, the fence cannot be broken. We must maintain it, repair any breeches, shore up any fallen timbers. The Sabbath must remain sacred or else it will become profane, a day when shops are open for convenience, and work is done out of the need for increased productivity. We cannot turn away from YHWH, or else YHWH will turn away from us.
This one, this magician, who calls himself a rabbi, heals the blind on the Sabbath. Does he not see what he has done to the fence? Is he blind to the Law? He teaches that he is the Light of the World; how can he profane YHWH’s name that way? He is a blasphemer, a law-breaker, a desecrator of our holy Temple. He invites the unclean to wash and become clean; but that is not his to determine. The unclean only become clean with ritual purification, a rite of forgiveness, an act of profession, and a blessing from the high priest. That is the Law. That is the fence that protects these people, these sheep!-- from charlatans, faith healers, and money-grubbing magicians. If a priest does not perform the rites while the Unclean one professes his sin, then the fence is broken, the Law is desecrated; the thieves and wolves will enter the hearts of the people. And then what will happen? Who will mend the fence? Who will maintain the Law then?
Open my ears, that I may hear
Voices of truth thou sendest clear;
And while the wave-notes fall on my ear,
Everything false will disappear.
Silently now I wait for thee,
Ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my ears, illumine me,
“Who has sinned, this man or his parents?” I thought that was a simple question! But Jesus, nothing is simple with him. He knelt and spat on the dirt, and rubbed mud in the poor guy’s eyes, and told him to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. “No one sinned,” he said. “We shall see God’s work through his blindness,” he said. “We cannot wait to do this work at night”—I suppose because we would all be without sight in the darkness—“we must do it now in the day,” he said. Then he said, “While I AM in the world, I AM the light of the World,” he said. He used those words, I AM, the words YHWH spoke on the mountain to Moses, saying I AM, I WAS, I WILL BE. I AM the Light of the World. And a man who lived his life in total darkness was now in the Light.
It was the Sabbath. I didn’t expect such a fierce a reaction. The Pharisees said it was a sin to heal on the Sabbath. They did not believe that the man who had lived in darkness all his life, now saw in the Light. They did not believe his neighbors when they told them; they did not believe him when he told them; they did not believe his parents when they told them. They did not believe him a second time, when he chided them for being like us, students of this great Rabbi, asking the same questions all day long. I’m not sure whether he insulted us or them! For his insubordination, they expelled him from the Temple.
Nor did they believe Jesus when he told the once-blind-now-sighted man that he was the Son of Man. They did not like what he was saying, they did not like how he broke the Law, they did not like how he blasphemed the name of the Holy One, they did not like how he led the people like a shepherd leads his sheep.
“I came to this world,” he said, “to judge your relationship with the One who sent me. I came so that you may know the truth, that in the darkness live those who can see, and in the light are those who cannot see what is right before them.” He said, “I AM the shepherd for these sheep. They listen to my voice, not the voice of the thieves and wolves. While the gate is open, I will call my sheep and they will follow me beyond the fence, where there are other sheep of my flock. I will call them and they will follow my voice.”
Open my mouth, and let me bear
Gladly the warm truth everywhere;
Open my heart and let me prepare
Love with thy children thus to share.
Silently now I wait for thee,
Ready, my God, thy will to see.
Open my heart, illumine me,