Fourth Sunday of Lent — March 19, 2023

When the air is full of questions, it can be easy to lose sight of the questions that really matter.  

Year A
John 9:1-41

This passage, the healing of the beggar who was born blind, is a passage filled with people asking the wrong questions. The disciples ask the first of these, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

The question that counts is not “Who sinned?” Blindness or illness or physical disability or natural disaster is not about moral failing or sinful behavior. The question that counts is “How is God present in this man’s life?” Jesus affirms that his condition is an opportunity for God‘s work to be revealed, and then Jesus then proceeds to heal the man of his blindness. That’s when the wrong questions really start flying.

Some of the onlookers observe his transformation and ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some respond, “Yes, it is him.” Others respond, “No, it’s just someone who looks like him.” Meanwhile, the man himself keeps answering, “I am the man. It’s really me.”  “How were your eyes opened?” they keep asking. The healed man does his best to answer, “That man Jesus made mud and spread it on my eyes and had me wash in the pool of Siloam.” It’s the best answer he can make, but it’s not complete.

The question that counts is not “How did it happen?” When it comes to transformation, when it comes to healing, when it comes to changing the condition of your life, the question is not how. How is a question that demands an explanation, but this kind of change, this kind of healing, this kind of transformation defies explanation. It’s filled with mystery, grace, love mercy and all of those things that words fail to describe adequately. The question that counts is “What is life like for someone seeing for the first time?” What happens when your eyes are at last opened?

But the people remain stuck on the how question. The Pharisees are next brought to the healed man, and the misdirected interrogations continue, “How did this happen? How? How can this Jesus who breaks the Sabbath commandment perform such signs? How?” Not getting anything satisfactory from the man, the questioners start in after his parents, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see? How?” The parents have no answer because there really is no answer to the how question.

The question that counts is not “How is it possible?” The question that counts is “What will we do now that this has happened?” What will we do now that this transforming power is at work in our midst, in our lives? What will we do with our new sight? What new truths will we glimpse? What new mission will we see?

Then they all go back to the healed man a second time. But they return to him with what are by now the same old questions: “How did it happen? What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” The man is exasperated by now (maybe we all are). He’s tried to offer the best explanation he can for an experience that defies explanation. Finally, with obvious frustration, he responds to the barrage of misguided questions in the most basic way he can. “One thing I do know: though I was blind, now I see.”

Isn’t it something that the man’s simple response becomes the most enduring phrase from this whole chapter? “Was blind but now I see” is, of course, a well-known verse from the most favored and most beloved hymn “Amazing Grace.” This is perhaps the best way, the most authentic way, to express the kind of transformation at the heart of this story — with song. Music is the language of faith, helping us to express what words alone cannot. After all, no one leaves church whistling the sermon.

The question that counts is not “How was the blind man was healed?” The question that counts is “In what ways have you been changed, touched, healed, transformed? What is the song you now sing?”

This long and wandering passage filled with wrong questions finally reaches a place where the healed man has been cast aside by those who find his answers incomplete and unsatisfying and even blasphemous. He is fully sighted, but apparently alone. But not for long. Jesus seeks the man out. Now Jesus is the one with a question. Jesus ask the question that really matters. It is the question of faith: “Do you believe in the Son of God?”

It’s a good question, but it’s still a question with answers that are more than words alone can contain. Faith is so much more than the words we speak. Faith is also expressed by the tear on the cheek, the catch in the voice, the peace that passes understanding, the deep sighs, the shared gaze, the lifted heart, the lamenting soul, the song we can’t stop singing.

Questions for reflection

  1. Have you seen attempts to connect suffering and sin? What is appealing about this view? What are its shortcomings? How does Jesus engage this perspective?
  2. Trace the character arc of the man born blind. What happens to him in the course of this passage? As he gains his sight, what does he come to understand?
  3. What’s at stake in this passage for the opponents of Jesus?
  4. Does the transformation at work in this story suggest something you have experienced, an issue about which you now see differently? Have there been times when grace has brought you a new vision or a fresh understanding?

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