John 9 The Man Who Sees
My 20th high school reunion is this Summer. I have found myself thinking back to what happened in High School. I’m a member of a group in Facebook that is planning the reunion and each time I see a name pop up I find myself digging for a memory. There are usually several to choose from, but the other day I saw the name of a girl and the only thing that came to mind was “that’s the girl who kissed the skunk.”
Now to be sure, not many people have kissed a skunk in my view before, but this particular girl did so in 3rd grade. We were 8. A vet visited out class and brought all kinds of animals with him, including a descented skunk that someone had kept as a pet but abandoned due to societal pressures. (The neighbors kept trying to kill it) Yet that is my identifying memory of her. We attended the same schools for junior high and high school, yet every time I see her I think of her kissing that skunk.
No doubt she has done many wonderful and splendid things with her life. Perhaps she herself doesn’t even remember kissing the skunk. It wasn’t something that we teased her about. I remember thinking she was quite brave. But I have let that moment define her.
In our story, today the main character is defined by his past. Even now, thousands of years later, we call him at best, the man born blind, more likely just the blind man. We cannot let go of his blindness because its who he is. Well, really who he was, but redefining identity is tricky at best.
The man is brought to Jesus’ attention as a way to test Jesus. An object lesson, if you will. Those speaking about him do not speak to him. In fact, he might as well be a convenient prop on the side of the stage, something to reference, but not touch or interact with.
They ask Jesus about his sin, his parents sin. Why is it that God created him blind? What sin occurred that could warrant such punishment? They want Jesus to give them a reasonable, well thought out explanation, hopefully quoting the Torah, or they want Jesus to fall flat on his face and be humiliated.
Jesus, however, refuses to play their game. It is not sin that caused this illness, this limitation, this roadblock. It is here so that you might experience the glory of God.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could look at our illnesses, our challenges, our limitations and roadblocks through this lens? I am by no means denying the reality of sin and it’s affects in the world and our lives. But there are times when we get too bogged down in the past, how we got here, and have no vision for the future God intends.
This man has an encounter with the Logos, the Word-made-flesh, and he is indeed redefined. The same God, who according to John, made the world “All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.” This Word knelt in the dirt, mixed his spit with the dust and placed it over his eyes and tells him to wash in the water.
When the man returns, he can see! His whole world has changed in an instant. I picture his excitement being like one of the many YouTube videos I’ve watched of people with cochlear implants hearing loved one’s voices for the first time. There is a moment of confusion, but then overwhelming joy!
He returns to the people and everyone rejoices. Right? No, in fact everyone seems put out by his healing. Some even deny that he is the same man born blind.
In this story, it seems like it’s just really, really hard for the people around the man who received his site – which John calls him in v. 18 – to adjust to his new reality or see him for anything more than what he used to be. And so, some folks don’t recognize him at all. Others, including his parents, know what he struggled with and see his transformation but aren’t sure what to make of it.
The two exceptions to this pattern of being trapped in designations reflecting the past are, first, the man himself and, second, Jesus. The man who sees can only rejoice in his recovery and looks ahead to an open and even delightful future that probably exceeds anything he had previously imagined. How else, I wonder, could he engage the religious authorities who have intimidated others (including his parents) with such good humor: “Do you, also, want to become his disciples?” Indeed, there is a certain joyfulness to his portions of dialogue that is easy to miss if we understand him only as “the man born blind.”
Consider the brave playfulness of his retorts to the authority: “I do not know if he was a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see” (v. 25) Or, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (30-33). He has been given an open future and nothing will deter him from seizing it.
Jesus also looks to the future rather than the past, inviting this man to faith and encouraging him by not just taking his question seriously but by revealing himself to him – indeed, the play on “you have seen him” is simultaneously poignant and joyful. All of this leads the man who now sees to make the quintessential confession in John’s Gospel: “Lord, I believe.” 
This man who sees, his whole life is changed. He not only sees physically but no sees as a follower of Jesus. His eyes have been opened to more than the physical world around him. He has received a sight that allows him to see Jesus as God would have us all see, as Lord.
God sees in ways we don't and the only chance we have of getting a glimpse of that heavenly vision is to wake up and pay close attention, surrender to God's choices instead of our own and listen to those often dismissed by the people around them: youngest sons, Samaritan women, beggars blind from birth. What they say may well wake us from our stupor, challenge our assumptions and cause us to be more than a little uncomfortable. Such light may hurt our eyes, but if we are willing to stay in it a while our vision will adjust and we will see much we'd never noticed before. We may even come to recognize Jesus.
On this fourth Sunday of Lent, I invite you to be redefined. To let go of the labels of the past, those designations that keep you buried or chained to an old identity. Important things have occurred in our past, to be sure, some things even worth celebrating, but we cannot live in the past.
A friend once observed that there is a reason that a car’s front windshield is so big and its rearview mirror so small: while it’s good to be able to glance back occasionally, the key to getting where you need to go is looking forward.
The events of our pasts, our pains, our scars, our triumphs, our losses, may indeed describe us but they cannot define us. We are no longer the people we once were. We are, as our baptismal vows remind us “beloved children of God” God’s love is more powerful than the past and will always win out.
“I don’t know what the future holds, but I know who holds the future.” It’s one of those Christian saying we find on mugs, pillows and bumper stickers, but it speaks a real truth.
Open the eyes of our hearts Lord, Open the eyes of our hearts. We want to see you. We want to see you. Amen.