“Opening Blind Eyes”Dr. Courtney Krueger John 4:1-42 Year A – Fourth Sunday in Lent
I once went on a mission trip to a home for people who were mentally retarded. One of the residents of the home was an elderly blind lady. As is sometimes the case, she had both physical and mental challenges, but also had a great gift. She could play the piano by ear and had memorized hundreds of hymns. All you had to do was call out a hymn title and she would play it. She was the pianist for every worship service the home had.
During one service, I asked her if she would play “Amazing Grace.” She said, “No, I won’t play it.” I said, “You have to know it…you know all of the other hymns…you have to know Amazing Grace.” “I know it, but I won’t play it!” “Why won’t you play it?” Because it says “I once was blind, but now I see. I’m still blind. I won’t play it until God lets me see!”
Now there is someone who takes hymn lyrics seriously! I don’t want to be too judgmental of her, but it is a shame that she let her physical impairment keep her from finding hope in a song that has inspired so many millions over the years. Her physical blindness led her into a form of spiritual blindness.
The poor man in this morning’s lesson is also physically blind. All of his life he had been told that his blindness was a result of sin. Whether it was his sin or his parent’s sin didn’t really matter. He was born in sin and was experiencing God’s judgment. Eventually he came to believe this and lost all hope – either for physical sight or for experiencing spiritual insight into God’s grace.
I had a professor in Seminary who was affectionately called “The dancing bear” by the students. He was a large good-tempered man who would get so excited in his Church History lectures that he would begin to dance around! He used to take great delight in telling us the story of the health-conscious man, who drank a tofu milkshake every day, went to the gym and worked out for two hours a morning and one day stepped off a curb and got hit by a bus!
This was his way of warning us that although we can prevent many diseases and other calamities by being careful with our lifestyle – ultimately life is much more unpredictable and less controllable than we would like it to be. Sometimes people are sick or blind and there isn’t any reason for it. Some people haven’t smoked a cigarette in their lives and still get lung cancer.
When the disciples see the blind man they ask Jesus whose fault it is that he is blind. Jesus says, “It isn’t anyone’s fault. He is blind so that God’s glory can be made manifest through him.” God doesn’t make people sick in order to punish them for their sins. But God can take our greatest weaknesses and use them for His glory.
The apostle Paul had what he called “a thorn in the flesh.” Three times he asked God to take it away from him. God’s response was, “My grace is sufficient for you. My power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9) It is BECAUSE of the man’s blindness that God is able to work through him. It was BECAUSE of Paul’s thorn in the flesh that God was able to perfect His power. It is at the point of our greatest weakness that God has the potential to do the most work.
I believe in miracles. I believe that sometimes God heals people of diseases or problems instantly. I believe that God always does this both out of compassion AND as a sign for all the world of his power. But God also sometimes chooses NOT to heal us. We were never promised to have an easy life. In fact we are promised the opposite. Some of God’s greatest servants are those who suffered the most.
We should do all we can to be physically healthy people. But rather than being like the woman who wouldn’t play “Amazing Grace” until God healed her, maybe we should sing of God’s great grace – which is sufficient for us – even when we aren’t healed. For God’s power is make perfect through weakness.
The blind man in our story isn’t the only one in need of new vision. He IS healed. God’s power is made manifest in him as soon as he washes in the pool of Siloam. He goes back to his neighborhood and his neighbors now appear to be blind. They’ve seen this poor guy on the street every day for years. And now they act like they can’t see him at all! They argue amongst themselves whether or not it is he.
Finally they ask him and they don’t know what to do with him. Here they have what would seem to be incontrovertible proof – they can see this man with their own eyes. And they don’t know what to make of it. They believe in his transformation, sort of. They don’t know what to make of his claims that Jesus did it.
They are sort of like the man who was an alcoholic until he met Jesus. The transformation in his life was so great that he put down his bottle and did not return to it. Many of his drinking buddies couldn’t deny the transformation. They were suspicious however of the cause. They asked him, “You don’t really believe all those stories about Jesus do you?” Perhaps trying to tempt him they asked, “Do you really believe he turned water into wine?” The man replied. “I have no trouble at all believing he turned water into wine. At my house he turned beer into furniture!”
True, there are many “jailhouse conversions.” There are many who pretend to be transformed for devious reasons. But let us not allow that to cause us to be so cynical that we become blind to the true transforming power of Jesus – either for others’ lives or for our own. Failing to see Jesus’ transforming power can prevent us from experiencing it.
I would submit that one way we can make sure we don’t turn a blind eye toward Jesus’ power is to make a daily practice of looking for it. We’ve started a new practice in our house in the last week. We often talk at the dinner table about how the day was. It gives us a chance to tell what happened – to celebrate good things and complain about not-so-good things. But rarely does that translate into either praise or supplication to God.
So last week David and I made a big poster that says “When did you meet God today?” at the top. There are four columns down the poster – one for each member of our family. Each evening, we take a few moments to write down some of the ways we met God during the day. We really get into this. The kids tell me frequently during the day the things they have already seen and observed that they want to put on the board in the evening. We are trying to open our eyes to God each day.
In order for any of us to do this, we must remember that God is not like us. God will always surprise us. The Pharisees’ blindness wasn’t so much skepticism as it was dogmatism. They were sure they had God all figured out. They knew what God would or wouldn’t do. I don’t suppose they had flow charts in those days, but they had mental flow charts in their minds. “IF this, THEN that… IF that THEN this…” would always work in the carefully constructed spiritual world of theirs. There was no room for God to act anyway outside of their own imaginations.
So, when Jesus heals a man and on the Sabbath; it is beyond their ability to figure out. He can’t be from God – he breaks too many rules. But he obviously has power – from where does such power come. I suspect that, as is often the case with people who wear a mask of self-assurance, these are deeply frightened men. They know deep down in their hearts that they are frauds. They don’t understand God nearly as much as they pretend. To admit ignorance or surprise would be to admit weakness. So they become insulting and demean the man born blind – accusing him of unconfessed sin, rather than celebrating God’s grace with him.
Have you ever become furious because someone insisted on believing something contrary to you? It may have been a political belief or a religious belief. If you ever catch yourself becoming angry at them for their belief – psychologists tell us that is probably because deep down we have doubts about our own belief. Our anger is a defense mechanism – it gives us the luxury of dismissing them without thinking about their point.
Some years ago Tony Campolo wrote a book he titled “We have met the enemy and they are Partly Right.” In it, he argues that instead of exploding with rage when Nietzsche claims God is dead, we need to listen. Not because Nietzche is right, but because he is partly right. The god Nietzche claimed was dead was a god who did many of the things for us that Technology now does for us. Nietzsche thought that we had outgrown god. In a sense, we did outgrow that kind of god. But that was never the real God. Nietzsche hit us where our fears are deepest. But simply dismissing him in rage only leaves us blind to true reality.
That is what happens with the Pharisees. Deep down they fear that they don’t understand God and can’t control him like they would like. Instead of learning from the man born blind, they curse him. They get angry with him and throw him out of the synagogue.
Where is your blindness?
Are physical ailments preventing you from experiencing God in your life?
Have you become so skeptical about “real life” or worn down by the daily grind that you can’t see God working in each moment?
Do your deepest fears turn possibilities for seeing Christ into blind rages instead?
The cure for the blind man is the same cure available to us – we must turn to the Master and ask that our eyes be opened.
About the writer:
Dr. Courtney Krueger, since 1996 has served as the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Pendleton, SC. Courtney is currently the longest serving pastor in First Baptist Pendleton’s 172 year history. This is a milestone he passed in February of 2014. He is a graduate of Furman University, Duke Divinity School, and Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, GA.
In 2008, he was awarded First Place in the Baptist History and Heritage Society’s Preaching Contest. In 2011 Courtney joined the board of directors of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty and serves as part of the 13 member Religious Liberty Council.
Married to Lea, they are the parents of Sarah. Also, they have served as the parents of 12 foster children. As a family, they enjoy mountain biking, horseback riding, canoeing and backpacking.
Dr. Krueger has traveled to Romania to teach Gypsy pastors in the Gypsy Smith School in Bucharest. Also, he has partnered with Bob and Janice Newell in their ministry to Albanians living in Athens Greece.
Scripture and Music:
1 Samuel 16:1-13
Open My Eyes, That I May See
The Lord s My Shepherd
The King of Love My Shepherd Is
He Leadeth Me; O Blessed Thought
Savior, Like A Shepherd Lead Us
O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing
Work for the Night Is Coming
Open the Eyes of My Heart
Open Thou My Eyes (John Rutter)
Open Thou Mine Eyes (Harlan)
The Shepherd s Psalm (Gilbert Martin)
The Lord Is My Shepherd (John Rutter)
Psalm 23 (Paul Creston)
The King of Love My Shepherd Is
The New 23rd
Be Thou My Vision
Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus