The eyes of justice don't need to squint. When we act out of grace and mercy and the assurance of God’s unconditional love for every human being, we never have to narrow our focus down to the minutiae of a situation in order to convince ourselves of what is right.
Biblical Justice is big, and it flows with grace.
Biblical Justice declares that the human creature is God's best and favorite feature of creation, destined for full relationship with the creator God; that human creature is a designation without margin, if you will. One is fully human by being born human, by divine design – a design impossible to undo and unjust to redefine.
Humans do not define one another as more or less human, as though some perfect human prototype exists somewhere by which all the others can be measured. Heaven knows humans have done our best to the contrary.
Every little tribe in every little corner of every era of human history has had its prototype, with categories organized from closest to the furthest from it. The anthropologists and social scientists can tell you all about it. As can any black kid in America.
In Jesus' time and place, a well-born, healthy Jewish man lived fairly close to the prototype – closer still if he had some money and all sons. Healthy sons, that is. For a son born blind he'd take a hit, since the disfigurement indicated moral failing somewhere in their family.
Were he religious, the man might have heard the prophecy about Messiah which said, “He will bring sight to the blind." And he might have thought it was only about eye-balls that didn't work.
But not until the time and place of Jesus would he have discovered “he will bring sight to the blind” was as much – if not more – about people's hearts and minds. Hearts and minds so blinded to God's intention for the human creature, they lived in near constant darkness – darkness that had them creeping through life like a blind man on his hands and knees feeling for the edge of the world.
Remember, in John's gospel seeing is theological activity. In chapter 9 two people can see. One of them has eyeballs that do not work. The other, Jesus, I assume had 20/20 vision. Only these two are able to see precisely what is happening and to name it. Fearlessly, without squinting to squeeze out the part of the view that doesn't fit with their deeply held, very organized, and profoundly comforting View. Of. Everything.
Of the rest, who can say what they could see? “It’s why I came,” Jesus says in verse 39: to sort out those who can see from those who can't. He calls it a matter of judgment or justice, and what they see or don't see in moments like this man's healing is that very justice at work, in real time – whether the unseeing or the squinting onlookers believe it. Or not.
Jesus sees the man. The disciples see Jesus see him. But what they choose to see is a talking point, a theological proof, if you will. Jesus won't be baited. He insists that the man is a man, a human being in whom God's activity is visible.
He spits – a picture of creation reenacted in real time, the clay of the ground and mouth of God. Add water from the place called “Sent." Jesus is the Sent One; remember, nothing ever means just one thing in John. The man born blind can see.
Now the neighbors are rubbing their eyes. And squinting. To admit this is the man they've always known requires they shut out so much else they've always known.
I think it IS him.
Nah, he just looks like that other guy.
While the only one not squinting just repeats, "It's me." They nearly torture him to confess something other than the truth, lest they have to change their hearts and minds. Anything but that.
But the truth is stubborn to the core. "The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' Then I went and washed and received my sight." John stubbornly calls him the man who had formerly been blind, rather than the man given his sight. Everyone can only see what they NEED to see to keep the world as they know and need it intact.
Because, think about it: if this guy CAN see, after all those years of NOT seeing, because a country preacher spit in his eyes and said some words, then the whole world is pretty much up for grabs, right?
Is it not so sad that not a single person is happy for this guy? They don't have a party; they have a meeting. An emergency meeting. They haul the poor man before the Pharisees – maybe they can get to the bottom of this; figure out if this is ACTUALLY the blind man they used to see or if he really ever was blind in the first place.
Look how much effort is going into NOT seeing, how hard everyone is squinting in order NOT to see what the Lord is doing. The Pharisees’ first concern is Sabbath rules: God would never heal someone on the Sabbath – what an audacious contortion of faith!; and, a sinner – meaning Jesus – could never perform such signs!, which is hilarious given that they themselves cannot perform such signs.
But again, the contortions they are going through NOT to see are audacious. They ask the blind man himself, What do you think of him?
"Oh, he is a prophet." The Pharisees now call in his parents, through whom we learn that anyone who confessed Jesus as Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Keep in mind, this is not like church membership. More like being run out of town. Exiled.
The Pharisees give the parents the opportunity to say their son was never blind in the first place. Is it any wonder people think religious people are idiots? Jewish leadership is literally willing to believe he could see all along, rather than consider changing their minds in the light of new information or, as we call it in church, “new revelation.”
To their credit, the parents at least tell the truth about his identity and birth. He is ours. He was born blind. But they won't celebrate his healing. It's the most heartbreaking thing I've seen in all my years of ministry: people are more afraid of their religion's approval than they are of losing their own child. As if Jesus calls us to make such choices.
With one last-ditch effort, the Pharisees try to get the man born blind to change his story. "Give glory to God!" they say. "Everyone knows that man is a sinner." See how they don't ask him to give up his sight, just his version of the truth? Agree with us so nobody has to change, they beg him. He won't. I love his answer. “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciple?"
Naturally they are enraged and attempt to pull rank, claiming Moses as their leader. This guy is practically a comedian.
"Now here is an astonishing thing. You don't 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."
At which point they gave up and drove him out.
Jesus found the man and asked if he believed in the Messiah. Who is he? The man wants to know. “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he."
“Lord, I believe." And he worshipped him.
Who sinned? is the first and last question asked by people who cannot see what God is doing in the world. Who sinned? is the language of a religion rooted in guilt, a religious system that assigns theological statuses to different groups of people based on this religiously-defined guilt that is graded by some measure other than the belovedness of the human to the Creator. So that those assigned statuses take on religious power that becomes so profoundly embedded in our way of thinking, feeling, breathing, they can seem to us as true and real as anything else in this world. As true and real as breathing, even.
They become equated with moral right and wrong. I expect to some of those around this man, it felt deeply, morally wrong that a stranger could come to town and upset the order of things as Jesus did when he healed this man. Maybe as if Jesus himself were some kind of criminal, to cause such stressful upheaval of ordinary life. So stressful that it actually seemed easier to believe the man had never been blind in the first place, absurd as it sounds to us so far from that place and time.
As if we aren't tempted toward the same. Tempted to pretend we can't see what the eyes of our hearts tell us is absolutely true. As if figuring out who’s at fault in any particular moment isn’t our own way of avoiding our own personal upheaval or the really hard church and community work we don't want to do. Amen? Two recent examples: Hurricane Katrina and Ferguson, Missouri.
Like when my kids were young and I spent half my breath saying, "I do not care whose fault it is, I want you to clean it up." What I was really saying was, "I do not want to clean that up!" But when Jesus sees the blind man, he doesn't fuss – he gets busy. He works. He does the will of God. Prefacing it with a tiny little sermon: We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.
Nothing in John ever means just one thing. Night is coming is a plain reference to his death, as well as a broader reference to any place where Jesus isn't. Nicodemus tried to follow Jesus in the dark and failed. The woman at the well found him in the day and led others to him. No one can see in the dark. Only the man born blind is willing to say what he knows to be true about Jesus: that I was blind and now I see. For everyone else it's just too risky, so all they can do is squint.
What does the world know best about the church? What she hates, who she hates; what she condemns, who she condemns; what is right, who is right; what is wrong, who is wrong. It's too bad they don't think, "Wow, all those church people ever do is celebrate and have a good time."
What are we so afraid of? What are we trying so hard not to see? Or are we just too busy trying to figure whose fault the world's troubles are – so that we don't have to change; so that we don’t risk any losses; so that we don’t have to work any harder than we already are, and we don't have to do the work to which God has called us?
What if John is speaking to the church as Jesus spoke to his disciples? Though they might not have named it so, a man forced to beg for his bread because he is blind is an injustice – particularly in a neighborhood full of people who profess to love the Lord.
If those of you professing to love said Lord are asking, Who is at fault for this situation? then Jesus has a word for you: You are asking the wrong question. You are squinting and hoping for someone to blame. Open your eyes and see what God can do. You live and breathe in the presence of the living Christ. Choose to see that.
See that, and you'll see there isn't anything in this whole wide world to be afraid of. Whatever is going on here may or may not be your fault, but it's not yours to fix all by yourself. God isn't that crazy! Look! Look and you'll see what God is doing. And then, get to work, working while the sun shines.
I do love that! “Working while the sun shines” – let it be our prayer. Let it be the word of the Lord, for today. Amen.