Sermon on the Sunday of the Blind Man (John 9:1-38), by Father John Behr, from his book The Cross Stands, While the World Turns, pages 85-87.
In the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, One God. Amen.
Today we heard one of the longest accounts of a healing or miracle in any of the Gospels - an involved story with many different parts and actors.
It is initiated by a disciple’s question, “Is this man’s blindness a result of his or his parents’ sin?” To which Christ answers, “Neither. It is rather that the work of God might be made manifest in him.”
After washing himself in the pool of Siloam (a clear image of baptism), the man returns. He does not find Christ, however, but is faced with indignant questions. he is interrogated by the Pharisees; his parents are then quizzed; and then he is questioned a second time, replaying rather cheekily, turning the tables on the Pharisees, "My eyes have been opened. You may not be able to account for it, but clearly the one who did this is from God - whatever you might say." It is a statement of faith based on the change that has been wrought in his life. Only then is he granted to see Jesus and worship Him.
Now, discussions and sermons on this passage often take their lead either from the disciples' initial question, in order to reflect on God's providence, or focus on issues of theodicy: how could God allow someone to be born blind, just so that Jesus could work a miracle and so persuade others that He is the Son of God?
However, there is more to Christ's words. He doesn't simply give an answer to the disciples' question, accepting their premises, but rather changes our perspective altogether.
Christ's manner of healing the blind man is, it has to be said, rather unusual! More often than not, Christ heals by a word. But this time He mixes His saliva with earth, and then spreads the mud on the blind man's eyes. Why? What on earth is going on here?
St Irenaeus points out that this action of Christ is the same as our original formation or creation: in Genesis the hand of God mixed His breath, the Spirit, with the earth to form a living human being. The Work of God, Irenaeus says, is making human beings (Against the Heresies 5.15.2). Everything else in Genesis is created by word, by a command. But then God says, "Let us make man, a human being, in our image" (Genesis 1:26). So, Irenaeus concludes, God omitted to form the blind man's eyes in the womb "so that," as the Gospel puts it, "the work of God might be made manifest in him." God's work is making human beings, and specifically human beings in His image, after the stature of Christ Himself.
In other words, the point of this passage is not about the providence of God or His arbitrariness, but rather to remind us that we are clay in the potter's hands. We are being made, being fashioned, molded, so that we might conform to the image of God, so that we might also become true human beings. And we are reminded that we can only do this by the grace of the Spirit, as water added to our dry earth, our brittle selves, so that we can be malleable, responsive to His hands.
If becoming conformed to Christ is taking up His Cross and ourselves being crucified with Him, beginning to live the new resurrectional life of the Kingdom to the extent that we die to this world - if this is the ultimate goal, well, it doesn't happen in any other way than in our daily struggles.
The image of being clay in the hands of God might seem to be rather gentle, welcome. But we must remember that such clay is continually being squashed, squeezed, pounded, twisted, all so that it can be reshaped. The only thing that stops it disintegrating into dust is the water that keeps it together. Likewise with ourselves: life continually deals us unexpected blows, and we are certainly bruised.
However, knowing that all things are in the hands of God - the key confession of faith demanded of all the baptized - we can, by the grace of the Spirit, allow ourselves to be worked over so that we too can be conformed to the image of Christ, dying that we might live, decreasing that He might increase [in us].
Knowing this won't make the blows any easier, but it should enable us to live by the joy that sustained Christ as He went to the Passion, the joy that He holds out to us now, knowing that the victory is assured, even if the battle, in each one of us, still needs to be fought.
So, let us pray, in this period of Pentecost as we move towards the feast of Pentecost, that again, we learn to desire, with all our hearts and strength, the righteousness of God, so that we may taste of the living water, becoming softened, and so held together by the Spirit, and be prepared for the trials that it will certainly bring.
Image from Free Bible Images.