Who sinned?

A sermon for the 4th Sunday of Lent- St. Paul’s Ossining, March 30, 2014

“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

Funny how some of Jesus’ disciples are so quick to jump to conclusions, isn’t it? These guys are following him around, and they see somebody, some sort of homeless type guy, he’s blind. Yuck, that’s not good, somebody must have done something wrong, because it doesn’t fit how they think their world should be. So who’s the sinner? Is this guy being punished for living a bad life? Oh, he was blind when he was born?—then it must have been his parents that were the sinners, right? It appears that they were using religious logic—that somehow there is justice, so if there appears to be something bad in somebody’s life that must be punishment.

It turns out as we go through this story, that the only one besides Jesus that isn’t blind is the man who was born blind. Everybody wants to make a quick judgment on behalf of God: “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.”—then they said to the man, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” This man who had been blind, and a beggar, had a lot of starch to him—in the midst of all these judgments and accusations he responds: “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”


He spoke with rationality, and was the ONE who did not confuse his observations with his judgments.

Human beings are generalizing and categorizing kinds of creatures. Certainly in my job as a librarian, I’m used to quickly assigning things to categories and making generalizations about things—we all do. As an employer, a supervisor, and a faculty member, I also have to make judgments about people, and so might many of us. When you sort things into categories, there may be consequences for making a mistake, like when the wrong search term is assigned to a book, but those consequences are limited, and they can be corrected.

Generalizing and making judgments about people is a far more serious thing, harder to undo and often with lasting effects on the people judged. I think I am right to approach those kinds of judgment and generalizations about people with care.

But in today’s story the judgments and generalizations are not only not careful, but they are blind. The blindness comes, not with a defect in the eyes but in choosing to judge before they look, in presuming to know without seeking to understand the people involved, and in presuming to know God’s will without seeing his Son.

So our guy, having recovered his sight, answers the religious leaders: “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes!” And those religious leaders resort to pure personal attack: “You were born entirely in sins and you are trying to teach us?” Their blindness is in refusing to see.

As we move along the path of Lent toward Baptism and toward Easter, we have another step forward in the preparation of the catechumens, that is to say those that are preparing to receive the sacrament of baptism—and really all of us as we discover more deeply the meaning of our baptism and life in Christ and get ready ourselves to renew our baptismal vows.

Last week we had the story of the Samaritan Woman at the Well, who was in her own way on the margins and outcast, yet she professed her faith and became the apostle to her people; this week we have a beggar, blind and outcast, who once he regains his sight is even more firmly cast out. He, at that very point, sees Jesus and professes his faith. His witness is to what he has really seen, and those who claim to see are blind.

We are often misled by our inclinations and what we assume is the way things should be. In the old testament lesson, the prophet Samuel, gets the call and heads out to anoint the new king of Israel—and he, like everyone else, assumes that one of the tall, older, more developed and stronger sons of Jesse would be the one. But it turned out to be the youngest, who had been dismissed and sent out to mind the sheep so the real candidates could be present, it was the young David who God had chosen.

With God, things are often turned upside down. To be enlightened, we have to give up thinking we have everything figured out, and be like this once-blind man, who describes exactly what he sees, and he sees Jesus in all his love.
“Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” Ephesians 5:14