“I was blind, now I see”

a sermon, based on John 9.1-41 and Ephesians 5.8-14, preached with the people of Epiphany Episcopal Church, Laurens, SC, on the 4th Sunday in Lent, March 26, 2017

Our gospel tells a story of the healing of physical blindness. Yet, as the words of our epistle, “Once you were in darkness, but now in the Lord you are light”, refer to an ontological transformation of who one is and what one does, I focus on spiritual blindness, which is the point of Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees, “…that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Spiritual blindness. Our human, inherent, sin-stained inability to see clearly God, others, and ourselves. Our incapacity to see clearly the right, however defined, and even when we do, to do the right consistently.

Through the “lens” of Jesus’ ministry, we can see how spiritual blindness is healed.

To Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, Jesus asked, “What do you want?” Bartimaeus answered, “I want to see again!” Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well.” Immediately Bartimaeus regained his sight.[1]

The Healing of the Blind Bartimaeus, Harold Copping (1863-1932)

Sometimes spiritual blindness is healed suddenly. A light dawns and remains lit. A new, deeper self-awareness comes and stays. A greater revelation of who God is, as the creator and sustainer of our lives, appears and abides. A mountaintop moment occurs, which, lasting only an instant, is enough; for what we see, we do not, cannot forget; and unable to forget it, we act on it.

In Bethsaida, a blind man was brought to Jesus. Jesus took the man by the hand. Leading him away from the curious crowds, he placed saliva in his eyes, laid hands on him, and asked, “Can you see anything?” The man said, “I see people, but they look like trees.”  Again Jesus laid hands on him and the man’s sight was restored.[2]

Christ Healing the Blind Man at Bethsaida, Gioacchino Assereto (1600-1649)

Sometimes spiritual blindness is healed gradually. Not suddenly, but steadily. The mountaintop moment of greater self-awareness or grander epiphany of God’s presence fades as quickly as it came; leaving a sense of having made no progress. The once bright, dawning light is now dim; whatever clarity we experienced, gone, whatever certainty of knowing what to do, lost.

That is, until the awareness, the epiphany comes again and more clearly.

The man “blind from birth” had a tougher time. Jesus spit on the ground, sealed the man’s eyes with soil and saliva, and sent him stumbling to the pool of Siloam. What a ridiculous spectacle it seems to me! How humiliating! Nevertheless, the man received Jesus’ ministrations and was healed.

The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam (Le aveugle-né se lave à la piscine de Siloë), James Tissot (1836-1902)

Sometimes spiritual blindness is healed neither suddenly nor steadily, but slowly. Even with best intentions, striving to do the right, we stumble. Make mistakes. Sometimes tripping in places where we’ve tripped before (compelling our confession that we thought we knew better!). Sometimes we slip on new terrain (which, added to the old areas of our lives, means we spend a lot of time face down on the ground!).

Still, whether suddenly, steadily, or slowly, whenever we seek the light of Jesus, following his word and will, the shadow of spiritual blindness is lifted and, with the man born blind and with John Newton, the author of  “Amazing Grace”, we can say, “I was blind, now I see!”

A final word. The suddenness, steadiness, or slowness (and probably for all of us, all three!) of our experiences of the healing of our spiritual blindness indicate that it is no one-time occurrence, but rather an ongoing work of sanctification, deepening righteousness, growing in holiness of life.

The Apostle Paul knew this. To the Christian church in Philippi, he wrote, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.”[3] The Greek word translated “to know” also can mean “to see.” Paul wanted to see Christ. He wanted to be free from his spiritual blindness; his human, inherent, sin-stained inability to see clearly God, others, and himself. “I want to know (to see) Christ,” then, “Not that I have already obtained this…but I press on to make it my own.”[4]

The healing of spiritual blindness is no one-time thing, but an ongoing experience. As long as we live, in this world and in the next, there is light for us to seek and to see. That light is Jesus. May the words of that wondrous song of thanksgiving[5] be our Lenten, no, our constant prayer:

I want to walk as a child of the light. I want to follow Jesus…

In him there is no darkness at all. The night and the day are both alike.

The Lamb is the Light of the City of God. Shine in my heart, Lord Jesus.

 

Illustrations:

The Healing of the Blind Bartimaeus, Harold Copping (1863-1932)

Christ Healing the Blind Man at Bethsaida, Gioacchino Assereto (1600-1649)

The Blind Man Washes in the Pool of Siloam (Le aveugle-né se lave à la piscine de Siloë), James Tissot (1836-1902)

Footnotes:

[1] Mark 10.51-52 (paraphrased; my emphasis)

[2] Mark 8.22-25 (paraphrased)

[3] Philippians 3.10a

[4] Philippians 3.12a, b.

[5] The Hymnal 1982, Hymn 490, words and music by Kathleen Thomerson (b. 1934)

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2 thoughts on ““I was blind, now I see”

  1. Thank you Paul!!! I love this story so much that I once preached on it at St. Mark’s… It was called, “Was blind but now I see”. That was years ago.

    So much has changed in my life since then. I love the concept of spiritual blindness because I think most of us suffer from it at one time or another in our lives. I believe I can SEE what I am supposed to be doing spiritually in my life. Part of my following Jesus is touching the lives of caregivers and giving them hope so they don’t lose hope or their faith.

    This feels so much better to me, than JUST going to church on Sunday, which for so long was what I was doing. And I thought that was enough, but that was simply part of my spiritual blindness. Now I feel better about myself and my life and that my eyes are wide open and awaiting the future, following the path I’m supposed to.

    My thanks and love for your words today!

    Loretta

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, Loretta, your testimony verifies for me that the healing of our intrinsic spiritual blindness is a life-long labor of the Holy Spirit, for always there is something about God and ourselves and others and our calling that we don’t, that we can’t see. As a wise soul once said: The gift of salvation (or justification) happened once through Jesus’ death and resurrection while the grace of sanctification (to being to perfection salvation in us) is always.

      Love

      Liked by 1 person

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