Justice dispensed by men is suppose to be blind. It's not to take into account the social status of the person. That's why the statue of Justice holding the scales is blindfolded. Yet while she is blindfolded, it's suppose to be clear to all that her judgments are fair. Justice dispensed by God, on the other hand, is done by Him with not only His eyes wide-open but in the midst of the 4 living beings covered in eyes. It's onlookers who wear the blindfolds, because often it's hard to see the justice of God's judgments.
For example, by what standard of justice is a child born blind? Have you ever seen a baby born blind? He searches about like a puppy whose eyes haven't opened yet. Think of being born blind in a society without the Lions Club, the Texas School for the Blind, or Social Security payments for the blind. No surgeries, no medicine, no seeing eye dogs. From the darkness of the womb, you're born into darkness. You would need to be cared for your whole life. As this blind man did, all you could do is sit and beg.
By what standard of justice did this tragedy happen? The disciples think it's the standard of retribution. Passing by this blind man, they ask, "Who sinned, this man or his parents in order that he should be born blind?" Now remember, these disciples had seen Jesus turn water into wine, heal a dying child, feed the 5,000, and walk on water, yet they don't ask or expect Jesus to do anything for this blind man. His blindness was a case of divine retribution. Either his sins or his parents justly deserved this.
That wraps up things nice and neatly. It's easy to understand. Sin brings the just judgment of God. I can live with that. I don't smoke; I won't get cancer. I don't engage in immoral sex; I won't get AIDS. I don't have high cholesterol; I won't get the just sentence of a heart attack. You can believe that for a while, but if you're paying attention, you'll notice, Divine Justice doesn't work that way. People who never smoke get lung cancer. Doctors and nurses get AIDS from needle sticks. People with no cholesterol problems get deadly heart attacks.
Chance or fate which are really 2 sides of the same coin called luck is the standard of justice modern people retreat to. Retributive justice is not the standard, luck is. Cancer strikes here; AIDS there; heart attacks here. Sure diet, exercise, and genes play a role, but it all comes down to risk factors which no one really understands. So I am at risk for this or that disease. What determines if I get it? The deep, dark corners of inscrutable, unknowable, unpredictable chance, fate, or luck.
But what does Jesus say when the disciples assumed that divine payback for sin is what caused this man to be born blind? Neither this man's sins nor his parents' sins caused this. He was born blind so that the work of God through Jesus the light of the world might be manifested in him. Does that settle it for you? Doesn't the thought well up in you, "So this man struggles in darkness for decades when all along God could stop it?" Can you see the justice in this?
Well, one things for sure, not many people saw Jesus as the light of the world in this miracle. Most were blinded by the light. The Pharisees investigated the matter completely. They interviewed neighbors, the man himself, and his parents. But because their standard of the Law was violated, they would not see Jesus as light. Jesus had healed on the Sabbath Day. They had specific laws forbidding applying even spit from a fasting man to the eye on the Sabbath or making clay. Jesus did both. Now we know Jesus could heal by touch or by words. He didn't need to heal the man this way. Yet He does it on the Sabbath in a peculiar way that violated their Sabbath laws. This "in your face" violating of their Sabbath made it impossible for them to see that Jesus was sent from God at all.
God violates our laws all the time, doesn't He? Things happen to people we know and love, and it violates our standard of justice, of right and wrong, of fairness. God is not taking care of things when innocent babies die in the womb or get dreaded diseases. God is not being fair when drunk drivers kill families and walk away unharmed. God in fact is being "sinful" when He does things that violate our laws of justice.
The Pharisees aren't the only ones blinded by the light. The man's parents see the miracle, but they won't confess that Jesus is the Light because they are afraid of the Jews. The Jews had already agreed that if anyone confessed Jesus to be the Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. Likewise, we're afraid to confess that God is the One who does everything. We're afraid if we don't qualify our remarks about what God does with the word "allows," or "permits" our Christian friends will think we're making God evil. If we don't explain or rationalize God's actions to make them seem "just" to fallen men, we'll be cast out of the fellowship of those who "know" God is only at work in places and ways that make sense to them.
The only one in this text who wasn't blinded by the light is the man who was healed. He wasn't blinded not because he was different or because he was the one Jesus healed. No, he could see because he went only by what Jesus said. Read all of John 9. You'll see the man struggle to understand who Jesus is. First he says he knows nothing about Him. Then he confesses that Jesus is a prophet. Then that He is from God. But he's still feeling around in the dark. It's not till Jesus finds him and tells him that He is the Son of Man that the man believes and worships Him.
Friends, unless we go by the Words of Jesus and not our own eyes, we will remain blind to and blinded by the Light. We need to be enlightened, so we can see what divine justice really is. And where does enlightenment come from? Thinking hard? Praying hard? Disciplining your flesh with fasting? No, Paul says you must have spiritual eyes to see spiritual things. You only get spiritual eyes from the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit must enlighten us so we can see the light of God's Justice. And where does the Holy Spirit work in your life? Not in your prayers, not in your pious feelings, but in the Word proclaimed into your ears and the Sacraments applied to your body.
In the Word of the Law, the Holy Spirit enlightens us to what divine justice is. It's everyone being born blind. It would be divinely just if we all were born blind. Adam and Eve sinned with their eyes lusting after the forbidden fruit, it would have been just if from then on we were all born blind. Could we complain? On what basis? God is not fair? Adam's guilt is our guilt; Adam's sin is our sin. To prove that, look what we have done with the seeing eyes God has graciously given to us. We've lusted, hated, envied, and mocked holy things with them.
Divine justice is an eye for an eye. Even apart from original sin which infects us all from Adam on, our failure to use our eyes for holy things means our children should be born without them even as salamanders in dark caves produce offspring without eyes. But divine justice goes way beyond eye for eye retribution. Divine Justice called upon God the Son to bear our blindness in a unique, universal, eternal way. No blindness that we've seen or experienced can compare with Jesus'. Isn't that what we heard in the Old Testament reading, "Who is blind but My Servant?"
Think of what happened to holy, sweet Jesus. Bloody sweat pressed out of His pores by your sins runs into His eyes and burns them in Gethsemane. He's blindfolded and then beaten by Church leaders. On the cross, the sight of our gross sins that Jesus is covered with is too much for even the sun to bear, so the sun goes dark and refuses to give light to His eyes. Then the hell that you should pay for your sins descends on the holy Jesus and He cries out asking the question that only the damned can, "My God, My God why have you forsaken Me?" Jesus was robbed of the sight of God.
Jesus suffered the blindness me and my sins deserve. That wasn't fair or just to Him but it was good and holy to me. His payment on the cross, His taking your place under God's judgement, won the right for Him to heal your blindness. And the most important blindness to have healed is spiritual not physical. But you can only know this if you go by Jesus' words not your reasoning. Jesus healed very few blind people in His ministry. Yet, He won healing for the whole spiritually blind world.
You can be physically blind and still see spiritual truth, but if you have spiritual blindness you don't see even physical things rightly: You see mud and spit as only a breaking of the Law, and you see being cast out by men as more important than confessing Christ. You see the Waters of Baptism which Scripture calls a washing and a renewing by the Holy Spirit as no more valuable than applying mud and spit would be. You see nothing but Bread and Wine in Communion and not what Jesus says it is, His Body and Blood in our space and time.
But with eyes that the Spirit gives by Word and Sacraments, you see spiritual things. You see that Jesus born of Mary, crucified, dead, and now risen is the Light of all the World. Only what is illuminated by light can be seen. Apart from Jesus is only darkness. So spiritual eyes go by what Jesus illuminates for them. They cling to what Jesus tells them is real, true, and just. Where men see only Water Jesus sees Water and Spirit, so we see forgiveness, rescue from death and the devil and eternal salvation in Baptism. Where men see only Bread and Wine on an altar Jesus sees His Body, Blood, angels, archangels and all the company of heaven, so we not only see Jesus but forgiveness, life, and heaven itself in Communion. Where men focus on the things of God's justice they can't understand, Jesus directs our eyes away from all the things in the world where God's justice is hidden from the eyes of men. And He points us to Himself nailed to a cross and says, "Here the justice of God is revealed for the blind to see." Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday in Lent (2-27-05); John 9:1-5, 13-17, 34-39