The Blindness Jesus Can't Heal
Like last Sunday, this one takes its name from the first word in the Latin Introit, Oculi, eyes. "My eyes are ever on the Lord," we chanted. I want you to fix your eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of your faith as the Gradual admonishes, but be prepared to be startled. There is a blindness that Jesus cannot heal, and we need to see it.
It isn't physical blindness. Too many examples of this to deny it. There's blind Bartimaeus outside of Jericho. There's the strange case of the blind man in Mark. Our text is the most dramatic case. All of John 9 is devoted to it. The man is blind from birth. As he himself says there, "Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind." It's a powerful miracle when Jesus heals physical blindness. A man condemned to darkness and poverty suddenly sees light. You've seen those shows when a blind person's bandages are removed, and he sees his loved one for the first time. How dramatic; how poignant. He is rescued from the deep darkness that he could not penetrate no matter how much he wanted to or tried.
Though Jesus didn't and doesn't heal every blind person, physical blindness is not a problem for Him to heal. Neither is it a problem for Him to heal spiritual blindness. We are spiritually blind from birth. 1 Cor. 2 says, "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned." Just as the man born blind lacked the capacity to see physical things, we all lack the Spirit necessary to see spiritual things.
Spiritual blindness is a greater tragedy than physical blindness. Physical blindness is a challenge, an affliction for this world. Spiritual blindness is damnation for all eternity. Even the damned in hell remain spiritually blind. They shake their fist at God as their oppressor. They don't see Him as a loving God whom they spurned. They don't see Jesus as the Father's gift that they missed. They still see His suffering and death as a useless act.
Jesus can heal spiritual blindness, and it's a far greater miracle than healing physical blindness. Men with marvelous inventions and operations have come a long way in the healing of physical blindness, but they have no way to treat spiritual blindness. It takes a miracle to heal spiritual blindness. Paul writes in the Epistle, "Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord." This is not an isolated theme: in Colossians 1 he says, "He has rescued us from the dominion of darkness." In 2 Corinthians he says, "God made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ." And 1 Peter says that we've been "called out of darkness into His wonderful light."
Through no effort of our own, through no straining to see on our own, but by the call of God, whether by Word or Sacrament, spiritual sight is given. We see all our sins on Jesus laid. We see that His perfect life wasn't for His sake but ours. We see that while He gets the torture, damnation, and death we deserve, we get the life and peace He does. Suddenly the crucified Jesus we turned away from becomes beautiful. We put it before our eyes, in our homes, around our necks, on our walls. Like a character in the book Dracula says of the crucifix, "[The] thing which I have been taught to regard with disfavor should in a time of loneliness and trouble be of help." And so we pray the Lord in Abide with Me, "Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes,/ Shine through the gloom, and point me to the skies."
Jesus can heal physical blindness; Jesus can heal spiritual blindness. The blindness Jesus can't heal is seeing. He says this in our text, "For Judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind." And then follows this exchange with the Pharisees, "Some Pharisees who were with Him heard Him say this and asked, What? Are we blind too?' Jesus said, If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.'"
Two people can see the very same thing. Both see that they are sinners. Both see Christ and Him crucified. The Holy Spirit works in the preaching of the cross to open both of their eyes. One is blind and yet he sees; the other thinks he sees and remains blind. The problem is certainly not in Christ or Him crucified which is the power of God for salvation. The problem is not that the Holy Spirit worked harder in one or the other. And the problem is not the messenger or the way it's preached. However, this is where most people find the problem.
These people say we need to remove the stumbling blocks that get in the way of the message. They say this with straight faces even though they are speaking about the message whose content is the One who declared Himself to be a stumbling block! They say we can make the message of the cross more effective as if the Holy Spirit needs help. They say they have a "heart for the lost" as if theirs was bigger than Jesus'. They act as if they can heal the blindness of sight that even Jesus can't.
It's not only "they" who refuse to see that there is a blindness that Jesus can't heal, we do too. We think that when people turn away from the Gospel, from Christ, from the crucified God that we worship and adore, we must be doing something wrong. Let me tell you a story about that. Luther preached a sermon on salvation by grace through faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice to a duke and his court. The duke asked a lady what she thought and she replied, "If I could hear but one more like it, I should die in peace." The duke replied, "And I would rather give a large sum of money not to have heard it at all." Same sermon two results. Same cross two results. Same Savior two results.
Do you see? Are your eyes "ever on the Lord" are they fixed "on Jesus" who is not only the Author of faith in the human heart but the Perfecter of that faith? Scripture warns us, "In the last days there will come times of difficulty. For people will be lovers of self...lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear."
No, it's not that the music is not contemporary. It's not that the preaching is boring or irrelevant. It's not that the people aren't ablaze enough for Jesus. It's that there is a blindness that Jesus can't heal, and it's the blindness of seeing. Ever since I have arrived here, I have taught this. Unless we learn it, we will be come like virtually every other church: pandering to people, baiting them with their felt needs then switching to a crucified Christ once they're in the door, ashamed that the only medicine we have for people is the Water, Words, Bread and Wine that the world considers powerless.
The Magnificat we chant during Advent and Lent speaks of the blindness that Jesus can't heal. There our Lord tells us through His mother that when people are scattered from Him it is because they are "proud in the imagination of their hearts." While the mighty refuse to sit in the house of the Lord, the Lord exalts those of low degree. The hungry are filled with good things like Bread that is the Body of Christ given for sinners and Wine that is the blood of Christ shed for sinners, but the full are sent empty away. It is impossible to put anything into a full cup. It's impossible to give sight to anyone who claims to see.
Jesus gives the miracle of sight by means. Jesus healed the blind man in the text by spitting on the ground making mud and applying it to his eyes. Isn't that disgusting? Witch doctors have more impressive and pleasant cures than that. Jesus worked His miracles in the New Testament by means that men could reject. The Pharisees refused to see that Jesus healed by means of spit, mud, and water. Today people refuse to see that Jesus heals by means of water and the Word, by Words from the lips of a man, and by the Word made flesh in Bread and Wine. On the Last Day when Jesus appears in glory, Paul says that every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord. That's because Jesus won't be working through means any longer.
When Jesus shows His glory no one can resist Him. But when Jesus works through means, He can be resisted. He taught the truth by parables that most considered confusing. He forgave sins by Words that most considered blasphemous. Though He went to the cross bearing the sins of the world, the entire world, including His own disciples rejected Him. This wasn't life but death, not victory but defeat, not God but a dead man. But then Jesus rose and opened the eyes of the disciples again by Word and Spirit. He sent them out with His Spirit in Word and Sacraments, and they opened the eyes of the blind, but like their Lord they couldn't open the eyes of the seeing.
Luther advised what to do about so many rejecting the message of the cross. He said, "Do what Christ did: He rescued the elect and left the rest behind. This is what the apostles did also. It will not be better for you." Every Sunday eyes are opened here; sinners are forgiven here; the sick see the Great Physician here. And every Sunday the healthy go away without seeing the doctor; the sinless go away without forgiveness, and the seeing go away without their eyes being opened. We wish it otherwise, but we can't make it so. Jesus in Holy Week tells us how this looks to Him. He quotes Psalm 118, "The stone which the builders rejected is become the head of the corner. This is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes." That the Lord can make the ugly cross beautiful to anyone at all is marvelous. The fact He has made it so to us is marvelous in our blind eyes. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Third Sunday in Lent (20080224); John 9: 35-41