Double Helix Reversal
Text: John 9:1-41
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our Lord has made it no secret that He rejoices in reversals. That is to say, He delights in taking those who are low and lifting them up, to show them the heights of His grace and mercy. Think of Jacob’s son Joseph, or the prophet Samuel’s mother Hannah, or even Mary, the mother of Jesus—a girl of humble estate, raised to be the mother of the Son of God. Likewise, it is His good pleasure to take those who think of themselves as high and exalted, and to bring them to humility, to teach them that without Him, they can achieve nothing, despite their power and prestige. Among these we would count proud Pharaoh or boastful Goliath, or even those in Jesus’ time who were continually revealed to be less than they pretended, like the scribes and Pharisees.
Today in our Gospel reading, as we draw ever nearer to Good Friday and Jesus’ cross, we see two examples of reversals—one lifting and one lowering. As Jesus was walking through Jerusalem, He saw a man who had been born blind. His blindness was absolute—he had never had sight, so there was no healing it, no original setting he could be restored to. Being born blind meant that he relied entirely on the mercy and charity of others for his entire life. There was no trade he could learn. No craftsman would take him as an apprentice. The only thing he could do was beg. So from the time of his youth, that’s what he did. That’s how he was known to all his neighbors.
Meanwhile, we have those who had keen eyesight. The Pharisees and upright members of the synagogue had clear enough vision that they could read the Law of Moses every day. They could fashion things with their hands and develop all sorts of skills to pile up wealth. And that’s exactly what they did. They were no beggars. They were powerful, important men.
But then Jesus enters this world of beggars and rulers and He slowly flips everything upside down. He tells His disciples that the works of God are about to be displayed, and then He spits on the ground, mixes up some mud out of the dirt and spit, and uses the mud to anoint the man’s eyes, as seriously as a king or priest would have been anointed. He then told the blind man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, a narrow little strip of water open for the public of Jerusalem, and the man came back seeing.
Notice how the man’s spiritual sight is restored too. His eyesight is instantly healed—a miracle beyond miracles itself, since he was born blind. It was not a matter of healing damaged nerves or encouraging the body to restore itself to a previous state. Jesus was creating sight out of nothing in this man. So the man’s vision was instantly given to him as a gift. But as our account goes on, his spiritual sight grows.
Pay close attention to the way this man speaks about Jesus. At first, when people ask him how he was made able to see, he said, “The man called Jesus made mud and anointed my eyes and told me go wash in the pool of Siloam.” The man called Jesus. But he had never seen this man Jesus, so he couldn’t point Him out or possibly know where He was in that great, full city of Jerusalem.
But then notice the slow shift in the formerly blind man’s understanding of Jesus. When the Pharisees start interrogating him, asking, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” the man answered, “He is a prophet.” There—the realization that this man Jesus is more than just a man. He’s a prophet. But then it’s quickly ratcheted up. When it’s time for his questioning to determine if he’ll be cast out of the synagogue, the man throws in more weight, seeing who Jesus is even clearer, although he has never seen Jesus’ face: “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing!” he exclaims. And with that—saying that Jesus is from God—he’s cast out.
It’s after he’s cast out of the synagogue and is speaking to Jesus one-on-one that his faith sees perfectly who Jesus is. Jesus found him after he had been chased out by everyone else and abandoned by even his own parents, and He asked the man, “Do you believe in the Son of Man.” The man answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said, “You have seen him, and it is he who is speaking to you.” And then the man has crystal clear spiritual sight: “Lord, I believe,” he confessed, and he worshipped Him as his Lord and God.
While the blind man’s spiritual sight was getting stronger and clearer, the Pharisees and rulers of the synagogue were becoming blinder and blinder with each word. First it was the blind man’s neighbors, who refused to believe their physical eyes. It couldn’t possibly the man they knew who was blind from birth—it was impossible for him to be healed. Then the Pharisees, faced with the bald fact that it was the same man, had to reckon with the fact that he could see, but they refused. “This man Jesus is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath. It’s impossible that He could perform such a healing, because anyone who does not keep the Law as we do would be shut out of heaven, prayers unheard.” Then finally, their blindness is complete when they say, “We know that this man Jesus is a sinner,” and to silence the formerly blind man, they cast him out of the synagogue. As our account goes on, as the man sees more and more about who Jesus is, the Pharisees and synagogue chiefs see less and less until they have utterly blinded themselves to the truth about Jesus.
“Are we also blind?” That’s the question the Pharisees asked at the end of this. Their question was asked in mocking cynicism. But it’s a question we should asking ourselves in all earnestness this season of Lent. Are we also blind? Do we close our eyes and our ears when we hear something from God that challenges us? Do we, like the Pharisees, refuse to believe some Word could be from God when it clashes with what we have already decided we know? Would we rather cast out those things that make us uncomfortable, or embarrass us, or lead us to realize that we’ve been wrong—cast out the Commandments, cast out the Scriptures, disbelieve in miracles, cut those people out of our lives that challenge our faith? Are we also blind?
God loves a good reversal. So wouldn’t it be better to admit from the start that we’re blind, so that we can be given sight? Wouldn’t it be better to be lifted up by Him by saying that we’re low and need to be raised, rather than starting by saying that we see clearly, or that we’re wise, or that we’re righteous? For He will cast down the mighty from their thrones. He’s done it before and He’ll continue to do so—to show them that they really do need Him. And He’s lifted up the needy from the ash heap, pulling them up out of that “dust to dust” and “ashes to ashes”. So where are you? Will you cling to your own powers, your own righteousness? Or will you go to Jesus and beg, admitting that you have nothing to trade, but that you need Him nonetheless?
This is what repentance is. It’s what Lent is about. It’s about confessing your great need of Jesus and letting go of anything of your own that gave you status or holiness. It’s about telling Jesus that you need everything from Him. And then, true repentance is having your eyes opened to see everything that Jesus is giving you. See how He has opened your eyes and your ears and your heart to see Him clearly as your Savior. See how He has sent you to the pool of your Baptism, where your every sin is washed away. See how He has come to you in His true body and blood at the rail, to comfort you, to heal you, to bless you. Admit you’re blind and in need of Him to forgive and restore you, because then you’ll have nowhere to go but up.
For Jesus is headed toward His own great reversal. On Good Friday, on the cross, He will undergo the punishment for every sin, though He Himself was sinless. He will be abandoned by the Father, though He alone did the Father’s will. He will die, though His wages were anything but death. And He’ll do it all for you, so that you will not bear that cost, so that you will never be abandoned, so that you will live eternally. And in that great reversal at the cross, you will have perfect healing of body and soul, forever.
Jesus delights in reversals, because of what they accomplish for us, His beloved disciples. Put yourself in prime position for that change of fate—hands open, eyes open, claiming nothing—so that you will be given everything. In the name of Jesus, the Crucified One. Amen.