When I sat down to write this sermon – about a man who is thought sinful because he is blind, and Jesus who is called a sinner because he breaks rules to heal people and the Pharisees who believe they have 20/20 vision, metaphorically speaking, thus revealing their blindness and sinfulness – I gave it the working title of, “Will the real sinner please stand up!”
Which I thought was very clever and very original until I googled it and found several other sermons on this same passage with that exact title! But I also found out – which I didn’t know – that the line, “Will the real _____ please stand up,” came from a 1950’s US TV show, To tell the truth, where panellists were presented with three contestants and had to guess which of them was the person actually being described.
How many of you already knew that? (Lots?) But having found out about the show, I decided it might be a creative way to explore this passage, so… this morning I want to welcome you, welcome you all to another episode of To tell the truth (brought to you this week….)
Now, panel (you can all be the panel) in this episode we are going to meet someone, who in John 9, is identified as a sinner – as someone who has transgressed against divine law. (Contestants come out. One is blind man. Two is Jesus. Three is Pharisee.)
Number one, what have you been called? (I have been called a sinner – all my life!)
Number two, what have you been called? (I have been called a sinner and a friend of sinners.)
Number three, what have you been called? (I have been called a sinner, but I reject that!)
Thank you, contestants. We are seeking to discover who among you is the real sinner – so, today, I am going to step in for our panel and ask you some questions.
Contestant number one, you were born blind. Is that right? (Yes.) And in your early years you lived in Jerusalem where, having limited options for employment, you were a beggar. Is that right? (Yes, that’s right.) But all that changed one day when Jesus saw you, mixed spit and dirt and spread it on your eyes (this sounds very unhygienic to us now) and you washed in a famous pool in Jerusalem, the Pool of Siloam, and then – suddenly – amazingly – you could see. Is that right?
(Yes. That’s right. Can I add that the spit and the dirt thing might sound unhygienic, but in my time, spit was used as a cure for all sorts of things. Jesus was just doing what a doctor does.)
OK! Can I ask – because this is the thing I am really struggling with – why you were labelled a sinner simply because you were blind?
((Deep sigh.) Look, in my time, and probably in your time as well – if you scratch beneath the surface – disability, poverty, disaster, misfortune was viewed as being connected – in some way – to sin.)
But weren’t you blind from birth? So how then was your blindness the result of sin?
(Ahhh… well, there are a range of theological explanations that people had! As you know – from reading John 9 – I was accused of being “born entirely in sins.” Some rabbis thought babies started sinning in the womb! Others believed in the pre-existence of the soul – that your soul had life before you had life! Or that you were inherently sinful because of your parents’ or grandparents’ sins.)
Interesting. Those ideas sound archaic, a strange twisting of what actually constitutes sin, and yet you’re right – we still struggle in this area of identifying sin with suffering.
I’m thinking about how we still can respond poorly to disability. Telling people that their disability means God will bless them in other ways. Or that God only gives these challenges to ‘special people’. Or they shouldn’t worry because in heaven they will be made whole.
I read a comment by American professor, Nancy Eisland, who says that, growing up with a disability, these traditional religious interpretations confused her. “My disability,” she says, “taught me who I am and who God is. What would it mean to be without this knowledge? Would I be absolutely unknown to myself in heaven, and perhaps even unknown to God?”
I wonder, if the church’s response to LGBTIQ+ people also falls into this area; that believing there is something inherently sinful about the way people are born, we justify our ongoing marginalisation of them.
So, in our quest to find the real sinner, let us turn to our next contestant…
Jesus, you have also been called a sinner, but for heaven’s sake – you’re Jesus! What’s going on here?
(Well, if your definition of sin is “breaking the rules”, then I did break the rules! I worked on the Sabbath which is a day of rest. Technically, I broke several rules! I made clay – by mixing spit and dirt. I provided non-urgent, non-life-threatening care for someone. And I used spit to heal, which as my friend has just told you, was a common medical remedy.)
Why? Why did you feel the need to break the rules in this way?
(I think the question for me was, “How could I not?” If God is always working to bring life into the world, how could I not be always working to do the same? Especially when people’s definitions of sin are so screwed up! When they equate sin with suffering, or godliness with simply keeping the rules.)
A definition of sin I have always found useful is this one – that sin is the failure to do concrete acts of love. Does that fit with what you are saying?
(Yes, it does. And it fits with what I say in the next chapter of John, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” And it fits with what I actually did. Laying down my life was a very concrete act of love.)
Yes, it was… Which brings me to our final contestant, one of the Pharisees from here in John 9. You, too, have been called a sinner – because you wouldn’t acknowledge your blind spots.
(No. I reject that. I am a devoted follower of Moses. I am not blind.)
But – aren’t you a bit blind to how you’ve not shown love? Aren’t you a bit blind to how Jesus does show love – how Jesus models God’s love – even while breaking some of the rules?
(No. I completely reject that. That man (the blind man) is a sinner. He was born a sinner. And he and his parents will be put out of the synagogue. And this man (Jesus) is a sinner and a troublemaker, and things will end badly for him.)
OK. Well, we might leave it there. (I think I’ve heard that threat about the synagogue somewhere else recently.) It does make you think about where your own blind spots are – or where the church’s blind spots are – what our rules, or ways of doing things, are that get in the way of people experiencing God’s life and God’s love – in all its abundance.
But we have almost reached the point where I ask our panel (all of you) if you have decided who the real sinner is; and where I say to our contestants, “Will the real sinner stand up?”
Is it a sin to be born blind? No. Absolutely not. Jesus says that in verse three of this passage. Is it a sin to break rules to share God’s life and love with others? No! A man born blind could see this! He says in verse 32, “If this man [Jesus] were not from God , he could do nothing.” Is it a sin to fail to do concrete acts of love. Yes. But, perhaps with one exception on our stage, we are all guilty of this. (When invited to stand – Jesus and Pharisee remain seated.)
So – “Will the real sinners please stand up?” (Jesus and Pharisee remain seated.)
“All have sinned,” Romans 3 says, “and fallen short of the glory of God, but we are now justified by his grace – his amazing grace – … through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.”
Thank you, Jesus, for continuing to work God’s healing work in our lives.
Please have a seat…. When I was reading about the TV show, To tell the truth, I was reminded of another show, one I am much more familiar with, Would I lie to you, particularly the round called, “This is my…” where they bring on a guest who has a close connection with one of the panellists, so I am going to close this message by changing up TV shows.
Can you roll the opening credits music for us, please?
Please welcome this week’s special guest– Jesus!
So, Mr/Ms Pharisee, what is Jesus to you?
(Well, this is Jesus, and I will just repeat what I said earlier than this man is a sinner. I really have nothing more to say.)
OK, well, what about you? I’m sorry, we don’t know your name, you’re just called ‘the man who had been blind’ in the text, what is Jesus to you?
(Well, at first Jesus was just an anonymous person in the crowd – someone who I guess I hoped would put something in my begging bowl.
But then he put his hands on my eyes and told me to go and wash and I discovered his name was Jesus. I’d heard a little about this Jesus – about some of the amazing things he could do.
But then – and this is the ironic thing – the questions that came at me from the Pharisees, their indignation that Jesus had done this on the Sabbath, it made me angry and a bit feisty. Wasn’t anyone happy for me? Couldn’t anyone recognise what a wonderful thing had been done for me? They’re a powerful lot, the Pharisees, but it gave me the courage to tell them I thought Jesus was a prophet – that he was sent by God. “I don’t know whether he is a sinner,” I told them, “One thing I do know… I once was blind, but now I see.”)
That’s a good line. I think others will use it.
(Well, you heard it from me first.
And they did throw me out. They threw me out of the synagogue. That’s a pretty big deal in my time, but it was a common experience for us early Christians. But Jesus came and found me. And he asked, “Do you trust me? Do you want to follow me?
And – oh boy – then I really knew who he was, and I got down on my knees and I worshipped the God who had found me in the crowd and found me in my darkness and found me again – and that God goes on opening my eyes and being my light in this world.)
Thank you…there’s a third chair. I guess all of us might represent the other panellist. Who is Jesus to us? What has Jesus done for us? Where has Jesus broken down barriers in our thinking, in our lives, to reveal God’s love to us? Where has Jesus met us and asked us to believe in him, to trust him with our lives, to follow him?
Thank you to __________________ who helped me with this sermon this morning. You can return to your seats.
Let’s take a moment to think about who Jesus is to us – and then we’ll sing this hymn – inspired by this man who was blind, but who now sees – together.