A man born blind prompted a question directed at Jesus; “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Notice the assumption; the man was born blind as a result of sin. That is to say someone, his parents or the man himself, failed under the law. Failure under the law is the assumed reality that is defining of what has happened to him.
We fully understand such thinking. After all is not life the story of human effort toward achievement, self-realization, accomplishment? Is not life the laying down of the pattern of success or failure, however defined? And are we not rewarded or penalized in a thousand ways for our failures or successes?
Jesus responds to the question by giving what is in effect an entirely different understanding of life, of history we might say. His response is this: what is defining of life is not the law ( justice, equality, equity, fairness) but God’s mercy. The story of life is the story of God’s work of mercy in the midst of a world dominated by the law.
Under the law, if Jesus is going to have anything to do with this man, he ought to be pointing him to what he can do to remedy his life. He may not be able to recover his sight, but the man could at least show some sincere sorrow under the law for what he may have done to bring about his blindness. If his blindness was the result of doing something wrong, according to the law, then the remedy should be doing something right, according to the law.
But Jesus bypasses any reference to pursuing a remedy according to the law. He takes dirt, makes mud with his spittle and smears it on the man’s eyes, then tells him to go wash in the pool of Siloam. Here we see Jesus acting, as we would say, sacramentally. He puts his word of promise in a thing, mud, (just as he puts His promise in bread and wine) and through this action actually makes a difference in the man’s life. Jesus does not give a command waiting to see if the man can fulfill it. He brings the healing and mercy of God in His word, materially, bestowing God’s promise upon the blind man as an act of mercy.
Of course, Jesus stirred up fierce opposition when he did things like this precisely because he was operating apart form, outside the law. It was not that the people were not expecting the Messiah. They were. But they were expecting a Messiah who would come and reinforce and establish God’s righteous rule under the law. This Jesus does not do. The people knew that the Messiah would be greater than Moses. But what they, and many today, fail to recognize is that the greatness of Jesus lies exactly in His coming to place mercy above the demands of the law. That is what we call ‘good news’, the gospel.
In healing his sight, Jesus simultaneously forgave the man’s sin. Up to that time all the blind man got as a word from God, was accusation and the demand for repentance under the law. The word of healing which Jesus gave brought him forgiveness, new life and hope. And Jesus Christ brings this same word for you. In his word of forgiveness, spoken and received in baptism’s water and bread and wine, the announcement of the absolution, Christ restores you, elects you as His own, declaring for you that God’s mercy is greater than His law.
‘May the peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in
Christ Jesus our Lord.’