Fourth Sunday in Lent: Are Zebras black or white?

First Reading: 1 Samuel 16:1-13

1The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” 2Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ 3Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” 4Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” 5He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
6When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” 7But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” 11Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Psalm: Psalm 23

1The Lord| is my shepherd;
  I shall not be in want.
2The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
  and leads me beside still waters.
3You restore my soul, O Lord,
  and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
  for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
  you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
  and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. 

Second Reading: Ephesians 5:8-14

8Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light—9for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. 10Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. 11Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; 13but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says,
 “Sleeper, awake!
  Rise from the dead,
 and Christ will shine on you.”

Gospel: John 9:1-41

1As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

CHILDREN’S SERMON:  Turn to your neighbor and share.  Is a zebra a white horse with black stripes or a black horse with white stripes?  There are many children’s stories explaining zebra.  One said that zebra was lazy at creation, sleeping, and when the creator finally found him, he was punished by making his stripped pajamas become his skin.  Another one told of zebra running through the tall grass from lion.  The grass sliced up his shadow into stripes and so zebra picked up his sliced shadow and wears it to this day to hide from lion.  When lion spots a zebra to stalk, a group of zebras run toward lion and lion cannot see where his original zebra is.  The stripes also look like heat waves rising from the plain and lion cannot see zebra very well in the evening.  Is zebra white or black?  We debate. Today we will see people debate if a man born blind can be made to see.  Who has power to create eyes out of mud?

Let us pray:  Lord may the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.


         We started Lent this year singing with Maria, “Let’s start at the very beginning,” as we turned back to the Temptations of Jesus and reminded ourselves that Satan loves to attack us through our hungers (turn rocks to bread), through our need for security (throw yourself down from the temple and God should protect you), and through our desire for power (worship Satan and he will give us the world).  We pondered Nicodemus as a “hungry man” for whom being born again seemed like a challenge to turn rocks into bread – impossible.  Last week you looked at the woman at the well who was thirsty but who also did not seem to have true security.  Five men had rejected her and she met Jesus who knew all about her.  Would he reject her too?  Today our text focuses us on the story of the healing of the man born blind.  For sure we will see rocks turn into bread as Jesus spits into dirt to make mud and new eyes are created!  For sure we will see issues of security as the parents pass the buck of truth when questioned by the Pharisees and our man is kicked out of the temple.  And for sure we will be faced with threats to our sense of power.  Whew, a heavy text worth pondering today.

         Our man today is not like Nicodemus, a “good guy,” a Pharisee coming to Jesus with a difficult theological question.  Nor is he like the woman at the well, an ordinary woman with “a past”.  Our man stands on the edge of the faith community because he was born blind.  And so the passage opens with Jesus reaching out to a man who cannot even see him and is not a believer.  The disciples ask the question, “Who sinned, the man or his parents?”  Is the zebra black or white?  We know this question of who is to blame for the problems in our life!  If God has all power and loves his creation, why do bad things happen?  Bad things happen to good people and we search for causes.  Wars, earthquakes, pandemics and famines impact innocent people and we pray that life is not random.

         Amazingly, Jesus affirms that neither the man is guilty of sin so punished with blindness, nor were the parents being punished for their sins.  Parents with children differently abled know the parent’s journey and battle with guilt. Jesus seems to be saying that good people get hurt for no fault of their own and as we hear that, the little voice of doubt on our shoulder whispers, “So what benefit is there in believing in God?”  Where’s the power?  Somehow the answer, “he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him” is questionable salve for the wound of grief and guilt. But let’s not give up yet, keep listening.  Our text first confronts our hungers, our hunger for light.

“…I am the light of the world.”

         The blind man does not approach Jesus asking for sight.  Jesus approaches the man who lives in darkness.  It was impossible for the man to cure his situation because he was born blind, without eyes.  Jesus had to spit into the dirt to make mud to make eyes.  Jesus does the impossible.  He turns rocks into bread.  It is God’s character to do good, not evil.  Jesus says he is the light of the world. Even like our man, we are born separated from God and God comes to us in the incarnation, in his Word, and in community to bring light into our lives and to help us deal with the darkness we live in. We are not sinners because of what we have done but because of who we are.

         God does not always work on our timeline, though.  Because we do not see the answer, does not mean that God is not answering or will not answer.  Because we do not understand the dynamics does not mean that God is not present.  Because we do not have the life we want, does not mean that we are not growing and developing in ways we do not understand and does not mean that God is upset with us.  Blindness is not good and is painful, but God is working to bring light.  Our Psalm reminds us that Jesus is not only the light but also the Good Shepherd who knows our hunger and who is leading us to good pastures. So when the Evil One’s whisper raises doubt that God is not meeting our hungers and God is allowing us to be blind, we can remember that Jesus is the light of the world.  He can create eyes out of mud.  Jesus saw the man and he sees us.  Zebra is black and is white and we live in that tension of dark and light.

“Is this your son, who you say was born blind?

 How then does he now see?”

         Our lives unfold in community and so questions of security are whispered in our ears.  We wonder not only what God thinks but also what others will think.  In fact, people can cruelly confront and hurt us for our sins that they think cause problems for others.  Faith is something meant to live out in ways that impact the world but the world does not always understand.  The people watching are not sure the seeing man is the same as the blind man.  The Pharisees are not sure that healing, while pointing to God, might not be a trick as it was done on the Sabbath, breaking the law.  Confusion results in the community.  Often we are slow to share our faith for fear of misunderstanding.  We know we are still sinners and we don’t want others to think we are some sort of “radical or bragger.”

         The parents of the man born blind are called and questioned by the Pharisees.  They have walked the journey with their son, scrutinizing their own lives as to what they did wrong, struggling to help him grow, and now called to testify. During crises we are challenged to make choices that impact our families and neighbors.  We are often shy about sharing our testimony of God’s work in our lives.  Maybe Satan doesn’t temp me to throw myself down from the temple steeple but questions about how finances will last as I juggle care for my husband in memory care enter my mind.  Will God be there at the end of the valley of the shadow of death?  Perhaps a child marries someone we don’t particularly like and we wonder what the future will look like.  Of course stepping into a new job or a new pastor is a leap of faith that feels pretty scary.  The parents affirm their son’s blindness but they are afraid of the repercussions from the religious power structure. Often we are held accountable by powers that have not walked in our shoes, who do not understand our life journey, and being questioned and asked to account for our faith is very scary and life feels insecure.  The parents admit their son was born blind but tell the Pharisees to talk to their son who is of age.  The zebra is black and it is white and we often defer to science to answer “why” questions.

         The blind man who has always been suspect by the religious system and who has never seen Jesus stands on the truth of his experience and does not try to make religious rules out of that which he does not know.  He knows he was blind and now he sees.  The zebra is black and the zebra is white.  The man openly gives credit to God.  Ah, that we could be so brave and see so clearly the difference God makes in our lives.  May we trust God as he leads us who see through a glass dimly, into our future and may we trust him when we feel insecure.

“I came into this world for judgment

 so that those who do not see may see,

 and those who do see may become blind.”

         In our text today we meet a man who is powerless.  He is the victim of factors beyond his control.  He is condemned by society as blindness is a proof of sin somewhere.  He is excluded from spiritual rituals.  He is reduced to begging as a way of life.  We also meet Pharisees who have social power but who are confused and powerless to explain the cure of a man born blind.  The parents who have authority and power cave under the fear of social power and pass the buck when confronted by the Pharisees. Jesus steps into the mess of this world and through the healing of the blind man demonstrates the power of the creator as he makes eyes that see, even on the Sabbath.  Jesus reveals himself to the man who now “sees.”  The man worships Jesus, not because of popular pressure but because he knows and he sees the truth of whom Jesus is.  The text confronts systems of power.

         The Living Bible translates John 9:39

         “39 Jesus then said, “I came into the world to bring everything into the         clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who       have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense        of seeing will be exposed as blind.”

         Again we are confronted with the kingdom of this world that appear to our physical eyes to have power – the power of government, the power of finances, the power of talent but that power does not create “light” and seeing.  Only God and the kingdom of heaven can do that.  We can debate how the zebra became black and white or how its stripes protect it. Perhaps evolution gives some insight but for those who have “eyes that see,” we say God creates.  God heals.  God brings life and protects us from all other powers.  Jesus is the light of the world.

And the people of God said, “AMEN!”

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