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I Once Was Blind

John 9:1-41

The Rev. Jon Roberts

26 March


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

1 As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7 “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. 8 His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some claimed that he was. Others said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he himself insisted, “I am the man.” 10 “How then were your eyes opened?” they asked. 11 He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.” 12 “Where is this man?” they asked him. “I don’t know,” he said. 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15 Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided. 17 Then they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” The man replied, “He is a prophet.” 18 They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19 “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?” 20 “We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21 But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” 25 He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” 26 Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” 28 Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. 32 Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” 38 Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said,[a] “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” 40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” 41 Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.


Woman by Esref Armadon, 1981

I once was blind but now I see, it once was dark but now the light is well within me.[1]

In 1953 a family who lived in Istanbul felt very much in the dark. Their son, Esref Armagon, was born blind. His eyes were worthless. One was the size of a lentil, the other was not even present. As a very little boy, Esref was getting into everything. Everything, he wanted to touch. He took things in his hands and worked every edge, every curve. He felt his fingers along hard lines and brushed over softness. Imagine the mother telling her son in the store to put things down. This was magnified with Esref. He simply had to touch. With everything he touched he then began to take a pencil and sketch. He drew the pencil, then he drew other objects like a table. He drew fruit and plants. He drew butterflies. He drew ants. By the age of six, he swapped his pencil for a paintbrush. With beautiful distinction, Esref, the poor blind boy from Istanbul, was painting for a larger audience. The Discovery channel picked up the story once he became older and gave him the distinction of being a “Superhuman.” Here is why.

As his paintings began to surface to an international level, people became fascinated with his ability to paint. No, they were not perfect renderings but remarkable nonetheless because he was able to determine size, space, light and even color, shadow and composition without ever seeing them. How can a blind man do this, the world asked? Researchers from the University of Toronto and Harvard approached Esref and his family to participate in a study that could explain. Esref agreed and travelled to the universities to undergo tests using an MRI. The neurologists have studied blindness for many years. A typical blind person has a “black blob” show on the visual cortex of their brain. This was no different for Esref. Then, while he was inside the MRI, they gave him a pad and pencil and asked him to draw. Once he began, the results were remarkable. His visual cortex, “Lit up like a Christmas tree,” said the doctor.

They never knew a blind person could have such ability. They thought for years that the brain was locked when it came to interpreting its surroundings based on sight. Esref defied this logic and this was groundbreaking. Still, one question remained. How can he determine, “perspective?” How can he draw and paint in three dimensions? The next study was to take him to Florence, Italy where the 15th C. artist, Francesco Brunolesci, known as the Father of Perspective, designed the Baptistry, a unique, octagonal building. Here, to understand linear perspective, Esref was only allowed to touch. He knew not how tall it was. He did not know its color. Yet he not only drew it, he drew it to scale in the open market with hundreds watching. He did so with a smile, doing something no one has ever done before, not even those of the Renaissance who had sight.[2] [3] In his book, “Painting in the dark,” Esref says he wishes people would be more delighted in what he painted rather than how he did it.

This could have very well been the same person we read about today; a blind man since birth, who Jesus met and healed. With a little mud and a lot of faith, a miracle took place.[4] The English theologian, Fr. Reginald Fuller, who happened to teach the course in New Testament at Nashotah House Seminary to me, and others, before his death, said this is one of seven miracle stories that points to Jesus as the Messiah, who is the Son of God. Like all the other miracle stories, such as the one that was heard last Sunday about the woman at the well, there is a common theme. Jesus brings light into the world so that we may see. The parallel of seven miracle stories, where sight is given to those such as this blind man, relates to the Old Testament story about Jesse presenting his seven sons to Samuel.[5] Each of his sons, leads to the chosen ruler of God’s people. Jesse presents the eldest on down and Samuel says, ‘Not that one. Not that one...” until the youngest, the one seemingly less qualified, who is young David is called. He was “ruddy” (red headed), he was handsome and beautiful but God sees something else in David, that no one else could see.
God looked within him and that is what he does to us. Aren’t we all a little blind, a bit uncertain and a mess until God sheds a little light? Aren’t we all just feeling around the edges, wondering about our own existence, and where we are going? God sees the overall painting, that which is our life, when we do not. To be a follower of Christ, sometimes you can’t rely on sight, but rather more on faith, and that comes from within and have trust in Him. We are guided by Jesus to follow Him.

The Pharisees did not look within the blind man. They often do not. “How can this man be healed? It must be a hoax.” Yet, he was. Jesus wants us to paint. Esref was seen painting, always with a smile on his face. God wants us to see through our faith, the possibilities of what can be on the canvas of our lives, and he wants us to do so with joy in our hearts. Throughout this journey in Lent, we are to present to the world what we see when we are opened, touched, and healed by Jesus from the things that blind us. We are artists who are to illustrate His light who are called forth to paint and proclaim,…
I once was blind but now I see, it once was dark but now the light is well within me.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[4] John 9:1-41
[5] 1 Samuel 16:1-13

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