Today's Gospel lesson is an extremely important story, AND, it's extremely important that you understand a particular portion of it. I have looked at MANY translations of this text (perhaps fifteen), and with the focus on the particular portion, verses 1-5. (See the end of this
printed sermon for a copy of the "sermon notes" handout)
I have looked at the Greek translation as well. Interpretation really is a matter of punctuation and word order. The translations before you, as noted, are from the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which is the translation your "Today's Lessons" insert sheet uses; the Revised
Standard Version (RSV) which preceded the NRSV and was the first major translation after the King James Version; the George Lamsa translation of the New Testament from the Aramaic texts; the Eugene Peterson translation, THE MESSAGE; and the New International Version (NIV).
Before we look at the sermon notes, it is VERY important to remember: 1.) that in the ancient Greek and Hebrew manuscripts there were no word divisions-that is, all letters ran one into the other and in Greek they were all capital letters; 2.) there was no punctuation. Any
punctuation that is seen in any translation is supplied by the translator; and 3.) there was no versification (it wasn't until 1500 years after the first manuscripts were written that translators started numbering the verses). Those are EXTREMELY important points to remember, since it
is both the punctuation and interpretation that makes the difference in how one understands these important verses.
The verses as translated by the NRSV and the NIV seem to indicate that God created the man blind so that at some future date Jesus could be glorified for healing him of his blindness. Such a translation misinforms the reader. There are other translations, such as the one from the
Aramaic texts, that accurately convey Jesus' meaning. This is done by placing the punctuation differently.
In Jesus' time Pharisees taught that one's present ailments were connected to the sin of one's parents. Jesus dismisses this. However, because of punctuation, many are led to believe that Jesus says something which does not really coincide with what we know about the mercy of God.
If the man's blindness is not connected to the sins of his parents, then why would Jesus then make it GOD who created the man blind just for his own pleasure to some day heal him of his blindness so as to then bring glory to his name? What glory is there in purposely creating someone
blind? The glory comes in healing someone who, for whatever reason, was born blind. We are born part of a fallen humanity. There are so many factors that through the thousands of years of living have caused the disease of blindness to come into being. God did not create those causes,
nor does God create diseased or handicapped beings in order to heal them at a later date to bring glory to his name.
It could, of course, indeed be his parents who through drinking or drugs or smoking, whatever, bring about blindness in an unborn infant. But it is not NECESSARILY so. The environment we live in can cause it. Defects in the human gene pool can cause it. Defects caused by years and
years of humans neglecting the environment, or treating their bodies poorly. Or through chemicals created about which we did not know the ultimate effects on humans. So many things. But Jesus definitely rules out the prevalent cause-effect thinking of the day: that it was the sins of
his parents that did it to him, or else the sins of the man himself.
Having debunked this idea, he then has no reason to lay the blame on God. No. What he does is to show us how, in such a situation, we, his disciples, working with Jesus, the light of the world, who makes us lights in the world through him, how we, together, can manifest the glory of
God given an opportunity. He warns us that opportunity doesn't always keep knocking. Opportunity often comes and we either take advantage of it or not. Then it is gone. Then we have to seek other means.
So, let's go to the text. Please turn to your "sermon notes" handout sheet. (See sheet at end of sermon)
The first translation is that which you have each week on the "Today's Lessons" insert. It is from the NRSV.
Here, we see that the interpretation given us, because of wording AND the punctuation is that Jesus says, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him." We can see here that a semi-colon comes between the word "sinned" and
the word "he." Look at the next translation, which actually was the EARLIER translation, the RSV which preceded the NRSV. It comes closer to the real meaning. It is just the punctuation that matters. It reads "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of god
might be made manifest in him." In the next translation, that from the Aramaic, that semicolon is a period. Then, the next phrase starts a whole new thought.
"Jesus said to them, 'Neither did he sin nor his parents. But that the works of God might be seen in him, we must do the works of him who sent me, while it is day; the night comes when no man can work.'"
So, what is really being said, as in the Lamsa translation from the Aramaic, is that neither the sin of the man or the parents caused his blindness. And then it wondrously continues in a new thought, which is, that the works of God will be seen through the healing of this man if WE,
along with Jesus, do the work that God would have us do to help others. We can look at others, whether it is their blindness or some other disease, or it can be the disease of hunger or homelessness (and those are diseases because, just like any other disease, it comes into being
through the actions or apathy of a fallen humanity-God does not cause hunger and homelessness and other diseases-no-humanity brought that into being and continues to do so). We can look at others and miss the opportunity to help. God puts it on our hearts and we can turn away. We can,
just like the false ideas of the Pharisees, attribute the disease or hunger or homelessness to the person him or herself or to the parents-folks do that over and over.
But the sin is ours for looking past the opportunity that God gives us to help and thereby manifest the works of God. To use another of Jesus' teachings, we look at the speck in the eye of the one we behold, while missing the log in our own eye. We are given opportunities. If we
don't follow through on them, the plight of others is on OUR hands. We think we are blameless, but not so. When we turn away from an opportunity God gives us, we are letting God down by not manifesting the works of God by helping someone. When we judge someone and hence don't help
them, we will ourselves be judged.
Another of Jesus' wonderful stories where he shows people how they did not help and others did-he says, when you gave water to someone for their thirst, when you fed someone and relieved their hunger, when you clothed someone, when you visited someone in prison-when you did it for
the least of these you did it for ME Jesus says.
To me, I think many of you are judging others just by the fact that the basket for food for the hungry that is in the Narthex, isn't overflowing each and every week. That here we are in the midst of our yearly World Hunger Relief drive and many folks give little or nothing toward
that. How can you go to the store and buy food and food and food for yourself and your family and not even consider those who have little or no food or who struggle to feed themselves and their families every day? I know why. Because most folks don't think hunger really exists here in
Carroll County, regardless of the facts and figures. People think that folks are just taking advantage of the social welfare programs or the food banks. People are judging whether others are really in need or not.
And many of you see yourselves as having little, as struggling yourself. Well, statistics would astound you. Even if you have an income of only $10,000 a year you are better off than 87% of the world's population! That's right. That means if your hourly wage is only $4.80, your take
home only $192 a week, less than $800 a month, you are STILL better off than 87% of the people in the world!! And if you're a teen and earn only $3.60 an hour and work just 20 hours a week, earning only $72.00 a week, and $3,750 a year, you are better off than 85% of people in the
world! And even if you only made $1,500 a year, you would be better off than 77% of the people in the world.!! Startling figures aren't they? I think there isn't one of us, teens included, who couldn't give something to world hunger relief and also bring some non-perishable food item
for the basket every single Sunday. But of course, one has to care. And you have to give up judging others as better off than you, or judging others as not really being in need.
Well, go ahead and judge, but remember, for every judgment we make, God judges us. For every opportunity we are given by God that we don't take advantage of to do the work of God, we are judged, and everything we do or don't do comes back to us positively or negatively.
So, Jesus says, do the work of God with me, now, while there is light. That means while the opportunity presents itself. Because night comes and we won't have the opportunity. When we work with the power that Jesus has given us, we work with and for God. And what a blessing that is
to those we help and to us as well. When people or situations present themselves to us as opportunities to do the work of God, those people or situations are being sent to or given to us. They are to help US as much as it is for us to help them. Those opportunities are for our
spiritual growth. Those opportunities are for us to be more like Jesus, be his followers, follow in the way he led-helping others.
I like the way Peterson captures the idea in his translation, THE MESSAGE, when the disciples ask who sinned. Jesus says, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be
energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over."
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we never know when our final workday will come. Let your light shine now. Let the light of Christ shine through you touching the lives of others. Amen.
Sermon Notes: Verses 1-4 of John 9:1-41
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
As [Jesus] walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. We must
work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work."
Revised Standard Version (RSV)
As he [Jesus] passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" Jesus answered, "It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him.
We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work."
George M. Lamsa, translation of the New Testament Eastern text, from the Original Aramaic Sources
And as he [Jesus] passed by he saw a man who was blind from his mother's womb. And his disciples asked him, saying, Teacher, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? Jesus said to them, Neither did he sin nor his parents. But that the works of God might be seen
in him, we must do the works of him who sent me, while it is day; the night comes when no man can work.
The Message (Eugene Peterson's translation in which verses from the Greek and Hebrew manuscripts are paraphrased)
Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?" Jesus said, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look
instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over."
Translated from the Greek word for word
and passing along he saw a man blind from birth and asked him the disciples of him saying Rabbi who sinned this man or the parents of him that blind he was born answered Jesus neither this man sinned nor the parents of him but that might be manifested the works of God in him us it
behooves to work the works of the [one] having sent me while day it is comes night when no one can to work
New International Version (NIV)
As he [Jesus] went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?" "Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.
As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work."