The Problem with "Amazing Grace"
The first time "Amazing Grace" was included in a Lutheran hymnal was in 1982. Lutheran Worship had problems with the second verse which says, "Grace did teach my heart to fear," saying that the Law not grace does that. So Lutheran Worship left that verse out. I think, however, you could understand that second verse rightly. I don't see how you can understand the first verse rightly though, not if you take what Jesus says in our text seriously. The first verse of "Amazing Grace" says that I "was blind but now I see." If I can see now, then I can live my by own sight, my own senses, my own judgement. Jesus has a problem with that.
Pharisees think that way according to our text. They believe they are the seeing ones. They believe they see things clearly and accurately. The Pharisee has no trouble seeing sin. He can stand in the temple and tell God all the sins of the tax collector. But don't think he is blind to his own sins. O no, he clearly sees his own sins too. He failed to ceremonially wash his hands before dinner. He didn't tithe this spice or that mint. He didn't say a long enough prayer. Yes, the Pharisee sees very clearly what God wants and doesn't want, what God thinks is right and wrong.
Consider the most well known Pharisee, St. Paul. Before his conversion, he knew he could see because he had been raised in the strict traditions of the Pharisees. He had sat at the feet of the great rabbi Gamaliel. He saw, therefore, the horrible heresy that Christianity was. He saw that the only answer was to hunt down Christians, arrest them, and bring them to the Sanhedrin for trial. He saw that it was right and proper to stone that arch-heretic Stephen to death.
Pharisees can sing loudly and lustily, "I was blind but now I see." O they would admit that at one time in their lives, they were blind. At one time, they were like this man born blind in our text. At one time, they were steeped in sin at birth, but their eyes were opened. No more were they the blind ones. Now they knew right from wrong, truth from error, what was from God and what wasn't. Why? Because now they could see. And it was because they could see that they rejected Jesus. They could see that Jesus couldn't be from God. Why? Because they could plainly see that He didn't keep the Sabbath the way they saw it. It was forbidden by their Sabbath laws to apply spit to the eyes even if the spit was from someone who was fasting. In their eyes, anyone who said such a man was a prophet was obviously still steeped in sin.
So my dear friends, you go on proudly declaring you can see. You go on thinking that your eyes don't need to be opened. You go on singing with Johnny Nash that you can see everything more clearly now, that gone are the obstacles in your way, that gone are the dark clouds that had you blind. You go on thinking it's going to be a bright sunshiny day, and this I assure you: You will be left in your blindness.
Don't look so shocked. Isn't that what Jesus says? Those seeing become blind. He doesn't say those seeing go on seeing, but just the opposite. If you say, "I was blind in the past, but now I see," I assure you that you are still blind. Therefore, I warn you; what you think you're seeing isn't really there. I warn you; your impression of reality, heaven and hell, sin and grace, salvation and damnation is not correct. The more you claim to see, all the more I must maintain that you are in fact blind. Isn't that what Jesus plainly says in our text? "Those who see will become blind." But that's not all that Jesus says, is it? It's not just a matter of seeing; it's a matter of sin and guilt. When the Pharisees are upset and say, "Surely you don't mean we are also blind?" How does Jesus respond to their incredulous question? "If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin. But now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains." If you claim to see, blindness and guilt are yours too.
On the other hand, if you're singing, "I'm blind and I don't see," I assure you; you see and have no sin or guilt. That's what Jesus says plain as day in this text. "The blind will see" is how our bulletin translates it, but this leads you to believe "Amazing Grace" is right. Blindness is in your past. The Greek actually says that Jesus came so that "those being in the state of not seeing, might see." Not seeing, that is blindness, is an ongoing state that coincides with seeing.
Plato the philosopher said that in this world men only see the shadows. He said that men are born in a cave with a bright fire burning behind them. They are looking forward, and so they can only see the shadows the fire casts on the wall in front of them. They mistake these shadows for reality. Plato goes on to say that only the philosopher comes out of the cave and sees reality. The text says that only Jesus does this. Any and all seeing clearly is only done by Jesus. Apart from Jesus there is no seeing; there is only blindness. Most of us, however, have been taught our whole life that this means what "Amazing Grace" sings. O, I was blind, but now Jesus makes me see. And then we, much like the Pharisees, go our way seeing what we good and well want to.
No, when I say there is no seeing apart from Jesus, I mean only Jesus sees. This is in our text. Jesus heals the man of his blindness, but can he see? I mean can he really see reality? Not hardly. He can only dimly see who Jesus really is. Read all of John 9. He stumbles and fumbles around with the question of who Jesus really is. Finally, Jesus goes to him and asks, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?" And what does the man say? "Who is he sir? Tell me so that I might believe in Him." It's only when Jesus tells him the truth that he can see it.
Friends, may you come to this glorious, comforting, freeing truth. What is real in life is not what I see because I am blind. What is real is what Jesus sees and tells me is there. I listen to the Absolution, the sermon, the Bible; I listen to His Word in Baptism and Communion because that's where Jesus tells me what He sees. I don't rely on my persistent blindness which leads me to make wrong conclusions about everything.
This is Gospel. Yes, it's glorious Gospel to confess that I am blind because that means what I think I'm seeing isn't what's really going on. What I see in this world with these blind eyes of mine is not the truth. I see Satan apparently ruling and winning. I see men in pulpits preaching people away from confidence in their Baptisms, away from trusting in the Lord's Table and into their own feelings. I see men pointing people to a spirit that throws people into fits and makes them babble nonsensical tongues. I see the numbers of those gathered around what God does in Word and Sacrament decreasing while the numbers gathered around what people do and feel increasing.
But what I see isn't reality. If I go by what I see, I am going by my blindness. Jesus sees what's really there. I don't. Jesus sees Satan cast out; I see Satan winning. Jesus sees Satan chained and bound by the heavy cross. I see Satan doing what he likes. Jesus sees His Word sounding forth like a clarion trumpet never, ever failing to gather His sheep. I see a faint little bike horn. Jesus sees His Church like a mighty army moving where and when He pleases. I see a bedraggled, ragtag, group of sinners constantly retreating.
Yes, I look at that altar and all my blind eyes can see is Bread and Wine. I look in that font and all that my scaly eyes can see is plain water. I look at that Bible, and all I can see is just another human book. But I don't see reality; Jesus does. He tells me what's really here. He says, "That Bread and Wine is really My flesh and blood come down into your midst to give you forgiveness, life and salvation." And in that font, isn't just the plain water that my eyes see. No, in there is a life giving water rich in grace able to give me forgiveness, rescue from death and the devil, and eternal salvation. And that Book isn't just another book. It's the Sword of the Lord, sharp, powerful and able to pierce even hardened hearts.
Thank God I'm blind because that means what I see in others isn't really the truth either. So when I start to despair because I only see sinners before me, or you start to despair because all you see is a bespectacled, bald guy, we can run away from these sights as the nightmares they are because they aren't real. Our eyes fool us; our eyes deceive us. Jesus' eyes never do, and He tells me that what I see before me is God's holy people, the apples of His eye. Here aren't smelly sheep, but lambs washed pure in the blood of the Good Shepherd.
Likewise when your eyes see nothing here but a sinful, weak man blathering on about religious things, don't you believe them either. Believe what Jesus sees, not what you do. He sees His mouthpiece. He sees the hands that do His baptizing. The lips that do His forgiving. The feet that distribute His Body and Blood. Jesus sees holy, divine works being done by this man in His stead. Jesus sees reality; we don't. Thanks be to God!
I've saved the best for last. We don't even see reality when we look in the mirror. That's right. When you look in the mirror and you see that dirty, ugly, foul-minded sinner, when you see that person starring back at you that you've seen do shameful things, when you see that face that has sunk a thousand hopes, dashed a hundred dreams, and caused a thousand tears, you're not seeing reality. You're not seeing reality because that is not what Jesus sees. Jesus sees a new creation because you've been baptized. Jesus sees His twin brother or sister. Jesus sees no sins. Isn't that what our text says? "If you're blind, you don't have sin." Jesus can't lie, can He? Or can you find sin that Jesus can't? Do you see sins that Jesus doesn't'?
Jesus sees reality. You look in the mirror and see not only a sinner but a sick, aging, dying sinner, but that's not reality either. See what Jesus sees. He sees a man or a woman, a girl or a boy, holy, healthy, full of life with everlasting years to live. He sees a man or woman, a boy or girl who has overcome the grave, not one with one foot in it.
Do you see, my dear friends, why Jesus praises blindness? Blind people don't rely on their own sight, do they? Haven't you seen folks from the Blind School being led around by someone else? Blind people don't depend on their sight, for they have none. They depend on another to do the seeing for them. If that person should say to them something is blue or beautiful, they don't say, they can't say, "O no, it isn't!" How could they know that? They can't see. What the seeing person says something is that's what it is to the blind person; that's reality.
That's how it is for us. We can't see, so we don't see reality; we don't see what's real. We can only see shadows on the wall of the cave. Hideous, grotesque shadows that can only scare us. Jesus sees what's real. Jesus sees Satan vanquished, our Church holy, us forgiven and everlastingly alive. All we can do is hold on to His arm, as blind people do, oohing and ahhing over the wonderful, wonderful things Jesus tells us He sees! Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Lent III (3-3-02) John 9: 13-17, 34-41