Encounter: The Man Born Blind

HOPE Point @Wesley Memorial UMC
March 26, 2017

John 9: 1-41 (CEB)
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”
3Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him. 4While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. 7Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.
8The man’s neighbors and those who used to see him when he was a beggar said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”
9Some said, “It is,” and others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him.”
But the man said, “Yes, it’s me!”
10So they asked him, “How are you now able to see?”
11He answered, “The man they call Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12They asked, “Where is this man?”
He replied, “I don’t know.”
13Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. 14Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. 15So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”
16Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided.17Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”
He replied, “He’s a prophet.”
18The Jewish leaders didn’t believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents.19The Jewish leaders asked them, “Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?”
20His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. 21But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they feared the Jewish authorities. This is because the Jewish authorities had already decided that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. 23That’s why his parents said, “He’s old enough. Ask him.”
24Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.”
25The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”
26They questioned him: “What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?”
27He replied, “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
28They insulted him: “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. 29We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man is from.”
30The man answered, “This is incredible! You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes! 31We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will. 32No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. 33If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.”
34They responded, “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?” Then they expelled him.
35Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Human One?”
36He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
37Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.
39Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.”
40Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”
41Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

The blind man didn’t ask to be healed. He didn’t ask to be thrown into that age-old debate about “why bad things happen to good people.” He didn’t want to get caught up in the middle of any mess about some wandering preacher who was stirring up trouble for the establishment religion. But it happened anyway. He was a beggar—this was the life of physically afflicted people in Jesus’ day. He must’ve been doing what he did every day; sitting at a busy crossroads, asking passersby for some spare change. Then, he was seen by Jesus. This man, whose eyes had never worked, caught the eye of Jesus and his disciples. It would be, on so many levels, a life-changing encounter, and not just for him.

John tells us that Jesus sees the man, but it is the disciples who initiate the interaction. The disciples see this man who has been blind his whole life, and they revert to the common explanation at that time for such affliction, sin—bad behavior. But the disciples want to know now, since this man has been blind since birth, if his blindness is due to his parents’ sin, or his sin. Jesus’ answer, as you heard, is neither. “This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him,” Jesus tells his disciples. But what Jesus says next is equally striking, “While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work.” Then Jesus knelt down, spat on the ground, rubbed his hands in the dirt and dust to make mud, and spread it on the man’s eyes. His sight was restored when he went to wash in the pool of Siloam.

Now, I’m going to come back and unpack all of this, but I just want to work through more of the story first. Because after the blind man is healed, Jesus leaves the scene, and the people around this man are left to try and figure out what happened. Of course, everyone knows that someone who is born blind doesn’t just suddenly gain vision. So these people ask the man, “How are you now able to see?” And the man born blind tells them exactly what happened—this man called Jesus made mud and smeared it on his eyes, then told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam, and when he did, he could see. It is the same account this man gives every time his healing is questioned. He does not waver one bit on the account of his healing. But, his account is not good enough.

So the people take the man to the Pharisees. We’re not really told why—maybe it’s because the name of Jesus was mentioned, or maybe it was just the more innocent fact that these people wanted answers on how a blind man suddenly sees and they figured if anyone could satisfy their curiosity, it would be the Pharisees. What ensues is a round and round, back and forth discussion about how a man born blind could possibly be healed, especially by a sinner who does such atrocious things as heal on the Sabbath. The man is asked to testify again and again; his parents are even called in—though they are too afraid of the Jewish authorities to say much, so they defer to their son’s testimony, “he can speak for himself.” Eventually, after the man is expelled from the synagogue because his account never changed, Jesus himself re-enters with a few words for the Pharisees. And in the end, we see it is not only the blind man who has suffered blindness.

The disciples were blind to the fact that not all suffering is directly relatable to sin. The neighbors of the man were blind to the possibility of miracles in their midst. The Pharisees were blinded by the establishment they were trying to maintain. The man’s parents were blinded by fear. Then, in the midst of it all, all this blindness, Jesus has compassion on the man who is physically blind, who has never seen anything in his entire life. This whole story of the healing of the man born blind is all about moving people out of darkness and into the light. This is all about God working good in the darkness of the world through the light of Jesus Christ.

For those of us who gather in churches on Sunday mornings, it’s really easy to relate to the blind man. We recognize that in some way, Christ has miraculously healed and saved us; our participation in Christ’s church is an ongoing testimony to Christ’s saving work in our lives. In the midst of the ups and downs of the world, the confusion and the chaos that fills our lives, we remain faithful in that testimony of Christ the healer. But I think we need to consider the possibility that even as we proclaim Christ’s work in our lives, even as we follow and serve Christ, there are still these areas of “blindness.”

The disciples had been following Jesus for several months at this point, perhaps even a year or more. They had heard him teach. They had seen him heal. They had watched him perform signs and miracles. But even still, they couldn’t see this man born blind with the same eyes as Jesus. They saw only what was wrong with him. But Jesus saw everything that was right. We have a strong tendency to behave much like the disciples. Not only do we look at the people around us and see everything that is wrong, but we often conclude that all that wrong stuff is a result of some failing somewhere in their lives. Its judgment and we do it all the time, don’t we? Someone is homeless because they are drug-addicted and too lazy to work. Someone is sick because they don’t take care of their bodies. Someone can’t get a job because they didn’t try hard enough in school. But where we are blind, Jesus opens our eyes to see the possibility of hope in the midst of suffering. And it is an opportunity for us to serve—to build homes through programs like Habitat, or to help people earn their GED or start a new business. We work together so that God’s miraculous work might be revealed.

Then there were the Pharisees. The Pharisees were faithful people. They followed God in the way that had always been taught. They sought to live their faith fully in their day-to-day lives; but they got so caught up in “the way it’s always been done,” in the establishment, that they couldn’t even acknowledge God’s new work that was happening right in their midst. What consumes us, our lives? What has us so caught up that, even still, we are blind to God’s always fresh ways of working in the world? The church is a really classic example of this. Ken and I have this conversation on a pretty regular basis. As a general rule, we still “do” church the way we have for the last 70 or 80 years. We might have updated the music some, added some screens or whatever, but worship and programming in basically every church still follows the model it always has. But think about what has happened in the world in that same time, think about all the major shifts in culture. God in Christ Jesus hasn’t stopped working in people’s lives in the last 70 or 80 years, but the church just hasn’t caught God’s vision yet, and besides, “we’ve never done it that way before.” So we are left stumbling around in the darkness. But Christ wants us to open our eyes, to see his compassionate, healing, saving work changing lives beyond the church walls and beyond our human establishments.

The parents were blinded by their fear. They loved their son. We can only guess the sleepless, distraught nights they spent worrying over his well-being. Then, they were summoned to affirm that their son had indeed been born blind. As they stood before the Pharisees and the crowds of people looking for answers, they confirmed that the man was their son and that he had been born blind. But they stopped short of testifying in any detailing to this miraculous turn-around in their now seeing son. They were afraid they might be condemned if they spoke the truth, so they defer back to their son. This fear thing is huge, so huge in fact that I plan to do a sermon series on this subject alone after Easter. But the point here is that when we act in fear, we stay in the dark. Again and again, we do let fear blind us, just as it did the parents. We choose to keep a part of ourselves hidden rather than face any possible retribution. But in the end, such fear keeps us blind.

Sometimes when the sun is really bright, or when an artificial light is intense, we need to squint or shut our eyes. The brightness seems dangerous to us, and the reflex is automatic. The story of the man born blind is an account of the human reaction unfolding as the light of the world shines bright. The disciples, the Pharisees, the man’s family shut their eyes in self-defense. That’s the intuitive thing to do, right?

Wrong. In this text, everything is counterintuitive. The light of the world is in our midst, and we need not shut our eyes. In fact, the best thing to do is to open our eyes, wide. We will not be blinded by the light. We will be saved.

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