Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church
November 4, 2018
John 9: 1-11, 18-25 (CEB)
As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. 2Jesus’ 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.”
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.”
The healing of the man born blind is a really big deal here in John’s gospel. Typically, the stories of Jesus healing people are pretty “cut and dry.” Someone suffers from some ailment, they make their way to Jesus or encounter Jesus in some way. Jesus heals the person, sometimes with an additional word or comment about what he has done in this healing. Then, the person goes on his way; well, restored, whole again. But for this man born blind, there is so much more to the story.
The uniqueness of this healing story is clear from the beginning, when we see that it is Jesus who approaches the man, rather than the man seeking out Jesus for healing. As Jesus walks along with the disciples, they pass this blind man, which prompts a question from the disciples, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?” It’s a question that sets the tone for everything that follows in this story. Because this is really a question we all ask in one form or another: What are the consequences of sin? Why do people suffer? We are very much “cause and effect” people, and so this is how we reason through difficult questions in life, trying to make sense of things that don’t make sense. It is true now, and it was true 2,000 years ago, too. Throughout this story, the characters are trying to reason and make sense of what is happening based on what they know and understand about the world.
The thing of it is, though, the way Jesus works doesn’t make sense by worldly standards, and that is true even in this story of the healing of the man born blind. As soon as the disciples ask the question, Jesus strikes down their attempts to explain this man’s blindness using worldly reasoning. The focus here is the man’s healing, not his blindness, and the explanation for this is not of this world, but instead “so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.” Jesus offers no explanation for this man’s blindness; it is not connected to some sin. Instead, Jesus is trying to help the disciples (and us) understand that the particular event of healing this blind man will reveal the very nature of God. In other words, the healing of this blind man will not only make physical sight possible for him, it will also help the man and all gathered “see” (with new eyes) God’s providence, God’s sovereignty, God’s gracious work in the world. Jesus here is offering healing for all people, helping us not to focus on what is wrong with the world, but instead to open our eyes and take in the transformative work of God in the world.
So it is, with this challenge before the gathered crowd, Jesus kneels down, spits into the dirt and makes mud with the saliva. Jesus then takes the mud and smears it on the man’s eyes before telling him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam. The man did as he was instructed and when he came back, he was able to see. What follows is a series of events that seek to extend the healing this man has experienced; to open the eyes of those gathered to the Lord’s work restoring the world to wholeness. This is as much of a healing story as the recovering of sight for the man born blind. Early on, Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Jesus is shining the light of God into the world, hoping to illumine the darkness and misunderstanding, helping the world and all who are a part of it to see and to connect with God.
I ran across a story this week about a pothole in a neighborhood in Toronto. This pothole had apparently been around for some time and it was massive. The pothole was causing all kinds of trouble for people in the neighborhood, who were damaging tires and cars running over it. There’s no telling how many calls had gone into the city requesting that the pothole be fixed. All to no avail. So eventually, one resident took it upon herself to put a plant in the pothole; a tomato plant to be exact. It made use of an otherwise useless bother, and on top of that, it made a more visible reminder of the pothole’s presence, so that drivers could avoid it. Over time, many in the neighborhood chipped in to care and nurture the tomato plant. Some residents even suggested making a garden out of a sinkhole on the other side of the neighborhood. That tomato plant helped the residents of that neighborhood see the pothole in a new way, and because of that, something that had once been a curse became a blessing.
This is the essence of the healing story of the man born blind. It wasn’t just that the man gained sight, but that he and the whole community were transformed by that healing. Jesus gave them a new perspective of the world. In fact, for most of those gathered for the healing, the change in their perspective was so complete that they didn’t even recognize the man born blind anymore. I doubt very seriously that the reason for this was that the looks of the man had changed with this healing. I think John shares this detail to help us understand that in God’s eyes, this man was never defined by his blindness. When Jesus healed the man and opened the eyes of the people gathered to the light of God in the world, they no longer defined the man by his blindness either, so he seemed different in their sight. The perspective of the people was changed. The old way of seeing things was replaced with a new revelation.
That’s what the water and the washing signify; in this story and in our lives. The reason it was important for the man to go and wash in the pool of Siloam was because that ritual of washing is like the act of bathing; something we do to get clean, and when we connect it with God’s acts of grace in our lives, it is a reminder of the way that God renews and restores us. And part of what we should see in this story is that such renewal is both a one-time act and an ongoing act. By God’s grace, we are saved, but by God’s grace, we are also continuously transformed, renewed, made new; if we will allow Christ to open our eyes to that newness and transformation.
I think we all know how uncomfortable and awkward transformation can sometimes be. I always remember details about my body when I was growing up. The way my ears stuck out when I was in elementary school or how my feet were too big for my body in middle school. This is how it is with God’s transformation, too. In shining his light in the world, Christ will stretch our minds, our hearts, our whole lives beyond what we may even think is possible as we grow in God’s love. But that’s what it is to follow Christ; to have our eyes opened by the light of the world.
This morning, Justin and Kelsey, who have been attending here for about a year now will be joining the church. As part of that act, they wanted to remember their baptisms; to acknowledge the way that God in Christ Jesus is continuing to work in their lives—opening their eyes, restoring them, renewing them, transforming them. And so, we will be joining them, today, all of us, to remember our baptisms. Baptism marks the beginning of our Christian journey, the first acknowledgement of God’s gracious work in our lives. When we remember our baptisms, part of what we remember is that God is continually at work, continually transforming us as we make this journey. And the truth is, that continuous renewal and restoration is something we all need, for we are “all sinners who fall short of the glory of God.” We all need to be healed (again and again) of our blindness and shortcomings. We need to be bathed in the light of the world, washed and renewed by water and the Spirit. So that we, along with the man born blind, might proclaim in all joy and sincerity, “I once was blind, but now I see!”
Thanks be to God!