“Christ heals the Blind Man” Lawrence OP (2009) Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
John 9.1-12 (NIV)
As he 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 works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
After saying this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed that he was.
Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”
But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”
“How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
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.”
“Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
My friend’s niece and nephew, Caroline and Cole, have an amazing story.
Cole and Caroline were born with a genetic condition that impacted their vision.
When they were first diagnosed, there wasn’t anything doctors could do to stop or prevent their vision loss … they had to give Cole and Caroline’s parents news that one day, their kids would both be completely blind. As they got older and their vision grew worse Cole and Caroline learned how to navigate the world with canes, they attended a school for blind children, they learned to read braille.
Through their mom’s tenacity and some chance connections, Cole and Caroline were enrolled in clinical trials for a gene therapy treatment doctors hoped would stop their vision deteriorating more, and would, maybe even, improve their sight.
Those treatments changed their lives.
They could see things they never had before.
Stars, snowflakes, raindrops, colors, even their mom’s smile.
Their aunt said Cole would open the refrigerator door and just look inside because he hadn’t ever been able to see any of that stuff before. Their vision isn’t perfect, but they don’t need special schools, canes, or braille anymore.
You couldn’t believe how happy Cole and Caroline’s family was. You couldn’t believe the joy.
There was so much celebration.
Cole and Caroline could see! Their lives were so different!
I want that kind of celebration for the guy in this story.
It bugs me that so many people don’t seem all that excited about the amazing thing that happened to this man who had been blind from birth.
He once was blind, but through Jesus’ action, now he can see.
Why can’t these people celebrate?
They make it sound like some sort of problem.
Instead of giving him a high-five and throwing a party, people drag him from here to there, making him defend himself and defend Jesus at each stop. They somehow even manage to scare his parents into silence.
What’s the deal?
Now this guy can see! He doesn’t have to sit at the corner and beg for leftover scraps anymore.
His life was completely different. Why couldn’t just one of these people share his joy? Why can’t any of them show compassion?
How did these hearts get so cold, hard, and closed off? Why can’t these people who are supposed to know God and recognize God’s work, recognize God in Jesus, and celebrate God’s action in the man’s healing?
The Pharisees seem so stuck … so reactive … so defensive. They are on edge and ready to strike like a snake at anything that could be a threat.
Just before Jesus encountered this man who had been blind, Jesus was chased out of the temple. It was another argument. This time it was about Abraham, and what it meant to follow Abraham.
Jesus said if people were really disciples of Abraham, they would see he was doing God’s work and telling God’s truth, and they wouldn’t be trying to kill him. They shrugged him off, saying he was just a Samaritan who had a demon … the argument continued. Jesus stayed calm … they flipped out and picked up stones to throw at Jesus. Jesus hid and quietly slipped out of the temple.
As Jesus and his disciples went along they saw a man who had been blind ever since he was born.
Jesus’ disciples asked a question that reflected the way people make sense of the bad things that happen to people – they looked for someone to blame for the man’s situation. Surely this man, or someone close to him did something to deserve this as a punishment.
Jesus’ response didn’t really even answer their question, but it changed the conversation. “Neither one sinned. Not this man. Not his parents.” I think the best translation of what Jesus says next comes from Eugene Peterson,
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 …”
Jesus didn’t blame. Jesus was determined to do something about it … He went about doing God’s work, revealing God’s character and intentions.
Not even asking the blind man, if he actually wanted help from some stranger and if it would be ok to put spit-mud on his eyes, Jesus reached out, put mud on the man’s eyes, and told him to go, wash, in the pool of Siloam. The blind man got up, somehow made his way to that pool … washed … and he could see.
Something amazing happened.
The man came back. Everyone was buzzing. “Was that the blind guy who always hangs out over there?”
“Is that just someone who looks like him?”
The people who discovered the man had been healed by Jesus, brought him to the Pharisees. It turns out it was the Sabbath … the day when out of reverence and thankfulness for God’s saving and creating action on behalf of Israel, people weren’t supposed to work … but Jesus worked. He rubbed that spit in dirt between his fingers; which, if you want to be technical about it, is very similar to kneading dough, which is a lot like working and breaking the Sabbath.
There was an other argument –
“Was this guy really blind to begin with?”
“How could a Sabbath-breaker like this do anything that has to do with God?”
“Well, how could someone do this and not have something to do with God?”
They argued … and argued … they brought the mans’ parents to vouch for him; that he really had been born blind. But, still, his parents were afraid. The people in charge decided anyone who confessed Jesus was the Messiah would be kicked out of the synagogue. They didn’t want that to happen. Their son was old enough to speak for himself … he could take responsibly, and get himself kicked out of the synagogue.
The argument went on.
The man who used to be blind, but wasn’t anymore, grew more open-hearted, and more committed to Jesus.
While the Pharisees, the religious people, the leaders, were getting more irritated, more hard-hearted, more defensive – more like poisonous snakes lashing out at anything that moved as they tried to protect themselves.
John 9:24-34 (NIV)
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.”
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!”
Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
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?”
Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”
The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.
The argument hit its most intense point … the man who used to be blind is seeing more clearly than ever; more clearly physically, and more clearly spiritually. But the Pharisees were more defensive … more reactive … They gave him the boot and kicked him out of the Temple probably muttering something, about doors and backsides and good riddance. There he was … old enough and honest enough and seeing more than enough to get himself kicked out of the temple … there he was kicked out and alone … but not alone…
John 9:35-39 (NIV)
Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”
“You have seen him … You are talking to him …”
“The man could see so much … he had an open heart … he couldn’t ignore what he had experienced.”
The Pharisees, the people who should have had the advantage in knowing God and recognizing the kind of things God would be doing, evidently were still watching … but definitely not seeing. They let out their heartbreaking, ironic, and venomous last strike:
John 9:40-41 (NIV)
“Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”
Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”
Well, were they … who could see?
Something amazing happened to that man … something worthy of celebrating … something worthy of honoring and worshiping God for continuing to create … for continuing to give freedom … but they just couldn’t do it. They were on the defensive. They were reactive and they missed it. They couldn’t see and celebrate God’s action in Christ.
This passage challenges me … It challenges me to think about the condition of my heart … it challenges me to turn away from that reptile, reactive, defensive way of being, and to turn toward Jesus and pursue Jesus and the life he calls us to … so that he can keep my heart soft and give me a spirit of openness to help me to recognize and celebrate God’s work in the world and in our lives …
Here is more about Caroline and Cole: