1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, “Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” 13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to
teach us?” And they drove him out. 35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see,’ your sin remains.
Cause for Celebration John 9, Lent 4, Mar 22, 2020
When’s the last time you had a good, ol’ fashioned celebration? You know, the kind when you invite “everyone-and-their-dog” (there’s an expression I haven’t heard or used for a while). A celebration where there is food and drink to spare, where there is laughter and merriment, and perhaps even dancing (this would not likely be a Norwegian celebration…maybe French, or Italian). A party to celebrate someone and or something- a wedding, and anniversary, a significant birthday (we had one of these for Irene Toverud a couple years back as she turned 100), a baptism (we had a couple of these in our own family in 2019), a graduation, a new job, or retiring from an old one. In this past week (s), news of such celebrations has been muted, as the people of the world distance themselves from one another rather than coming together in celebration.
One would have thought that the healing of the man born blind in today’s text from John 9 would be cause for celebration, after all, it’s not every day that blind people regain their sight? Prior to his healing however, the discussion centers around a theological matter- the question of who is ultimately culpable for the sin(s) that caused this man’s blindness since birth. There appears to be no doubt that the disciples of Jesus believe in the doctrine of Original Sin, but their question was aimed more at the specifics. His blindness was evidence of sin/judgement, but the question remaining was…whose sin? Especially being he was blind from birth.
Their notion of linking his blindness to sin was not a particularly novel one. One cannot read the Bible long without seeing such connections. In Genesis chapter 3 we see the effects and consequences of sin in the life of Adam and Eve. It continues in the lives of Cain, the people at the time of the flood and of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah, the nation of Israel when they complained against God and He sent poisonous snakes, and again as they as they worshiped the golden calf at Mt Saini, etc, etc. In the book of Job, all his counsellors make this same conclusion- if you’ve got problems (like Job, or this man born blind), it’s plain to see that sin is to blame. But whose sin?
This is a significant question to be sure, and one about which I have preached before, but for today’s purposes we will focus on Jesus answer to his disciples and move on. Although the Bible is replete with examples of the connections and consequences of sin to sickness, injury, death (and the second/eternal death), neither here, nor in the book of Job, nor in Luke 13 where this
question in asked in the context of 18 people killed when a tower fell on them, does Jesus make a direct line that “connects the dots” between sin and the individual. Rather than muse about who is ultimately at fault for this man’s predicament, Jesus shifts the focus to the work that is at hand. The man is blind, and the mission of Jesus is to bring sight to the blind…so let’s get to work.
Although the medicinal components may seem crude by our standards, earth and saliva were not uncommon medical treatments in Jesus day, and so he applied them to this patient, along with the command to go and wash in the pool of Siloam (which btw is where the tower fell). He did as he was instructed (not sure how exactly this blind man found his way there), and he came back seeing.
The celebration of this man’s miraculous healing was not immediate however, as his “neighbours” debate whether or not this was the very same blind beggar they most likely would have passed by time and time again. It would appear that although these “neighbours” looked at this man…they never really “saw” him. It is possible that when we see people in a completely different context, we may need to look twice before recognizing them (perhaps people whom are normally in uniform, or if we see them in an airport in a city half way around the world), but if these “neighbours” had seen this man begging on a major thoroughfare for weeks, or months, or more likely years, they should have been able to recognize him now with his eyes open. It’s hard to know all the people we look at on any given day (expect perhaps for these days, when hardly see anyone) that we don’t see. May God open our eyes to see the people our Lord sees…and see them in the way that He sees them.
They ask him a legitimate question, “Then how were your eyes opened”, but his truthful answer proves unsatisfactory, so they haul him off to the Pharisees (what else would you do with a man healed from blindness). Upon arriving there is still no hint of a parade or celebration for this man, as the religious leaders fail to see his good fortune, but rather focus on the fact that he was healed on the Sabbath. At this time in history there were 39 various categories of Sabbath Law, with scores of laws within each category. Combining saliva with dirt and applying it to this blind man’s eyes was considered work, and that was simply not acceptable as far as the Pharisees were concerned.
As with the neighbours, the Pharisee demand to know how he regained his sight, and he goes over the account once again. Although there is some division in their ranks, the louder voices prevail (as they often do), and they call for his parents to come and try and “clear things up”. One can only hope that when they arrive the celebration might begin- but such is not the case. His parents now are under investigation, and so as not to jeopardize themselves, they “plead the fifth” (you will have to know a bit about the American Constitution to get this), and tell the pharisees that their adult son can speak for himself. As his parents essentially “throw him under the bus”, hopes of a party to celebrate his healing diminish even further. Fear is a great negative motivator. Here is causes parents to distance themselves from their own son. Fear can cause any of us to lose our focus as well and cause temporary, if not permanent lindness.
The Pharisees continue to grill him, but he holds his ground, and simply repeats the facts time after time after time. For someone who has neither name nor recognizable face, this man has some gumption, for he seems to be mocking the Pharisees in saying; Do you also want to become his disciples?” The world “also” is significant here. Somewhere in the telling and retelling of this account, the blind patient has now become (is becoming?) a disciple. Retelling the deeds of God is an important component in faith formation. Don’t be afraid to tell and retell the facts regarding who Jesus is, and what He has done for you and others.
Oddly enough, these religious leaders don’t appreciate a low-life like this lecturing them on religion, so their attacks now focus on his person (ad hominem) rather than his testimony, so they make disparaging comments about his “mother wearing army boots”, and toss him out of the synagogue. When Jesus hears of this, he seeks him out, and reveals himself more fully. The man now professes faith in the Son of Man, and Son of God, and bows down in worship. True encounters with Jesus produce a response, and that response is worship. The chapter closes with the condemnation of the Pharisees, who looking directly at the source of light and healing, Very God of Very God, continue to live on in their sin and blindness. The human will turned in on itself is a formidable force indeed.
As this text ends, the unnamed blind beggar has become a true disciple and worshipper of God. As we read in Luke 15, the time for rejoicing and celebration has finally come; “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent’ Lk 15:7 The rejoicing described here is not so much temporal in nature, but rather eternal. The angels rejoice when the eyes of the spiritually blind are opened to see their Savior, and their salvation.
It may seem almost crass to speak of celebration in times such as we find ourselves today, where the COVOD-19 virus had wreaked havoc in our world and killed thousands. At the same time however, there are even today spiritually blind eyes being opened by the Holy Spirit as they encounter the risen Christ, and we rejoice in the gift of sight he has given to each and every one of us, and desires to give to all who would receive Him.
Some two thousand years after the fact we celebrate the gift of sight to this man born blind… as we celebrate all who have received spiritual sight since. Amen