John 9: 1-41 (The oldest Christian paintings in the catacombs show this story)
John 9: 1-12 - Jesus encounters a man blind from birth and his disciples asked him “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answer to this was a simple “Neither”. Then he spits in the dirt to make mud that he spread on the blind man’s eyes. He tells him go wash in the pool and the man can now see. Neighbors ask what happened and the blind man says “The man called Jesus” did this.
Comment - The belief was that if someone suffered it was either their own fault due to their sins or those of previous generations. The Old Testament is full of passages that say this is how God works. Jesus seems to dismiss that idea for all suffering anyway. Yet, this is not just an old idea but one that many of us still subscribe to.
When things go bad, we too can sometimes think we deserve it or that maybe this is God punishing us. Jesus tries to correct this misconception that God is not vengeful, especially not laying the sins of the father upon the son’, at least not in how that sounds. Of course, it is entirely possible, and often the case, that if our parents sin we inherit that indirectly, for example, if they are alcoholics or have sinful habits or promote sinful behavior, the kids often learn and repeat it. Meanwhile, the blind man doesn’t know anything about Jesus; simply calling him “the man”. We too can sometimes react to a blessing from God by missing that it occurred and crediting natural things or just good fortune, like the blind man first does.
John 9: 13-17 - The Pharisees challenge whether Jesus really did this but also question if he sinned by breaking the law and healing on the sabbath. The issue becomes that healing the man would mean Jesus is from God,..but some say that if he sinned, then “sinners” are not from God. In an effort to learn more about Jesus they ask the formerly blind man about him again and this time he calls Jesus “a prophet”.
Comment - Once the healing happens, there is raised the question of whether this has been an encounter with God. The religious experts, of course, want to scrutinize the matter and begin an inquisition. Skeptics say that it can’t have been that because a religious law was broken in the process of whatever happened. As inquisitions can often go, the search for truth is blinded by a pre-disposition some had to doubt. As this investigation unfolds the blind man now refers to Jesus as more than a “man” and calls him “a prophet” to the inquisitors.
Maybe he is now beginning to consider more deeply the origin of the gift he received and so he now believes Jesus IS from God. His faith, like ours sometimes, gradually comes around and sees the activity of God in things we maybe first missed. Faith is often not something that comes like a bolt out of the blue, but instead grows slowly within us as we ponder what has really happened. It must first overcome the doubts and questions that we all have about how God really works.
John 9: 18-23 - The interrogation continues as the parents of the blind man are summoned to tell whether the man was blind from birth. They confirm that fact but then defer to the man himself out of fear of retribution being put out of the synagogue.
Comment - Here was a chance for them to be grateful to Jesus, and thus, to God and yet they are more worried about what others think about them and the oppressive religious rules that put them at the mercy of those in authority. They even refuse speak further on behalf of their son and dump the question back on him so as to skate around any further scrutiny by the questioners.
Have we ever been like the parents, refusing to stand up for the miracles of God’s goodness and face up to those who challenge that in order to save our own skin and ultimately cave in to peer pressure? Faith can often compel us to act in a way that is right, despite our fears of retribution of what authorities say or others may think of us. Its often hard to do, as it was for the parents who feared what life could be like in their community if they were put out of the synagogue. Trusting God to protect and stand by us when we align with him, helps us to be brave.
John 9: 24-34 - The blind man is called again and expresses the simple truth of the wonderful thing that happened to him. Unlike his parents, he seems unafraid of the authorities and even jokes about them becoming Jesus’s disciples. He also boldly begins to lecture them about what they are doing and so they angrily drive him out.
Comment - The blind man’s growing faith now enables him to not only bravely speak of his faith and state the simple truth of what happened, but to even get defiant towards those who could punish him for what he says. His trust in the miraculous power of Jesus now overrides any fears he might have of those on the other side of God.
It reminds me of how just freeing it is to not give a hoot what anyone else may think or do if you know for sure that you are in the right and are in accord with God’s will. Isn’t that a better feeling than to be worried that standing up for right will bring you unwanted consequences? To say ‘the heck with what they can do to me…let ‘em go ahead!’ Makes me think of that old adage that says “If believing in Jesus were a crime, would there be enough evidence to convict you?”.
John 9: 35-41 - Jesus finds the man again and he professes his complete faith, seeing Jesus as the Son of Man and now calls him “Lord”. Jesus speaks of blindness in a metaphorical way, to which some Pharisees object. Jesus responds that they are blind to see the truth of who he really is and so, as it turns out, they are the foolish sinners.
Comment and Summation- What this whole story is about, besides the miracle of the physical healing of sight, is being able to spiritually see the truth about God thru Jesus Christ. Jesus healed the man spiritually in that he now was able to fully know God and God’s love for him. The scriptures say those who deny that Jesus brings the truth of God’s healing love to the world are blind to truly knowing God. This is a pretty exclusionary statement, one of many which John’s Gospel articulates. And while its all well and good if we want to not tell people what they should believe, if we really do believe that Jesus brings the truth of God to humanity, then maybe its more important to tell others (and ourselves) now and then what we believe. Are we like the parents who are afraid to speak about what God did for their child or like the blind man early in the story who thinks he just got lucky with some roaming miracle worker…or…. are we the man at the end of the story who sees in Jesus the compassion and spiritual healing of God ’s love for us and, in the end and calls him ‘Lord’? Amen.