A Man Born Blind audio
Blindness is a terrible thing. Our sight is central to so much that we enjoy in the world. Whether it’s the beauty of nature, or the smile on a other person’s face when they see you coming; whether it’s the control it gives you over the world around you, or the freedom that it allows you; or simply the awareness of what’s going on around you, your sight is vital to you. So when someone loses their sight, it requires a lot of adjustment. They have to rely on other senses. They have to depend on others for things like simply getting around that the rest of us take for granted. If you know someone with failing eyesight you’ll know what a loss it is, how many restrictions it puts on their life.
But you know, there are different forms of blindness. There’s physical blindness, but there’s also spiritual blindness. In the story we’re looking at today, we see Jesus healing a man’s physical blindness, and in the process we discover the spiritual blindness of some of those looking on.
Light vs darkness is one of those themes that runs through John’s gospel and linked with that theme is that of judgement.
If you have your Bibles open you might like to turn back to John 3:19. We’ll come back to this later, but it won’t hurt to have this in mind as we go through the passage before us. There in John 3:19-21 John explores the idea of light and darkness and how it’s linked with the true nature of judgement. “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:19-21 NRSV) Can you see the connection between this theme of light and darkness and blindness and seeing? It’s a connection that comes out more strongly as the story unfolds.
The story begins with Jesus and his disciples encountering a man who’s been blind from birth. The disciples look at this man and what do they see? They don’t see a man in need of healing, do they? They’re blind to his pain. Rather they see an example from the Theologians Case Book! They ask “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This promises to be a really interesting discussion. Never mind the poor chap sitting there by the side of the road, let’s see what Jesus thinks about the connection between sin and blindness. Well, Jesus immediately points out their own blindness. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Their presuppositions have blinded them first to the possibilities of the situation, and second to their purpose for being there. Their understanding of the man’s blindness is in fact no different from that of the Pharisees. Their understanding of the world is one of cause and effect. Illnesses must be the result of God’s judgement on sin. Whether it’s the person’s sin or his parents’ is a matter of debate, but clearly sin must be involved.
This is actually an attitude that you still find in some Christian circles today. Some people still attribute suffering and illness to sinfulness on the part of those suffering or those who are close to them. But Jesus blows that idea out of the water. He says the only thing God intends with this man’s blindness is that God's works might be revealed in him. There’s nothing sinister about this illness. There’s no sense of retribution associated with it. It’s just the way things happen sometimes. But in this case God is going to use it to reveal his glory.
And let’s not miss the rebuke in what Jesus says to his disciples. He says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” In other words, don’t let your presuppositions deflect you from the opportunities that God provides for ministry.
How often do we analyse and dissect rather than acting to bring God’s light into the world? How often do we apply our theological minds to finding someone to blame, rather than doing what we can to right the wrongs we see?
Well, Jesus knows what to do. He spits on the ground, makes some mud and uses it as a salve for the man’s eyes. He sends him off to the pool of Siloam which, John tells us, means Sent. Perhaps we wants to remind us that Jesus is the one who was sent by the Father (v4). So the man goes and washes and we’re told he comes back able to see.
Well, this causes something of a stir, as you might expect. Everyone has known this guy all his life. He’s been blind since birth and now he can see! And so they want to know how it happened. Who did this? Are you really the man we know who’s been a beggar all his life? And so he assures them that he is, and that Jesus has done it.
If this happened today we’d be taking the man to an eye specialist to check what’s happened. Was he really blind? What’s happened to his eyes that he can now see? But these people take him to the Pharisees. There’s something supernatural going on here and they want the religious experts’ opinion.
And here’s where we see spiritual blindness come to the fore. The Pharisees of course know all about Jesus, They’ve already made their judgement about him, and it doesn’t take them long to discover that he’s been up to his old tricks, healing on the Sabbath. Even to the extent of making mud in order to do it! So what’s their verdict about this? Well, they can’t deny the reality of the miracle. The man can clearly see, though they do their best to find a loophole by suggesting that maybe he wasn’t really blind at all. But no, it’s established that he was blind and has been healed. So they get out their case book and begin to make a judgement about what’s happened. “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the Sabbath.” I think we’ve heard that one before. You see, their grid is fixed and quite clear. He can’t be from God if he doesn’t follow the law. And we begin to see how their traditions, their age-old interpretations of the law, blind them to reality. In fact as the interview continues the contrast becomes even more stark. This simple beggar, who presumably is without any education, can see clearly what’s happened: “He is a prophet.”
The Pharisees fall back on the things they know. “We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man responds in amazement: “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing." The reality of Jesus’ origins is blatantly clear to this man, yet the Pharisees refuse to acknowledge it. Faced by this rebuff from an ignorant peasant they revert again to the case book: “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” Like the disciples they know that blindness is the judgement of God on sin, so they can dismiss everything the man says because obviously he was born in sin.
So here we have a man who was blind but now can see, whose ability to see clearly goes beyond the physical to the spiritual, while those who are meant to be the spiritual guides of Israel are shown to be spiritually blind. But that isn’t the end of the story is it? There’s more to come, as we discover the relationship between sight and belief, blindness and judgement, or guilt.
Jesus goes looking for the man and when he finds him he asks him, not whether his eyesight is better, but whether he believes in the Son of Man. You see the discovery he’s made, that Jesus is a prophet sent from God, needs to be grounded in the full reality of who Jesus is. He’s the Son of Man, the one who in Daniel 7 is given all authority and dominion, who in John’s gospel is the one who will be lifted up, and who will judge all the earth. And it’s important that he doesn’t just acknowledge that the son of man exists but that he puts his trust in him.
The response of the man is to not only acknowledge his belief in Jesus, but to worship him. His eyes have been opened to the whole reality of who Jesus is. His worship, in fact, is a sign that here is not just a prophet, but truly the Son of Man, the one whom all peoples will worship on the last day.
Jesus’ response is to say: “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”
Some of the Pharisees who are listening at this moment understand that what he’s saying is pointing to them. They ask whether he’s accusing them of being blind. His reply is enigmatic: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” They are blind in fact, but their claim to be able to see establishes their culpability. Going back to that passage from John 3:19: “this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.” The Pharisees claimed to be able to see, but when the light of Christ appeared in their midst they ran from it. Jesus’ very presence among them blinded them to the things they should have been able to see, even as it opened the eyes of others who perhaps didn’t have the enlightenment of the learned Pharisees.
Well, let’s finish by thinking about what we can learn from this incident in Jesus’ life. I guess the first thing to think about is the way we see things. That is, how is our spiritual vision? Are we open to seeing God at work in every circumstance or are we blinkered at some points by our theological or professional or rationalist presuppositions. Or is our vision clouded by the various traumas of life we’ve experienced. I guess I’ve seen all of those at different times in people. It’s easy when you’re strongly convinced of your theological position to close your mind to anything that falls outside the familiar. So, for example, those who come from a well thought out evangelical tradition may have some difficulty with the experiences of those who are part of the charismatic movement. They may have trouble fitting some of the claims of the miraculous or of prophetic words or of ecstatic spiritual experience through their predefined grid. Similarly those who come from an anglo-catholic tradition may question the rock and roll flavour of some evangelical worship, as not being appropriate for worship of an awesome God.
There are some people I’ve come across who are professionals in the area of medicine who refuse to accept the idea that God might heal in a miraculous way. Certainly they may have seen examples where a healing was claimed falsely, where the person was given false hope by an overzealous Christian, but they go further in denying that miraculous healing ever occurs. Mind you that attitude isn’t restricted to medical people. There are many people in our world who are so convinced by a rationalist scientific worldview that they refuse to admit the possibility of miracles, either today, or even in Jesus’ time. So they argue away the miracles of Jesus, perhaps even more strongly than the Pharisees did. But to do that is to blind ourselves to the possibility that God might and indeed does intervene in this world. It’s to shut our eyes, as it were, to what God is doing around us all the time.
Similarly there are those who have been so hurt by events or people in their past that they can’t acknowledge the possibility that God might be doing something good at the moment. Many of us have inherited a triumphalist theology that expects that God will bless us in everything we do, so when tragedy happens we’re confused, even disillusioned about our Christian faith.
You see the danger is that we judge from precedent rather than from reality. We judge from what we’ve been taught, or from what we’ve worked out by ourselves, rather than letting the facts speak for themselves; or holding off judgement until all the facts become evident. That’s the contrast in today’s passage, isn’t it? The Pharisees looked at what had happened and got out their case book to help them pass judgement, while the man looked at what had happened and let the facts speak for themselves. And what was the end result? Judgement was passed, but it wasn’t the judgement that the Pharisees had in mind. The judgement that was passed was that those who had eyes to see, saw, while those whose eyes were shut fast against the reality of Jesus work, had their guilt made clear for all to see.
Is seeing believing? Are you looking to see God at work in the world? Are you pointing out those works of God to others so they too can see?
Think about these words of Jesus: “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” They’re words to us as well as to the disciples. When God shines his light on the world we need to be ready to point out the way God is at work in people’s lives, so we can give him the glory, and so we can bring people from spiritual blindness to spiritual sight.