Lent 4- John 9- Jesus heals a blind man

All of our readings today talk about seeing. They talk about obscuring sight (such as darkness) and illumination (when light reveals what had been hidden in the darkness).

In our Old Testament reading the prophet Samuel is told to go to Jesse of Bethlehem and anoint one of his sons as the next king of Israel. The prophet Samuel thinks he sees the obvious choice, but God says, 
“Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart” (1 Sam 16:7).
 Unexpectedly, the youngest son, who they did not even consider bringing along, is the one chosen by God.

Our Epistle reading is all about darkness and light. “For once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light” (Eph 5:8).

And in our Gospel reading, just before healing a blind man, Jesus states, “I am the light of the world” (John 9:5).

In the Gospel of John light and darkness, as well as sight and blindness are used very symbolically throughout. A couple weeks ago we heard about Nicodemus, ignorant of how he could be born again, coming to Jesus under the cover of darkness.

The Gospel reading is an incredible drama. It starts with a theological question. There is a man who was born blind and they are wondering what sin resulted in his blindness. Since he was blind from birth, his situation presented a dilemma. Surely, he couldn’t have sinned in the womb to deserve such a punishment, or could he? Or, maybe his parents are the ones being punished by his blindness?

In the ancient world (and probably in the present world more than we would like to admit) disability, disease, and tragedy were often considered evidence of punishment for sin. … (Sometimes sin does have consequences. If you drink and drive you may be involved in a car wreck that is directly the consequence of your sin.) … This is the idea of Karma, where what you reap what you sow. Someone who believes in reincarnation and karma might say that the person born blind was paying for some sin from a past life. … In this man’s case, Jesus says this is not the case. This man’s blindness will be the occasion for the works of God. Jesus rejected the common wisdom. Disability and tragedy are not normally directly caused by an individual’s sin.

Jesus then goes up to the man and breaks the Sabbath laws (as they were understood) by making mud to put on the man’s eyes. Then he tells him to walk a considerable distance to wash his eyes at the pool of Siloam. Which is when the man gains his sight.

This act starts a controversy, which causes the religious authorities to investigate. … The heart of the issue is this- Jesus healed on the sabbath (made worse by making mud to do this), which breaks the Law (in the way they understood them).

People took serious issue with Jesus’ behavior on the Sabbath and we find this in all of the gospels. Jesus’ defense throughout the gospels is that doing good is allowed on the Sabbath.

Sabbath keeping was very serious. Breaking the sabbath could lead to execution. No “work” was allowed on the Sabbath, but “work” can be a bit tricky to define. There were many lists put together to define this. For example, fires were not to be lit (Ex 35:3). “Burdens” were not to be carried (Jer 17:21-22). You might remember the story about Jesus healing a man who then took his mat and walked home. This mat may have been considered a “burden” that he shouldn’t have been carrying on the Sabbath. Travel beyond a certain distance was also not allowed (Is 58:13; Ex 16:29). …

There were a few exceptions, however. For example, it was possible to disregard the Sabbath laws if a human life was in danger (1 Macc 2:29-41). Also, the “work” of the services at the Temple took precedence over the Sabbath command (Num 28:9-10; 1 Chron 23:31). But, there were many differences of opinion about what exceptions there could be.

So, the heart of the issue is that Jesus did this healing on the Sabbath, when no “work” is allowed. How could he be of God if he is breaking God’s laws? …

Those who wanted to defend Jesus pointed out that no one has ever heard of a man who was born blind having his sight restored. The fact that he was born blind meant that this was not a passing illness. This was not a fickle condition. It was impossible to heal outside of God’s touch. If it is God’s touch, then Jesus is someone God is using to touch people.

The issue then turns to cast doubt on his original blindness- Was he really born blind? Maybe it wasn’t a real healing after all. Rather than question their definition of what was allowed during the Sabbath, they decided to challenge the fact that the mam was really blind.

As this investigation goes on, the man who was born blind and who can now see, starts to gain deeper understanding. He starts to see in other ways. When asked who Jesus is he responds, “He is a prophet” (9:17). He grows towards Jesus and grows suspicious of the authorities. …

They compel the formerly blind man, saying, “Give glory to God”, which is like asking him to put his hand on the Bible and tell the truth. Fearlessly, the man states what he knows to be true. He honestly replies with what he knows- “though I was blind, now I see”. Then he becomes an evangelist, “Why do you want to hear [my story] again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”. This man fearlessly stands against the religious authorities to proclaim what he knew to be true. He even starts teaching them- “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing”. Offended, they kick him out of their presence. Rather than glory in a miracle of compassionate healing, they fearfully pull back into their constricted mindset of Sabbath, sin and disease.

When Jesus sees the formerly blind man again he moves him from thinking of him as prophet to talking about the “Son of Man”. And then he worships Jesus. He comes to a fuller spiritual sight.

The end of the reading returns to the themes of blindness and sin- 
“Jesus said, ‘I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see’, your sin remains” (9:39-41).

The Pharisees assume the man was blind and “born entirely in sins” (9:34). They are stuck in the old model. Jesus is challenging their model and giving it a spiritual interpretation. Their spiritual blindness is connected to their sin. … They think they see. They are sure of themselves. Rob preached about this a couple weeks ago. One of the lessons we learn from the conversation between the pharisee Nicodemus and Jesus is to be careful about what we think we know. Be careful about what we think we see clearly.

Humility is a very foundational virtue for the Christian. If we lose that footing we can err in a thousand directions. Those who are considered spiritually blind were very open to Jesus. They had a kind of spiritual humility in the sense that they knew they didn’t have the answers. This “blindness” left them open to receiving their sight from Jesus. But those who were sure of their “sight” were closed to receiving the healing he was offering.

I would like to leave us with a question that I have been considering since this pandemic hit us so close to home. What might God be showing us in the midst of this? And are we going to miss it? We have been forced to slow down, and to enter into more solitude. Is there something God is showing us about who we are as human beings? As a community, as a church? Is God showing us something about what makes life meaningful? I would hate to think that God is trying to show us something and we are too blinded by our old way to see what he is trying to show us. Amen


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