Eyesight and Insight

As Jesus went along, he saw a man who was 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. “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 the one 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, Jesus spit on the ground. He made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. Jesus told him, “Go, wash in the Pool of Siloam” (the word “Siloam” means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and he came home seeing.

The man’s neighbors and those who used to see 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 I could see.”

“Where is this man?” they asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said.

They brought the man who had been blind to the Pharisees. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he doesn’t keep the Sabbath.” But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided.

Then they turned again to the blind man, “What do you have to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

They still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. “Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.”

His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders, who already had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

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.”

“Now this is remarkable!” the man answered. “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.

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 so that those who see will become blind.”

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.

– John 9:1-41

OK. When this story starts out, this sounds like a healing story. There’s a blind guy. He’s actually been blind all his life. He was born that way.

He didn’t have cataracts. He didn’t have an eye infection. It wasn’t allergies. He’d been blind forever.

In Jesus’ day, that meant he had nothing. No Social Security. No safety net of any kind. Blind people were beggars on the street. If they were lucky, people passing by might give them something.

The first thing Jesus’ friends ask is, “Who’s to blame here? Who sinned?” Back then, people thought there had to be a spiritual reason for any kind of illness or misfortune. Somebody had to have done something wrong. God must be punishing them!

But Jesus said it wasn’t that way. This guy hadn’t done anything wrong. His parents hadn’t done anything wrong. What Jesus said instead was, “Here is a wonderful opportunity for everyone to see the love and power of God.”

“As long as it’s daylight,” Jesus said, “we have to do the work of God. Bad times are coming when no one can do anything. So we have to work as long as it’s day. As long as I’m here in this world, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to be light!”

Did you notice, Jesus didn’t even ask the blind person if he wanted help? He knew it. Anyone with a heart of compassion could see this poor man’s trouble. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be moved by this man’s situation.

Did you notice that the healing itself only takes two verses in the whole story? If we were writing the story, we’d have a hundred questions. B

ut for Jesus, healing is just something God wants to do. It’s a big deal for the blind man, but for Jesus, this is what he came for. The most incredible demonstration that God loves even a blind beggar is almost routine for Jesus. But the rest of the story – that takes up a whole chapter!

Why were some people so upset at Jesus? Why should anyone be angry that somebody was healed?

Because he did it on the sabbath. Back in the Ten Commandments, #1 is, “I am the Lord your God; you shall have no other gods before me.” #2, “Don’t worship idols.” #3, “Don’t take the name of God in vain.”

Then #4: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is holy to the Lord. You shall not do any work – you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your farm animals, not even the foreigner who lives in your community. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and set it apart.”

Over and over, the Jews were told, “Obeying these commandments is a matter of life and death. Obey them and live. Disobey them and die.”

Because the sabbath was so important, Jewish scholars had written whole books on what defined “work” on the sabbath. They greeted the sabbath with rejoicing! But they also took it very seriously.

On the sabbath, you couldn’t tie or untie a knot. You couldn’t light a fire. You couldn’t take a long walk. You couldn’t carry a burden. You couldn’t do a whole long list of things.

One of those things was healing. Healing was work. At least in some peoples’ minds. And any kind of work was completely forbidden. God punished you for working on the sabbath.

Jesus wasn’t as strict as that. Jesus taught that compassion comes first. If somebody was hurt, Jesus wouldn’t let a law stop him. And Jesus had no interest at all in blaming people for the problem they were in.

Jesus was always getting into trouble over this. In story after story in the gospel, Jesus healed people who everyone said didn’t deserve to be healed.

He healed beggars. He healed blind people. He healed foreigners. He healed the servant of an officer of the occupying Roman army. He healed people who everyone said were possessed by demons. He healed people with diseases that made them outcast and untouchable.

Jesus healed people who were rich, and people who were poor. He healed women and children as well as men. He healed when he wasn’t supposed to, on the sabbath day that was set aside for God.

What people had done didn’t seem to matter to Jesus. He didn’t ask whether people were worthy, whether they deserved to be healed or not. If people had faith, he blessed them for it. But if people had only a little faith, that was enough.

Over and over again, Jesus healed people. It’s one of the things that all the gospels agree on. But Jesus never blamed people for being hurt, or ill, or desperate. That wasn’t his game at all.

That’s the opposite of how we often treat people, isn’t it? We spend all kinds of time talking about how people deserve their problems, or how they made bad choices, or how they were born to be that way.

Those are things Jesus never said. Jesus didn’t judge people for the trouble they were in. He judged other people for judging them.

Blaming is not biblical. In fact, blaming people for their problems is anti-biblical. Blaming people just for being hurt is contrary to the spirit of Christ.

The Christian thing is to help. The Christian thing is to reach out and offer a hand. The Christian thing is to listen with compassion.

Whatever the problem is, it could easily have been me. I could be the one in trouble. I could have that illness. I could have that flat tire. My kid could be sick or in trouble.

Over and over again, the Bible says that the person in trouble is my neighbor. My brother. My sister.

When I read through this story this week, it seems to me that it’s not really about healing a blind person. I mean, yeah, it is. But, no, it isn’t.

It’s about not judging. Jesus didn’t care why this person was blind. He didn’t care where he came from. He didn’t care if his parents had made mistakes. He didn’t care if it was the right time to do a healing or not. All Jesus saw was someone who was hurt. That’s all that mattered to him.

And when I read through the story again this week, I don’t even think that blindness was the issue. It could have been poverty.

Most people, in every part of the world, are poor because they were born into poverty. Their families were poor. Their community is poor.

People who succeed in climbing out of poverty, 100% on their own, with no help from anyone, are the exception. They’re incredibly rare.

You can read the entire Bible, from cover to cover – and I have done so, many times – and you won’t find God blaming people for being poor, or blind, or orphaned, or without a home.

God certainly doesn’t blame people for the country they’re born in. We had a family in the last meeting I served who came from Southeast Asia. They came to this country with nothing. They couldn’t speak English. They had nowhere to live. They had no jobs.

Do you think they wanted to leave their home and family? They came because their country had a war, and everything collapsed. They were in danger, because the father had once worked for the Americans. The whole family could have been killed. They had nothing. That’s why they came.

Our meeting sponsored them. We found them a home. We got them beds and mattresses. We got them clothing for the cold winter they’d never experienced.

Our meeting had a school. We took their children in. They weren’t ready for the public schools. The kids learned fast. Several of them went to college. They all have jobs now. The father just retired after working for 30 years in an auto parts store.

Every year, the whole family comes to West Richmond Friends, and they bring a big meal to celebrate and say thank you to the people who welcomed them. That’s the way it’s supposed to be.

There’s a twist in this morning’s story. Jesus heals a blind man, but the people who claim to be strictly religious are in total denial about it. There’s this long song and dance – it couldn’t be him, it must have been somebody else that was healed. Go ask his parents. Whoever this Jesus is, he can’t possibly be from God!

The man who was healed kept on saying, “I only know one thing. I once was blind, but now I see.”

The strictly religious people kept on saying, “Give God the glory! You were healed on the sabbath. Jesus is a sinner. We’ve got our law. We don’t even know where this Jesus comes from!”

Instead of celebrating with the man who’d been healed, they kicked him out. Instead of welcoming him, they disowned him and shunned him.

Jesus heard about what happened, and he came and found the man. “Do you believe in the Savior?” he asked.

“Who is he, sir?” the ex-blind man replied. “Tell me, so that I can believe.”

“You have seen him,” Jesus replied. “It’s the one who’s talking with you now.”

Jesus said, “This is why I came – so that people who are blind can see, and so that people who think they see will realize that they’re blind.”

Today’s story asks the question, “Who’s really blind here? Who isn’t seeing the love of God at work? Who’s being judgmental? And who’s being judged?”

These are hard questions.

Jesus calls us to be people who see the mercy and the love of God that never gives up. Jesus calls us to admit our blindness, our prejudice and our sin of judging each other. Jesus wants to save us – not just from our own hurts and problems, but to save us from being hard-hearted, closed-minded, uncaring and judgmental.

If we really want to be followers of Jesus, this story tells us something we all need to know.

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2 Responses to Eyesight and Insight

  1. Mick Curran says:

    The Pharisees don’t come out of this narrative too well but I think even the obstructive ones in this story might well have been acting in good faith. After all, if their understanding of God’s mysterious ways was that morality and righteousness had to be imposed externally via rules and regulations on what grounds might any of them legitimately endorse the actions of somebody who in their eyes was defiling the Sabbath? I think it’s fair to say that the Old Testament legalism was not something for which the Pharisees were entirely responsible. If one assumes that their understanding of God was based upon what God had revealed to that point then it’s not too big of a leap to suppose that their motive here was to protect God’s holy name.

    • Josh Brown says:

      Yes, the Pharisees were passionate about defending God’s name and God’s laws. Their name, “Perushim”, means “the ones who build a fence around the Law” — they wanted to hedge it round with detailed observance of all of the commandments they could find by study of the Pentateuch.

      For some people, that’s devotion. For others, it’s legalism. What bugged Jesus wasn’t their devotion to the law, but putting the law above justice and mercy and compassion.

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