As Jesus went along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. The 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, “but this happened today so that the works of God might be displayed in him. As long as it is day, we must do the works of him 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, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (the word “Siloam” means “Sent”). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
The neighbors and the people 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 then I could see.”
“Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
They brought the man to the Pharisees – the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. So 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 does not 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’s 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 once 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.”
The man answered, “Now this is really something! 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 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
There are two kinds of miracle going on here. There is an outward, physical miracle. And there is an inward miracle. There’s healing of physical blindness. But there’s also inward, spiritual blindness. And the story talks about both kinds.
Jesus was walking along in the city one day, and he came upon a man who was born blind. And the very first thing people asked was, “Whose fault is it, that he was born that way?”
The people standing around didn’t show any compassion. They didn’t ask what Jesus could do, to help him. They didn’t offer to help themselves, or even offer to pray for him, or see if he needed anything. They just asked, “Why was he born that way? Did he sin, or did his parents sin, to cause this to happen?”
I run into that attitude all the time, and it drives me crazy. What does it matter, when a person’s in trouble, whether they did it to themselves, or whether somebody else caused the problem? Best thing to do is help them out.
Sometimes I can’t help very much. Some people are born blind. Some people are born with a physical problem or a handicap. Sometimes, it’s a problem inside themselves, like depression or an addiction.
Even if I can’t help very much, I can listen. I can pray with them. I don’t have to increase their burden, by blaming them.
If you meet someone who’s stuck fallen down a hole, the last thing on earth they need is a lecture about how it’s their fault. If someone is stuck, it’d be much better, to go get a ladder, or a rope, or at least call the fire department. Blaming and judging don’t help.
And it certainly didn’t help the guy in today’s story. If you think about the total unfairness of it – he starts out with all the righteous people blaming him for being born blind, and the story ends up with all the righterous people tossing him out of church for being healed! Some days, you can’t win for losing.
Let’s go back, and start over.
Jesus meets this guy, and he stops to talk with him. Nobody else was doing that. Thousands of people walked past him every day, and didn’t stop.
Jesus stops. Jesus listens. Jesus has compassion, even for hopeless people in hopeless situations. Jesus doesn’t believe that there’s anyone he can’t help in some way.
Jesus shrugs off the blamers, and he does something that works. Then Jesus sends the guy to wash himself in a special pool. We had another one of these “go wash in the pool” stories a couple of weeks ago. That one, the pool was called Bethesda, which means the House of Mercy. Today’s story, the pool was called Siloam, which means “One who is sent.”
Siloam was a big, public place. It was right next door to the Temple in Jerusalem, and it was both a holy place and also the city’s main reservoir. It was the size of several swimming pools – 225 feet across – and it was 12 feet deep.
Siloam had saved the city when it was surrounded and besieged by enemies. It was fed by a man-made, underground tunnel that was dug 600 yards through solid rock.
All around the edge of the pool of Siloam on all sides were steps, leading down to the water. At major festivals, the priest would walk from the Temple down to Siloam, and scoop up some water in a golden container, and carry it back to the Temple and splash the water on the altar.
So, this guy’s healing was in a very public place, one of the main pilgrim sites of Jerusalem. It was like Jesus telling the guy to go and wash the mud out of his eyes in the Reflecting Pool in front of the National Monument in Washington.
And it worked! The guy washed his face, splashed his eyes, and he could see! It was a miracle. It was like pulling aside the curtain for a moment and seeing God’s glory. A person who was born blind, who had never seen in all of his life, was able to see. And nobody who was standing there that day had ever witnessed anything like it.
People said, “Is that the blind guy?” Other people said, “No, but it sure looks like him!”
He kept saying, “It’s me! It’s me!” Nobody believed it.
People standing by said, “Explain how it happened.”
These were the same people who explained why he was blind by blaming him. What the guy should have done was push them into the pool, and go off and find Jesus.
They asked his parents for an explanation. These were the same people who had been blaming the parents for their son’s problem. They thought, “Hmm, maybe you did something bad, and God punished you by giving you a blind son.” You can’t believe how stupid and cruel some people are.
Parents said, “We don’t know what happened. We don’t know how he got healed. He’s our son, all right. He’s a grown up. Ask him about it.”
See, everyone knew that Jesus did it. And some people didn’t like Jesus. They didn’t really care about the blind guy. They didn’t care that a miracle had happened, right under their noses. All they cared about, was finding some way, some excuse to attack Jesus.
Or at the very least, blame Jesus and find fault with him. They hauled the blind guy up front and they said, “Praise God! You’ve been healed! Who did it?”
He says, “Jesus.”
They said, “Jesus can’t be from God, he mixed up mud on the sabbath. He told you to go and wash on God’s holy day! That’s sabbath-breaking. Nobody sent from God could break the rules like that.”
The guy says, “I don’t understand you all. I don’t understand any of this. I only know one thing. I once was blind, but now I see.”
We have to ask ourselves, “Who was really blind in this story? Was it the person born blind, who was simply unfortunate? Or are the blind really the other people, the ones who judged him and blamed him and ignored his testimony?”
This is such a powerful story. It tells us, once again, that nothing is impossible for Jesus.
Jesus can forgive the unforgiveable. Jesus can raise up anyone who’s fallen, no matter how low. Jesus can set loose people who are loaded down with any burden. Jesus can break the chains of mental or spiritual illness. He can call people back to life. He can share God’s love, with people who feel unloveable.
Jesus calls nobody an outcast. Jesus calls nobody a stranger. Jesus reaches out and embraces people everyone says are untouchable.
Nothing, no one is outside of Jesus’ care and compassion. He doesn’t blame anyone. He doesn’t judge us for who we are or what we’ve done.
If you think Jesus judges or blames you, if you think Jesus doesn’t care about you, all I can say is, you’ve got a whole lot to learn about Jesus!
Who’s got the real problem in the story? Is it the blind guy, who Jesus heals? Or is it the other people, who think they can see everything, but they’re blind?
And who are we? Who are we?
Many years ago, back when I was working as a pastor in New York state, I did some tutoring for a woman named Penny. I worked with adults who had physical handicaps, and I tutored them in how to use computers to maker their lives easier. Penny was blind. She had been blind since she was a baby.
When Penny was born, she was premature. And so they put her on oxygen. They thought it would help her. What they didn’t know, at that time, was that if you put a newborn on pure oxygen, for an extended period of time, that it can damage their eyesight. Penny was put on pure oxygen for several weeks, and later on, they discovered she was blind.
Who’s to blame? Was it Penny? Was it her parents? Do you think that they shouldn’t have conceived her? Were they to blame for having her? Should any child, or any parents, be blamed in that way?
Or should we blame the doctors? They didn’t know they were making a mistake. They thought they were helping. They thought that they were saving the child’s life. They certainly didn’t intend to blind her. That was the last thing they would have intended to do.
Do we blame God? Do you think that God wanted Penny blind? Do you think that God wills these tragedies in the world?
I don’t know. I don’t think so, myself.
I know that Penny didn’t blame God, either. She accepted her blindness as a fact, as something that she had to live with. And she didn’t go around begging, either.
Penny was an extraordinarily gifted person. She was a language teacher. She taught French and Spanish, and she had also mastered Greek and Hebrew, Italian and several other languages. She supported herself, and she got around pretty well.
When I met Penny, I was teaching her how to use a computer, so that she print out tests and study guides, and keep track of her students’ grades. She had a specially-equipped computer, which could print out in both regular text and in Braille. It also had special software, so that while she was typing, or while she was reading through a document, the computer would read aloud to her.
She knew hundreds of phone numbers by heart. She knew all of her friends by voice. She had a terrific sense of humor.
One time, one evening, I came into Penny’s apartment, and all the lights were out. I can’t remember if the fuse was blown, or whether it was simply a burned-out light bulb. But I couldn’t see.
Penny knew her way around the apartment perfectly, of course. Being in the dark was normal for her. And she came over to me at the door, and guided me safely over to a chair. And as I tripped and stumbled over things along the way, I heard her laugh, and I heard her say, “Oh, you sightlings. . .”
Who was blind, in that situation? Me, or Penny? You tell me.
My friend Penny was a miracle. She was a miracle, in spite of being blind.
God does unbelievable things, all around us, every day. We could spend our whole day, our whole lives, just walking around from place to place, listening to people, seeing things, and saying, “Wow! Thank you, Lord!”
We could ask Jesus to heal our own blindness, and help us see the greatness and goodness of God. That healing would be a miracle.
We could ask Jesus to free us from the sin of judging each other, and ask Jesus to teach us his kind of compassion. Jesus doesn’t care who’s to blame. He only wants to reach out, and help.
We could read this story every day, for a month, and pray about it, and we would still have something fresh to learn every day about Jesus’ love and care.