Rev. Katherine Todd
As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “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 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.
In this exchange in the Gospel of John, we get to witness just how blind the religious elite have become.
The ironic is as thick peanut butter! Here, this man born blind, is the one who truly sees Jesus, confesses his faith, and preaches to the Pharisees. And the Pharisees, all with sight from birth, are so blind they cannot receive this gift of truth and witness in the person and work of Jesus.
It is tragedy.
What gets me is the Pharisees’ logic. Their logic is as follows: Jesus healed on the sabbath, thus he’s a sinner, and therefore he’s not from God. Using their own human rules, they conclude Jesus cannot be from God.
Now God had indeed given the Israelites the law, and the law forbade them from working on the sabbath, but as so many of us do, they took it too far and missed the point. This law meant to preserve the people from overwork and exhaustion, this law meant to provide rest and relief, this law meant for life and wholeness…it was being used to deny life and wholeness. It was being used as yet another heavy burden on the shoulders of God’s people. The law was for the people – not the people for the law. But the religious elite had done the work of interpreting the law for people’s everyday lives, and they’d restricted so very many activities, that even to rescue an animal fallen into a well would have been considered sin. And Jesus would have none of it.
Jesus did not let the main point escape him. Jesus knew his calling to deliver and save. And wherever he went, whatever day it was, he set himself to the task. And he did not neglect the work of rest and retreat. He very intentionally goes off by himself to high mountaintops. He sleeps through storms. He lives sabbath, even more often than most.
But because he disobeys the human-made rules of not healing on the sabbath day, the Pharisees conclude he is a sinner.
How many times do we do something similar? Do we extrapolate a multitude of rules and moral codes, using them to disqualify others? Do we judge people based on our own interpretations of God’s law?
You see, the Pharisees were technically preserving the law God gave them. But as life presented an infinite number of variations and unforeseen circumstances, they themselves began to build on the law, interpret the law, build structures and rules around the law. And before long, they could no longer see the difference between the law and their laws. They could no longer discern the difference between God’s heart and their hearts, God’s will and their will.
Have you ever had this experience? It is frankly not all that hard to do.
Have you ever been so sure you rightly interpreted some passage of scripture or some guidance, that you have closed your ears, eyes, and hearts to any other possibility?
I know I have.
But when we are so sure we know,
When we are so sure we see,
When we are so sure we hear,
When we are so sure we rightly understand,
We effectively have become blind to God-with-us.
And here in this story Christ walks among them, with magnificent signs and wonders…
The blind see, the lame walk, the dead arise!…
The man-born-blind is made to see!…
But they themselves cannot see who it is who walks among them. They cannot see because they are so sure they already see! They cannot understand because they are so sure they already understand. They cannot hear the healed man’s witness because they have already decided that this man is bad and Jesus is bad.
For you see, the very fact that this man was born blind had led these religious leaders to believe that he was full of sin. God would not allow a righteous person to be born blind, they thought! Sure this man and/or his parents sinned. And that is why the disciples too are asking Jesus “Who sinned, that this man was born blind?”
The religious leaders were teaching that every disease and ailment, every ill-fortune, was the result of sin. And that led them to all sorts of judgements. This is why Job’s friends all those years before were so adamant that sure Job had sinned to have gone through such extreme loss of family, wealth, and health.
But as obvious as it is to us that “bad” things do happen to “good” people, I think we are just as quick to jump into judgements when something bad happens to someone.
- Isn’t this why we keep our distance from those who are under?
- Isn’t it why we put so many rules around who gets our service and help?
- Isn’t it why we privately despise many of those in need?
As obvious as it is to us that God’s ways are above our ways, and God’s thoughts above our thoughts, I think we are just as quick to confuse our interpretations of God’s Word for God’s Word.
- Is this not why many of us dig in our heals and refuse to even listen to the others?
- Is this not why many of us close our ears and refuse to dialogue?
- Is this not why we consider ourselves such experts on who is “good” and who is “bad”?
- Does this not contribute to our own sense of pride and self-righteousness? – the fact that we are one of the only ones upholding our own moral code and set of convictions?
And as obvious as it is to us that Jesus was the Messiah, I think we are just as quick to miss the holy among us. For when those who do not look like us, do not have what we have, have not learned what we’ve learned venture to witness among us to God’s presence and power and might,
- Do we not baulk?
- Do we not question?
- Do we not venture to disprove?
Has God shown up among us in the uneducated?
Has God shown up among us in the illiterate?
Has God shown up among us without credentials?
Has God shown up among us after being imprisoned?
Has God shown up among us in a person of different religious & ethnic background?
When God shows up among us,
are we using our own human standards
to discredit what is plainly before our eyes?
May we humble ourselves.
May we reform from our addiction to judgement.
May we be like little children: open.
For our God shows up.
The lame walk,
the blind see,
the dead come to life.
“I was born blind, but now I see.”
When God meets us,
As indeed God has before and will again,
may we too have eyes to see.