A congregation of the United Church of Canada
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Yr A ~ Lent 4 ~ John 9:13–41
Unlike some of the scripture passages we get to tackle, this one is not a particularly deep story. It’s obvious what the intention is from the start using the simple metaphor of blindness and sight. So this morning I’m just going to retell and amplify the story and hopefully we will “see” what Jesus wants us to see! We’re going to pick up the story after Jesus has enacted the healing.
John 9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.
Sadly, in their culture blindness was seen as a punishment for sinfulness, and sinfulness meant you were unclean and excluded from both religious life and much of societal life.
We don’t do that. We don’t equate disability of any kind with sin – at all – and if you do even a little, stop!
But in their culture they did, and that’s why the blind man was a beggar, because he was considered “unclean”. So if a blind person is suddenly able to see then it would be a sign that they are no longer sinful, and in order to be accepted back into society they would need to get the “cleanliness stamp of approval” from the Pharisees. That meant the Pharisees had a lot of power!
Verse 14 Now it was a Sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened the man’s eyes.
This is crucial for understanding the story. It wasn’t that Jesus healed him that was the problem – it was that he dared to heal him on the Sabbath! The Sabbath was a holy day where you were not allowed to do work of any kind, and performing healings was considered work. So Jesus broke the law by healing the man on the wrong day!
That probably sounds ridiculous to us, but for the Pharisees, who kept the letter of the law, it was a very serious offense. And the really confusing part is that Jesus would also preach about keeping the Sabbath – the difference here was the Pharisees were actually undermining the Sabbath by adhering to the letter of the law and ignoring the spirit.
John 9:15-16 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, “The man who did this healing 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 the Pharisees were divided.
It was the first and last time ever that a group of church leaders couldn’t agree on something!
Ok, obviously I’m kidding. And speaking of comedy…
John 9:18-21 The Jews didn’t believe it, didn’t believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man. They asked them, “Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?”
His parents said, “Umm, we know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don’t know how he came to see – haven’t a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don’t you ask him? He’s a grown man and can speak for himself.”
The Pharisees are looking for ways to discredit the healing so they can sidestep their religious dilemma – which is: how can a man who’s a sinner for breaking the Sabbath rule do such godly things?
But there’s something else I need to say here. Listen to verse 22:
The man’s parents answered this way 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.
Here’s something you need to know about John’s gospel. It was written around the year 95 or so (that’s about 65 years after Jesus and 25 years after the fall of the Temple), and it came from a Jewish community, a synagogue (their local church), that was deeply divided about who Jesus was. The new Christians (who were Jewish) were claiming Jesus as Messiah, and the Pharisees or Jewish leaders who ran the synagogue wanted none of that. Essentially, the backdrop for this gospel is a really nasty church fight. And I mean nasty!
These new “Jewish Christians” are feeling persecuted and are being threatened with being kicked out of the synagogue – which meant more than like us just finding another church if we leave the one we’re at. It was also their social glue, so being kicked out of synagogue had serious repercussions on your life.
That whole nasty fight is on display in this passage – with the blind man and his parents representing the “newly believing”, or should I say “newly SEEING” Christians and the Pharisees representing the opposing old guard of the synagogue.
So do you get the underlying metaphor better now?
If you are on Jesus’ side you can “see” – and if not you are blind.
The man born blind (meaning Jewish) has been “healed” of his blindness – and now he can “see” that Jesus is Messiah. And, of course, that puts him in the cross-hairs of the Pharisees.
You can probably also see how John’s gospel has been used to fuel hatred of Jewish people by so-called Christians over the centuries. Those haters totally misread John, because they don’t realize the context of the church fight going on and they think the vitriol between the two sides (who were actually both Jewish!) is ok to perpetuate for Christians against “the Jews” – it is absolutely NOT!
9:24-34 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 the man who healed you is a sinner.”
He replied, “I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see.”
They said, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”
Listen to this part: “I’ve told you over and over and you haven’t listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?” Ouch!
With that they jumped all over him. “You might be a disciple of that man, but we’re disciples of Moses (who gave us the law). We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from.”
Then the man lectured the Pharisees, “This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It’s well known that God isn’t at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of – ever (we’ll forgive the hyperbole here). If this man didn’t come from God, he wouldn’t be able to do anything.”
Did you catch that?
The implication is that Jesus is godly but if they don’t know Jesus then they aren’t!
I told you it was a nasty church fight!
The Pharisees said, “You’re nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!” Then they threw him out in the street.
Quite a scene! And it ends with this newly seeing man being literally thrown out of the synagogue. And now we get the payoff – the grand finale.
John 9:35-39 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
The man said, “Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him.”
Jesus said, “You’re looking right at him. Don’t you recognize my voice?”
And the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.
Then Jesus tells us exactly what this whole passage has been about. He says,
“I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind.”
Now Jesus is in on the church fight too! But I hope you can see (pardon the pun) what he’s saying.
He says, “I’m here to help people see – and those who don’t get it but still think they are the final word in all things religious or spiritual are actually the blind ones.”
Verses 40-41 – Some Pharisees overheard him and said, “Does that mean you’re calling us blind?”
Jesus said, “If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well even when it’s clear you don’t, your sin remains.”
Like I said from the beginning, it’s really not a very complicated story.
It’s not really about the curing of a man’s inability to process light waves and visually look at things.
It’s not about sight but insight!
It’s not about seeing but seeing!
The Pharisees, who can only understand the letter of the law and not comprehend the paradigm shift to a new kind of spirituality that Jesus is about, are the actual blind people. Sadly, that fact remains, and too often even today it’s the religious people who are hung up on rigid rules and regulations and behaviour management that are blind to the deeper spiritual relationship with God that Jesus shows us.
One glaring and obvious example of this is how the church has traditionally treated people who identify as LGBTQ. The morality police will cite rule and regulation – chapter and verse – about why this or that person is sinful according to scripture (just like in today’s story), and even write laws to persecute these folks. Why? Because they don’t get it – they don’t understand what Jesus is really about – they’re blind.
Remember one of Jesus’ favourite little sayings? He talks about those with “eyes to see and ears to hear”.
The man born blind now has “eyes to see”.
The Pharisees don’t.
How about you?
Do you have the kind of eyes that see spiritually?
Because you’re going to need them in the next few weeks. Next week we get the story of Lazarus being raised from the dead! How will you “see” that story? Which eyes will you bring to it?
And the week after that as Jesus enters Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday and the crowd looks on in wonder and try to figure out who Jesus is – which eyes will you bring to that conversation? How do you “see” Jesus?
And then it’s Holy Week with the story of Jesus’ final days and ultimately his execution on the cross and his resurrection. Will you have eyes to see those events?
People of faith see the world differently – not with rose-coloured glasses, or with blinders on that ignore reality. In fact, it’s the opposite.
When you see with spiritual eyes you actually see what’s really real. The fog lifts, the blindfolds fall away, and you awaken to the Presence of God that is everywhere and always. That is the great gift of spiritual seeing that Jesus offers to each and every one of us.
And having received that gift, with eyes wide open, our calling is to “see” how things really are, to shine our light, and to encourage people to wash away the crud from their eyes, and hopefully underneath all that stuff that they thought was real they will discover that they too have eyes to see!