Jesus heals a blind man
9 As Jesus walked along, he saw a man who was blind from birth. 2 Jesus’ disciples asked, “Rabbi, who sinned so that he was born blind, this man or his parents?”
3 Jesus answered, “Neither he nor his parents. This happened so that God’s mighty works might be displayed in him.4 While it’s daytime, we must do the works of him who sent me. Night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 After he said this, he spit on the ground, made mud with the saliva, and smeared the mud on the man’s eyes. 7 Jesus said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (this word means sent). So the man went away and washed. When he returned, he could see.
Disagreement about the healing
8 The man’s neighbors and those who used to see him when he was a beggar said, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”
9 Some said, “It is,” and others said, “No, it’s someone who looks like him.”
But the man said, “Yes, it’s me!”
10 So they asked him, “How are you now able to see?”
11 He answered, “The man they call Jesus made mud, smeared it on my eyes, and said, ‘Go to the pool of Siloam and wash.’ So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
12 They asked, “Where is this man?”
He replied, “I don’t know.”
13 Then they led the man who had been born blind to the Pharisees. 14 Now Jesus made the mud and smeared it on the man’s eyes on a Sabbath day. 15 So Pharisees also asked him how he was able to see.
The man told them, “He put mud on my eyes, I washed, and now I see.”
16 Some Pharisees said, “This man isn’t from God, because he breaks the Sabbath law.” Others said, “How can a sinner do miraculous signs like these?” So they were divided. 17 Some of the Pharisees questioned the man who had been born blind again: “What do you have to say about him, since he healed your eyes?”
He replied, “He’s a prophet.”
Conflict over the healing
18 The Jewish leaders didn’t believe the man had been blind and received his sight until they called for his parents.19 The Jewish leaders asked them, “Is this your son? Are you saying he was born blind? How can he now see?”
20 His parents answered, “We know he is our son. We know he was born blind. 21 But we don’t know how he now sees, and we don’t know who healed his eyes. Ask him. He’s old enough to speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they feared the Jewish authorities. This is because the Jewish authorities had already decided that whoever confessed Jesus to be the Christ would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That’s why his parents said, “He’s old enough. Ask him.”
24 Therefore, they called a second time for the man who had been born blind and said to him, “Give glory to God. We know this man is a sinner.”
25 The man answered, “I don’t know whether he’s a sinner. Here’s what I do know: I was blind and now I see.”
26 They questioned him: “What did he do to you? How did he heal your eyes?”
27 He replied, “I already told you, and you didn’t listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?”
28 They insulted him: “You are his disciple, but we are Moses’ disciples. 29 We know that God spoke to Moses, but we don’t know where this man is from.”
30 The man answered, “This is incredible! You don’t know where he is from, yet he healed my eyes! 31 We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners. God listens to anyone who is devout and does God’s will. 32 No one has ever heard of a healing of the eyes of someone born blind. 33 If this man wasn’t from God, he couldn’t do this.”
34 They responded, “You were born completely in sin! How is it that you dare to teach us?” Then they expelled him.
Jesus finds the man born blind
35 Jesus heard they had expelled the man born blind. Finding him, Jesus said, “Do you believe in the Human One?”
36 He answered, “Who is he, sir? I want to believe in him.”
37 Jesus said, “You have seen him. In fact, he is the one speaking with you.”
38 The man said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshipped Jesus.
Jesus teaches the Pharisees
39 Jesus said, “I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were with him heard what he said and asked, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”
41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you wouldn’t have any sin, but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
Thoughts on the passage:
It would be tempting to call this the story of Jesus healing a blind man. In fact, some versions of the Bible even give that label to this chapter (like the Common English version used above). That feels like a little bit of a misnomer to me. There are 41 verses in the 9th chapter of John. The first seven verses and the last seven verses focus on the blind man the remaining two-thirds of the chapter have nothing to do with the healing of the blind man. Instead they have everything to do with the reaction of everyone else to that healing.
There are people who can identify with the blind man in this story. Even if they have not literally been cured of their blindness, they have experienced God’s miraculous healing power. Many, if not most of us have not had that sort of experience. Our place in the story is that of the Pharisees or the crowds. Like them, we stand in judgment over what God is doing in the world.
This is a tragic story of the blinding power of negativity. Not only does it keep us from seeing God, it keeps us from realizing that we are even blind. Our negativity comes in the form of well-reasoned arguments and debate. It comes in the guise of healthy skepticism. It wraps itself even in words taken from the Scriptures. In the end, we do not see it has being negative at all. Like the Pharisee we find ourselves saying, “Surely we aren’t blind, are we?”
Being blind in this way is dangerous. It means that we are unable to see the work that God is doing in the world. It also means that we are unable to see the ways that we need God. If we cannot realize what is wrong, we can never see how God is ready to make it right. We need to remove the blindness that negativity brings to our lives.
One of things that it can be easy to forget is that our expectations shape our perceptions. We have all had the problem of trying to read someone else’s handwriting. Usually one of the best helps is if we have some idea what the person is trying to say. Guided by the external clues of context, letters and words can be easier to decipher. Our brain has a remarkable ability to fill in the details it expects to see and ignores the unexpected. We do it when it comes to recognizing people too. Think about what happens when you run into someone you know in a new context. Maybe it is seeing a fellow church member in scrubs at the hospital, or bumping into a neighbor when vacationing in Florida. It can be jarring to see them somewhere you don’t expect them or in different clothes than you are used to.
We see the same sort of thing happening in our story. People see a man that they know to be blind and they are struggling to believe it is him because the man before them can see. They know it cannot be him, because he does not fit their expectations. They are not able to recognize him because they do not expect to recognize them. They know he cannot be the man who sits there and begs each day.
In the same way, the Pharisees struggle with the miracle that Jesus has performed. They know that he cannot have healed this blind man because the man was healed on the Sabbath and no one can do that. Either Jesus cannot be from God or the man cannot really have been blind. So sure are they of their expectations, they cannot imagine that it is possible that God would do something unexpected.
Parker Palmer, a Quaker author, has written extensively about the idea of open and honest questions. Open and honest questions are ones where the questioner does not know the answers and perhaps might not even be able to anticipate the answers to the questions. In many ways, they are the opposite of leading and rhetorical questions, where the answer is completely unnecessary or presumed in the question. An open and honest question might be as simple as, “How did that make you feel?” For Parker Palmer, the goal is for there to be learning, not by the questioner.
It is very clear that the questions being asked by the Pharisees are not open and honest. Not only are they not done to help the person being questioned to learn and grow, but the Pharisees have no real interest in the answers. Their hope in asking the questions is to do one of two things, discredit the miracle that occurred or provide further evidence of wrongdoing on the part of Jesus and his followers.
Their own negative views have closed them off to learning and growing. Their blindness is not the literal blindness that is cured in this story, but it is a spiritual blindness. While they can see Jesus in front of them, they cannot truly see him. They see a sinner. They see a rabble-rouser. They see a problem. They are not willing to see Jesus for what he is, and so Jesus cannot do anything to help them.
Are we as blind as the Pharisees? Obviously, my hope is that our answer is “no.” It is my hope that unlike the Pharisees we are able to look beyond our own assumptions and prejudices and see the ways that God is working in our midst. To do that we need to get past our negativity. When they encounter the blind man, even the disciples are looking at the negatives, they are looking at the problem. Jesus does not see a problem, he sees an opportunity. When Jesus does something unexpected, the Pharisees see a problem. Instead, they should have seen an opportunity to learn about a new way that God is at work in the world.
God is working all around us. God is still healing people even today. It can be easy for us to get hung up the negatives. It can be easy for us to quibble about the details. When we do that we become like the Pharisees, blind to Jesus who is right in front of us. Let us open our eyes, let us set aside our knowledge and negativity. When we do this, Christ can take away our blindness and our sins.
Questions to Ponder:
When is a time that you have experienced God’s presence in your life?
When is a time you have been skeptical about someone’s experience of Christ?
When is a time you were blinded by your own expectations?
God, there are times that we are like the Pharisees and blind to the work you are doing in the world. Help us to open our eyes, to remove our doubts, and to see you all around us. Help us also to celebrate the ways that you are at work in our lives that through us others might come to know of your love for them. Amen