I am struck afresh by God’s life transforming, empowering love as I reflect on Jesus’ healing of the man blind from birth in John 9. I’ve noticed for the first time how brilliantly Jesus engages in direct, life-changing action on behalf of someone on the extreme margins, while at the same time sending this person to bear witness to his neighbors and before the powerful.
The story begins with a simple phrase: “As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.”
As Jesus passes by he sees. This seeing inspires me. Jesus sees a man with a life-long condition of blindness, whom we later learn used to sit and beg. This shows us that Jesus notices chronic, debilitating conditions that harm and demobilize. Jesus sees our visible and invisible conditions.
Jesus’ seeing includes his knowledge that the man was blind from birth. Whether we’ve been diagnosed as bipolar, diabetic, ADHD or struggle with an addiction, depression, chronic fatigue, diabetes, Cancer, COVID-19– or we’re now living in fear, Jesus sees.
The disciples immediately bring up a question that is typically human– exposing our tendency to blame and to interpret adversity as God’s judgment.
“Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?”
I see that we too are quick to cast blame in this time of pandemic, attributing COVID-19 to the Chinese, to Trump’s slow or inadequate response. I just read how conservative rabbis, pastors and a Muslim preacher interpret coronavirus as God’s judgment. Casting blame and theologizing about God’s judgment cause us to miss the critical seeing and action the Spirit invites.
Jesus response invites us to consider a new perspective that puts us in active vigilance, anticipating God’s liberating intervention.
“It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”
Jesus refuses to blame, inviting his disciples, you and me to lift our gaze expectedly towards this man, looking for God’s works to become visible in him.
What a radical way to see afresh, noticing the afflicted or afflictions– not to cast blame or interpret them as God’s punishment, but with faith-filled expectation of a miracle. What might this look to practice this kind of seeing now? Jesus’ next words push us still further.
“We must work the works of him who sent me as long as it is day (Jn 9:4).
I am struck and delighted by Jesus’ inclusive “we,” when he says “we must work the works of him who sent me.” Here Jesus includes his disciples, and also the blind man himself there before him. But does he include us too?
The answer to this question is not immediately obvious, as Jesus’ next words appear to limit he and his followers’ actions to then and there:
“Night is coming when no one can work.“ While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world” (Jn 9:4).
Are we now in this night, ourselves the blind? Later Jesus suggests we are blind if we say we see. So how might we receive our sight? Jesus’ direct touch and word makes the critical difference, as does our personal response.
Jesus, the light of the world, spits on the ground, makes mud and applies it to the blind man’s eyes, who up to this point says and does nothing. Jesus then includes the man in the miracle with his orders: “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent).”
At this point the man cannot see Jesus. But he believes without seeing, obeying without hesitating. “So he went away and washed.”
Immediate results follow. Once having washed in to pool, he “came seeing” (literal translation).
And here the story takes a sudden turn, as the man joins the “we,” engaging in the works of God. The man becomes a witness, first to neighbors and then before the Pharisees, with the result that he is expelled from the synagogue.
First both his neighbors and those who previously saw him as a beggar ask: “Is not this the one who used to sit and beg?”
The man affirms “I am” (ego eimi), using the same expression Jesus uses to identify himself as Lord.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me” (Jn 13:20), says Jesus, showing his willingness to identity us with himself and God.
The man bears witness appropriately, giving all glory to Jesus.
“The man who is called Jesus made clay, and anointed my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ so I went away and washed, and I received sight” (Jn 9:11).
The man uses the word “anoint” to describe Jesus’ application of the mud to his eyes. He describes himself as receiving his sight- giving glory to the Giver, the “Light of the world.”
Neighbors next bring the man before the Pharisees, who interrogate him. He courageously bears witness to Jesus, identifying him as “the prophet” before these increasingly hostile religious leaders. Even after his parents refuse to back up their son, the man boldly proclaims Jesus as from God:
“We know that God does not hear sinners; but if anyone is God-fearing and does his will, he hears him. “Since the beginning of time it has never been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. “If this man were not from God, he could do nothing” (Jn 9:31-33).
Through his bold witness, the “works of God are displayed in him”– this now-seeing man. Like Jesus himself, he is not received but expelled for his testimony, showing the cost of bearing witness as a believer.
The once-blind man’s seeing and us
After religious leaders expel him from the synagogue, Jesus finds the man and asks him: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” (Jn 9:25).
The man answers with complete openness, modeling humble but vibrant faith: “Who is he, Lord, that I may believe in him?” (Jn 9:36).
“You have both seen him, and he is the one who is talking with you,” responds Jesus, revealing himself personally and respectfully.
“Lord, I believe,” says the man, who now sees Jesus and worships him (Jn 9:38).
Here in this story the newly-seeing man models active engagement in the Jesus’ movement by believing. “While you have the Light, believe in the Light, so that you may become sons of Light,” recommends Jesus in John 12:36.
Jesus’ healing and recruiting of this man born blind gives hope to us in these dark times, where “the light that enlightens everyone” is too often not recognized or received.
Here Jesus sees and recruits someone who is blind, who responds to Jesus’ touch and word, receiving his healing and believing in his name.
May we ourselves experience Jesus personal touch and Word to us! May we receive our sight and join him now. May we become Jesus-like agents who notice others who the world ignores, blames or excludes.
This blind man’s act of believing is itself doing the work of God, as Jesus teaches: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (Jn 6:29).
Believing in Jesus brings this man into a new status, as he is “given authority to become a child of God… born of God (Jn 1:12-13) and so becomes a “son of light.”
In believing without seeing this man models radical discipleship and is “blessed” (Jn 20:29), as he participates in Jesus’ movement, of which we are heirs in his physical absence.
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father (14:12).
This early apostle points the way forward for us to step into empowerment in this time of fear and paralysis. I ask that Jesus anoint my eyes and yours, sending us so we can receive our sight, expecting and identifying the works of God in the midst of these troubled times, and actively participating in them.
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