A Man Born Blind Receives Sight
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 he.” 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.”
The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
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.” 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, 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 who were with 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.
Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our strength & our redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)
I have worn glasses, or contacts, for as long as I can remember. I don’t remember seeing pictures of me without glasses except when I was rather young. I knew people who thought it was cool to wear glasses, because they could choose to wear them or not, and so would get frames with plain lens to appear smart. There are all kinds “filters” in picture apps that let you edit out any backgrounds or personal flaws that you want to edit before posting a picture on social media.
What I’m getting at is we all go to great lengths to see—and be seen—as we want to see and be seen. This week’s Gospel text is about God helping people to see, and be seen, rightly.
If the story of the man born blind were merely about Jesus’ power to grant sight, it would have ended at verse seven. But the scene plays out for 34 more verses! The act of power is not the end of the story but the beginning.
One of the gifts of these 34 verses is an ironic twist: Jesus giving sight to the man results in less clarity for everyone else. The Pharisees are divided and confounded, and the man’s neighbors are in such disbelief that they seek out his parents to confirm that he is, in fact, the same person.
Maybe things are murky for them now because they were never actually clear to begin with. They’ve seen this man around town, but it seems they’ve never known him. They’ve let his condition of blindness become synonymous with his personhood and used it as a canvas upon which to paint their own story of him. Rather than learn about the man, they are content to know only that he is blind and to fill in the rest of the details themselves from there.
We witness the disciples doing this first. They see a man who is blind, and they immediately assume someone has sinned, and they go about trying to determine whom. We get glimpses of stories that others are telling about this man–-he is a beggar, or a disciple of Jesus, or born entirely in sin. Notice, that all these characters prefer to speak about the man rather than to him.
No wonder Jesus’ deed of power throws them for a loop. The man’s new physical sight reveals their entrenched spiritual blinders and challenges what they’ve told themselves is true. But stories are stubborn, and so instead of adapting, the people doubt the man’s own testimony about what happened. They see, but they refuse to believe their eyes.
The man who was blind does not know where Jesus is, or whether he is a sinner, but one thing he does know–-that although he was born blind, now he sees. He stands firm and confident in his testimony and does not see the need to fill in the remaining details with his own assumptions.
So, what makes the one able to see Jesus, beyond eyesight, really see, and know, and feel, who Jesus is, and accept his healing? And what makes the others in the story–-the parents, the neighbors, the Pharisees–-unable to see or understand what’s happened?
This is where the chaos begins. Though the disciples have had firsthand witness to this, and though the blind man never wavers in his story, the people just can’t understand what has happened. From the time of their question through the end of this story, their parameters don’t allow them to experience the miracle. Their own assumptions keep them from understanding what has happened.
When do our own assumptions get in our way? Our assumptions about others, and their capabilities? Our assumptions about God?
Perhaps our word of hope this evening/morning is that God takes all that we presume, all of our assumptions and closed questions, and breaks through them to create miracles. Maybe our good news is that even when we are lost in our confusion and trying to figure out where something came from or how something happened, God is still in the midst of us working to heal those who are ready.
We are all much more like the disciples than we would care to admit, asking closed questions of Jesus. And we are all much more like the neighbors than we would care to admit, unable to accept the witness given to us, because it doesn’t fit in our worldview.
The good news is this:
- Our confusion doesn’t hinder God’s work.
- Our questions don’t stop Jesus from doing good in the world.
- Our assumptions can’t get in the way of the prophets God chooses.
Maybe the invitation for us, then, is to be honest about our confusion and, for the time being, to cease our questions. Like I challenge our leadership, I am challenging everyone to take a moment and look around and see where God has been, is, and always will be at work in our world, within us, and within our surroundings. God is breaking through our assumptions.
We all slog through mud—the challenges, sorrows, and pains of life. Truth be told, we often wallow in the mud, like the onlookers in the story, refuse to listen, to be challenged, or to remain open to God’s perspective.
In Jesus, God blesses the dust of the earth—our humble, human lives—and redeems those moments when we are stuck in the mud. Do we have eyes to see the blessing in the mundane?
Part of stewarding God’s gifts is taking stock-–what do we have? How much of it? When we take stock of what we have, we’re also acknowledging what we do not. This is easy when it comes to something concrete–-money or volunteers. But this gospel reminds us that we are also stewards of information and stories, and it warns us not to speak beyond what we actually know or understand.
Jesus says to the Pharisees at the end of the story, “now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” I hear in his words that we are in danger when we assume we understand more than we really do. It’s better to admit the limits of our knowledge, like the man to whom Jesus gives sight. We witness in this passage how foolish people look when they write another’s story for them–-how often are we guilty of doing the same?
Are you in the practice of saying “I don’t know?” Do you consider refusing to speak about what you don’t know as a faith practice? Is it a habit of yours to leave space in the stories you tell? We would do well to leave space, for it is here that we trust Jesus to act with power once more.