Blind, But Now I See

John 9:1-41 

I’ve always thought of Columbus Day as the guys’ holiday. After all, Christopher Columbus left Spain not knowing where he was going. When he arrived in the new world he didn’t know where he was. When he returned to Spain he didn’t know where he had been. He never stopped to ask directions. And to top it off, he claimed, “I meant to do that!”

In John 8, Jesus confronted the Pharisees with two facts: They didn’t know where he had come from, and they didn’t know him or his Father. They were spiritually blind. It is in that context that Jesus claims to be the light of the world. He is the only one who can give sight to the blind.

Now in chapter 9, we are going to meet a physically blind man who is living confirmation of their spiritual blindness.

And in this poor blind beggar we find the perfect foil for these self-important Pharisees who condemn him merely for being the recipient of God’s grace (which they obviously do not believe he deserves). Remember, they operated on the assumption that you get what you deserve. If you are blessed it is because you are righteous, if you are suffering, it is because you have sinned. And by their calculations, the poor, the blind, the lame and sick were undeserving of any of God’s blessings.

This story with its cast of characters and movements is a drama that falls naturally into six acts:

Act 1 is the healing: As he went 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?” “Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. “Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing. (John 9:1-7)

The disciples’ question reveals that this was the common assumption of the day – you get what you deserve. It’s neat, it’s tidy, it helps you know who is in and who is out with God. The problem is, it’s wrong. That’s not how God operates. Jesus isn’t interested in the man’s past or in theological speculation about blame – he sets this man’s blindness in the context of God’s grace. This is an opportunity for God’s work to be displayed in his life.

Then he sets the stage for the miracle by saying “I am the light of the world.” And then he heals the man. Have you noticed in the Gospels that Jesus doesn’t have a cookie cutter approach to healing. Sometimes he speaks a word from afar and the nobleman’s dying son is healed. He hugs a leper and he is well. A woman who has suffered with a flow of blood for twelve years touches the hem of his cloak as he passes by and she is cured. Here, he spits on the ground, makes some mud and rubs it in the man’s eyes and says “Go wash in the Pool of Siloam.” The man obeys and walks home seeing.

The next act begins when this formerly blind man who can now see arrives home – the home he had lived in for all of his life. The home next door to the same neighbors who had known him all his life. They look at him like a bug in a jar. “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” Some claimed he was. Other said, “No, he only looks like him.” But he insisted, “I am the man.”

This might well be a commentary on how we look (or don’t look at people). Even though they had known him all his life, all they knew of him was that he was a beggar at the city gate. He had become a part of the furniture. They had passed by him so long, avoiding eye contact so they didn’t have to feel guilty not helping him, that they weren’t even sure what he really looked like. We’ll do that to homeless people, we’ll do that to folks in wheelchairs, or who have a disfigurement of some kind. We dehumanize them.

This isn’t like walking up to Jason and saying, “Something’s different about you, did you grow a beard?” They simply couldn’t be sure they even knew who he was because they had treated him like a non-person for so long.

One thing is for certain, they wanted an explanation for why he could suddenly see. And when he tells them that Jesus did it, their first inclination isn’t to celebrate with him but to start blaming and accusing. And then they take him and bring him to the Pharisees. Act 3.

In verse 14, we learn the real reason they’re upset and accusatory – this was the Sabbath. This isn’t the first time Jesus has healed on the Sabbath, and it won’t be the last. In fact, Jesus seems to make a habit out of doing things on the Sabbath just to provoke the Pharisees. And when they confront him, he challenges their basic understanding of the Sabbath. God did not create the Sabbath as a restrictive straight jacket, but a liberating day of rest from their work. But as is their nature, the Pharisees had turned it into legal code delineating what could not be done on the Sabbath – over forty categories, over six hundred specific rules. And Jesus will tell them in Mark 2:27, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.”

When the Pharisees interrogate the formerly blind man, they also want to know how this happened and who did it and of course the man is glad to repeat this life changing story: “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

But all that is irrelevant in their eyes. The only thing they can see is that Jesus healed this man on the Sabbath. And so they declare, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

Still, some of them can’t avoid the obvious: “How can a sinner do such miracles?” And so, even the Pharisees are divided.

Interestingly, they ask the man what he thinks about Jesus, as though they cared about his opinion. But he has no doubt about Jesus – “He is a prophet!” Not the answer they wanted.

In fact, they still doubt that anything miraculous has happened, and that all this is a stunt to get the man attention. And so they send for the man’s parents. Act 4.

Now, I’ve known a few parents over the years, some were great, others not so much. I’ve known some pretty rotten parents, but this couple takes the cake. They barely acknowledge he’s their son, they refuse to accept any responsibility for him, they are ready to throw him under the bus to save themselves.

Now to be fair, they lived in fear of the Pharisees – everybody did. The Pharisees had threatened to throw out of the synagogue anybody who showed the slightest allegiance to Jesus, and being thrown out of the synagogue didn’t just mean you couldn’t go to church anymore. It meant you lost your job, your family, your neighbors – you became an outcast. So rather than risk all of that, they tell the Pharisees, “We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” (Jn 9:20-21)

If your son had been born blind, and suddenly one day he comes home and he can see, there’s going to be a party. You’re going to celebrate and tell everybody who will listen what has happened to your son, and you are going to be giving thanks to God for this amazing gift. But I don’t hear any joy in their words that their son has been given his sight. That’s just sad.

The Pharisees turn back to the man who had received his sight. I would guess they thought he was just an uneducated, ignorant peasant. But what they found was an articulate, witty man who saw through their pettiness and prejudice and proved more than adequate to defend himself against their accusations. Listen to this interrogation:

A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,’” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.” He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!” Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”  Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. (Jn 9:24-34)

Notice a couple of things in that conversation:

The Pharisees try to denigrate Jesus as a way of making the man deny his healing. The man will have none of that. He cuts through the name-calling and points to the facts: “I was blind but now I see!”

They want him to rehearse the account of his healing to get him to stumble with the facts. The man says, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?” Zing! He sees the direction this interrogation is going and it has nothing to do with finding the facts. They want evidence to indict Jesus. But it also points out that the man already considers himself a disciple. And where his parents didn’t want to say anything to the Pharisees because they were afraid of the consequences, this man has no fear.

Then the man takes the offensive. The Pharisees try to insult him: “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes.” He points out their own ignorance and spiritual blindness. They are the very ones who should have recognized Jesus for who he was, and yet they dogmatically refuse to see it. It is obvious to everyone but themselves. And this man has the courage not only to point it out but to indict them for it.

What the man said next has been taken out of context so often and used as a theology of prayer: We know that God does not listen to sinners. The man is only repeating the theological premise of the Pharisees themselves in holding on to their religious power. Only they were holy enough to have God’s ear, and everyone else was despised and rejected by God. That’s their assumption. But you see, the man doesn’t stop there. He states their assumption and then points out the fallacy of it. “He listens to the godly man who does his will. Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

Instead of saying God doesn’t listen to sinners, his point is that Jesus cannot possibly not be from God. But to clarify, God does listen to sinners – who else would he listen to? There is no one who is so far from God, that God will not listen and respond to his prayers.

At this point, the Pharisees have been bested by a formerly blind beggar. All they have left are insults and their self-anointed power: To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out of the synagogue. 

That brings us to the final act of this drama. The man’s second encounter with Jesus.

You might think this man would be crushed and depressed. He receives his sight only to have his life taken away from him. Even though he can see, he can’t go back to his home, his parents, his neighbors. He can’t even go back to begging. What can he do now?

Jesus comes and finds him and finishes the conversation that began with giving him back his sight. “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. (Jn 9:35-38)

We’ve noticed in John’s Gospel that Jesus very rarely comes out and says “I am the Messiah.” The first one he revealed himself to openly was the Samaritan woman at the well, and this man is the second. He didn’t go to the religious leaders or the political powers, he went to the blind, the outcast, the helpless, those who knew they needed a savior.

But Jesus also realizes their conversation is being overheard by some nearby Pharisees who are eavesdropping, and he says, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.” Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?” Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.” (Jn 9:39-41)

The worst kind of blindness isn’t losing your physical sight, but being spiritually blind. They couldn’t see that they couldn’t see. And the only sin God cannot forgive is the one we refuse to acknowledge and repent of.

There’s a little bit of these Pharisees in all of us. We insist on being right and refuse to admit that we don’t know everything. We judge others and claim superiority. And our own ignorance and hard-heartedness indicts us.

And if we don’t see ourselves in this story, maybe we’re blind too.

My prayer though, is that we’re more like the man, to whom Jesus not only gave his sight, but also his life.