You have NO idea how many directions I went in this week with my reflection! One of the things that makes scripture so rich is that some of the stories are so full that they can take you in any number of different directions. It depends on what your theme is… what’s going on in the community and world… how the Spirit moves… especially when she moves in a completely different direction than you planned!
Today we have another long passage from the gospel of John, we have been reading John throughout Lent and there is an overarching theme of darkness and light… A couple of weeks ago, we heard the story of Nicodemus coming to Jesus in the dark… last week, we heard the story of Jesus coming to the Samaritan woman at the well in the middle of the day, today it’s the story of both darkness and light, the story of Jesus healing a man born blind. Let’s listen to how the first part of the story unfolds in John 9: 1-11
9 As Jesus was walking along, he saw a man who had been born blind. 2 His disciples asked him, “Teacher, whose sin caused him to be born blind? Was it his own or his parents’ sin?”
3 Jesus answered, “His blindness has nothing to do with his sins or his parents’ sins. He is blind so that God’s power might be seen at work in him. 4 As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me; night is coming when no one can work. 5 While I am in the world, I am the light for the world.”
6 After he said this, Jesus spat on the ground and made some mud with the spittle; he rubbed the mud on the man’s eyes 7 and told him, “Go and wash your face in the Pool of Siloam.” (This name means “Sent.”) So the man went, washed his face, and came back seeing.
8 His neighbors, then, and the people who had seen him begging before this, asked, “Isn’t this the man who used to sit and beg?”
9 Some said, “He is the one,” but others said, “No he isn’t; he just looks like him.”
So the man himself said, “I am the man.”
10 “How is it that you can now see?” they asked him.
11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made some mud, rubbed it on my eyes, and told me to go to Siloam and wash my face. So I went, and as soon as I washed, I could see.”
Right at the beginning of that reading, is an assumption, that either the man or his parents had sinned.
This was the belief at the time, illness, disease, and disability were all considered to be punishments from God for sin.
And sinfulness separated people from community and religious life.
And while logically we don’t think that way any longer, there are threads of that thinking wound up in our subconscious and speech.
Think about saying, “There but for the grace of God, go I” when we witness an accident or hear of a cancer diagnosis, or see a homeless person on the street, or encounter someone at the Food Bank.
As if God’s love and grace is conditional.
We don’t do it because we’re unkind and callous… in fact, I think it comes from a place of gratitude…
I also think it comes from the illusion that we have control over the events of our lives.
If we can prevent something bad from happening to us by acting in a certain way, then the logical next step is that what happens to people is their fault.
We all know that life is not like that… we all know people who never smoked who got lung cancer… we all know people who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time and wound up in a car accident… I’m sure each one of you could provide me with a story.
But Jesus sees this man differently… he actually SEES him, not just his blindness…
And he took mud… the same mud that God made the first woman and man… the ordinary, holy ground… and mixed it with his own essence… pasted it on the man’s eyes and then told him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.
When he was able to see, the neighbours did not recognize him!
Doesn’t that seem odd to you? Scripture is weird a lot of the time.
He told how he came to see and that it was Jesus who healed.
We pick up the next part of the story in verse 12:
12 “Where is he?” they asked.
“I don’t know,” he answered.
13 Then they took to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14 The day that Jesus made the mud and cured him of his blindness was a Sabbath. 15 The Pharisees, then, asked the man again how he had received his sight. He told them, “He put some mud on my eyes; I washed my face, and now I can see.”
16 Some of the Pharisees said, “The man who did this cannot be from God, for he does not obey the Sabbath law.”
Others, however, said, “How could a man who is a sinner perform such miracles as these?” And there was a division among them.
17 So the Pharisees asked the man once more, “You say he cured you of your blindness—well, what do you say about him?”
“He is a prophet,” the man answered.
18 The Jewish authorities, however, were not willing to believe that he had been blind and could now see, until they called his parents 19 and asked them, “Is this your son? You say that he was born blind; how is it, then, that he can now see?”
20 His parents answered, “We know that he is our son, and we know that he was born blind. 21 But we do not know how it is that he is now able to see, nor do we know who cured him of his blindness. Ask him; he is old enough, and he can answer for himself!” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jewish authorities, who had already agreed that anyone who said he believed that Jesus was the Messiah would be expelled from the synagogue. 23 That is why his parents said, “He is old enough; ask him!”
24 A second time they called back the man who had been born blind, and said to him, “Promise before God that you will tell the truth! We know that this man who cured you is a sinner.”
25 “I do not know if he is a sinner or not,” the man replied. “One thing I do know: I was blind, and now I see.”
26 “What did he do to you?” they asked. “How did he cure you of your blindness?”
27 “I have already told you,” he answered, “and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Maybe you, too, would like to be his disciples?”
28 They insulted him and said, “You are that fellow’s disciple; but we are Moses’ disciples. 29 We know that God spoke to Moses; as for that fellow, however, we do not even know where he comes from!”
30 The man answered, “What a strange thing that is! You do not know where he comes from, but he cured me of my blindness! 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners; he does listen to people who respect him and do what he wants them to do. 32 Since the beginning of the world nobody has ever heard of anyone giving sight to a person born blind. 33 Unless this man came from God, he would not be able to do a thing.”
34 They answered, “You were born and brought up in sin—and you are trying to teach us?” And they expelled him from the synagogue.
35 When Jesus heard what had happened, he found the man and asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”
36 The man answered, “Tell me who he is, sir, so that I can believe in him!”
37 Jesus said to him, “You have already seen him, and he is the one who is talking with you now.”
38 “I believe, Lord!” the man said, and knelt down before Jesus.
39 Jesus said, “I came to this world to judge, so that the blind should see and those who see should become blind.”
40 Some Pharisees who were there with him heard him say this and asked him, “Surely you don’t mean that we are blind, too?”
41 Jesus answered, “If you were blind, then you would not be guilty; but since you claim that you can see, this means that you are still guilty.”
There is LOTS more talk of sinfulness in this passage! Jesus says the Pharisees are sinful… they say he is sinful… the Pharisees say the former blind man is sinful. I go back to the question at the beginning of this passage, “Who sinned?”
I think that’s the wrong question for us… because we don’t think about who sinned much anymore. What if the question is what are we blind to? Wait… What are we blind to… In our fear… in our worry… in our concern about the future… I think we are blind to our abundance. Both as individuals and as a faith community.
My husband and I live in a 1400 square foot bungalow… fairly modest by today’s standards… but its bigger than almost every house I grew up in… and I was one of five children! I grew up never eating out… now we probably eat out once a week. I grew up only going on vacation when we could borrow a friend’s cottage or stay with family… how many of us routinely go away at least once a year… perhaps have a cottage.
I’m not saying this to shame or scold… I’m saying we are blind to how much we have.
Our churches are no different… yes, we can mourn the decline of the church’s place in society… and the lack of children… and younger people… We can even ask tough questions of ourselves… But despite that, are we blind to our abundance? Do we need to have Jesus rub some mud and spit in our eyes in order for them to be opened and see the opportunities before us?
Listen to these words of Jan Richardson’s
BLESSING OF MUD
Lest we think
in the dirt.
Lest we think
in the earth
beneath our feet.
Lest we think
in the dust,
like the dust
that God scooped up
at the beginning
and breathed into
with God’s own
Lest we think
in the spit.
Lest we think
in the mud.
Lest we think
in the mire,
Lest we think
God cannot reach
deep into the things
cannot bring forth
within the sludge,
cannot anoint us
with a tender
and grimy grace.
Lest we think
God will not use
to give us
to cleanse us
of our unseeing,
to open our eyes upon
and stunning world.
Jesus recognized the ability of the blind man to welcome healing from his blindness.
Do we see that same ability in ourselves? To welcome the healing from blindness that Jesus offers?
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of following Jesus today, amen.
John 9: 1-41
March 19, 2023
© Catherine MacDonald 2023 – SJUC