John: Blindness

Jesus Heals a Blind Man by Brian Jekel

John: Blindness
A Message on John 9:1-12, 35-41
For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church
July 26, 2020
By Doug Wintermute

John 9:1-12, 35-41 (NRSV)

As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 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, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 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?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 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.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 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.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

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The late cajun comedian Justin Wilson used to tell the story of coming across a group of cajuns holding up a long barn pole (kind of like a telephone pole). The group was having trouble keeping it upright, sticking straight up in the air, because at the top of a pole was a small Cajun boy holding a tape measure. The boy was trying to let out the tape measure to the ground and not having much success as the pole was wobbling back and forth as those on the ground tried to hold it still.

Justin walks up and says, “How y’all are! What are y’all doing?”

One of the men responds with, “Are you blind, hah? We tryin’ to measure how tall this pole is.”

Justin says, “Well den, why dontcha lay it down on de ground and measure it?”

The guy says, “You think we’re stupid? We done did dat. We know how long it is. We tryin’ to find out how tall it is!”

In the scripture we read today from the ninth chapter of John, we find the religious leaders kind of like those Cajuns trying to see how tall the pole was: they just didn’t get it.

The whole situation starts back at the beginning of Chapter 9 when Jesus comes across a blind man. The disciples travelling with Jesus ask him in a roundabout way why the man was blind. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

No that sounds may kind of sound ridiculous today but in the first century it was common thinking. I had a professor in seminary say that an oversimplification of theology in the Old Testament was this: “You do good, you get good. You do bad, you get bad.”

The thought process went something like this: since the man was born blind, then God must have been punishing him for some horrible sin he had committed, or been punishing his parents for some horrible sin they must have committed. The bottom line was that somebody must have sinned, and sinned bad, and God was punishing him/her/them by taking away this man’s sight when he was born.

As Christians we don’t believe that, of course. Or do we? I believe that sometimes we still do. I know that I used to. I think it’s part of our human nature to sometimes believe it. When things fall apart and we are in despair we ask ourselves if God is causing the bad things to happen as punishment toward us. In counseling with people after a tragedy I have heard people full of grief say things like, “Is God punishing me for something I did?”

My answer to such questions is “No.” Now God is all powerful and certainly has the ability to inflict punishment on us should he decide to, but in God’s grace he doesn’t. Our God is a loving God, “…as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.” — Psalm 103:12

God doesn’t cause bad things to happen. He allows them to, but he doesn’t cause pandemics, car wrecks, cancer, etc.

In the scripture we read today Jesus tells his disciples that the man’s blindness wasn’t caused by his sin and it wasn’t caused by his parents’ sin, either. Then Jesus gives them a reason why the man was blind: “…he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”

Max Lucado, in his book, “It’s Not About Me” (which I highly recommend, by the way), he tells of a friend who was hospitalized with cancer. The prognosis was not good and the friend found himself doubting his faith as well-meaning friends told him that if he only had faith he would get better. He didn’t get better. Max met with him, heard his anguish, and responded with this:

“It’s not about you. Your hospital room is a showcase for your Maker. Your faith in the face of suffering cranks up the volume of God’s song.” Oh, that you could have seen the relief on his face. To know that he hadn’t failed God and God hadn’t failed him— this made all the difference. Seeing his sickness in the scope of God’s sovereign plan gave his condition a sense of dignity. He accepted his cancer as an assignment from heaven: a missionary to the cancer ward. A week later I saw him again. “I reflected God,” he said, smiling through a thin face, “to the nurses, the doctors, my friends. Who knows who needed to see God, but I did my best to make him seen.” [Lucado, Max. It’s Not About Me: Rescue From the Life We Thought Would Make Us Happy (p. 126). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.]

I witnessed a similar thing with our own Darryl Bonner several years ago. Even as Darryl lay dying in a bed at a hospice care facility he exuded the love of Jesus to those who were taking care of him. He definitely, as Max put it, cranked up the volume of God’s song. Darryl had it booming in that room.

Jesus, in healing the blind man in today’s scripture, cranked up the volume of God’s song as well. Again, God did not cause the man’s blindness as a punishment of some sin he or his parents had committed. No. But in being healed from this blindness he became a witness to God’s glory.

So Jesus heals the blind man and the blind man becomes a witness to the miracles of Jesus. Now an interesting thing happens: some people refuse to believe him.

The scriptures tell us that some people didn’t believe he was the same man who used to be blind and beg. And if you read the part we skipped today, verses 13-34, we find the Pharisees pretty much harassing the man, refusing to believe him. They call him in to question him again and again.

The Pharisees even bring in the man’s parents, who are scared to death, and ask if the man really was born blind and if this is the same man. The parents respond, “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.” — John 9:20-21

After being questioned multiple times by the Pharisees, who keep questioning the man because they don’t like his answers. They kept saying that Jesus was a sinner and because of that he couldn’t have healed the man’s blindness. The man, getting frustrated with the Pharisees, finally has enough. He tells them, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and 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.” — John 9:30-33 The Message

The Pharisees, stung and offended, do what most people do when offended: offend back. They say, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” — John 9:34. And after they said that they drove him out of the temple, I’m sure pretty roughly.

That’s where we pick up the second part of our scripture today where Jesus finds out that they had driven the man out of the temple. He starts a conversation with the man and the man believes that Jesus is the son of man.

Jesus then says, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” — John 9:39

Well the Pharisees, who hear this, are again offended by this stinging rebuke and bow up against Jesus. They say, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” (Again, remember that these people associated blindness with sin. So basically, “We are not sinners so therefore we aren’t blind.”)

Jesus responds to them: “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

Ouch! Or as the teenagers used to say years ago, “Booyah!”

Jesus is using blindness as a spiritual metaphor. The Pharisees, being not only the religious leaders but the social and cultural leaders of the Jewish people, believe themselves to be better than everyone else, especially those with disabilities, those that are cripple, blind, mute, or who have leprosy. After all, those people sinned and God is punishing them by giving them their disability.

They had eyes, but they did not see. Meanwhile, the blind man, who previously could not see, does believe in Jesus Christ.

It echoes what was written in the Old Testament in the book of Isaiah. Isaiah sees a vision, the one where a seraph gets a hot coal from the altar with a pair of tongs and goes and touches Isaiah on the lips. God tells Isaiah, “Go and tell this people: ‘Listen hard, but you aren’t going to get it; look hard, but you won’t catch on.’ Make these people blockheads, with fingers in their ears and blindfolds on their eyes, So they won’t see a thing, won’t hear a word, So they won’t have a clue about what’s going on and, yes, so they won’t turn around and be made whole.” The Message

Jesus even quotes this scripture from Isaiah in the 13th chapter of Matthew. He ends it by telling his disciples, “But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear.” — Matthew 13:16.

As humans we are pretty bad about seeing only what we want to see. We see it in politics in this election year. Something will happen and one side of the political aisle sees it only one way, and the other side sees it as just the other. It’s the same event, but the perceptions are completely opposite. We see what we want to see.

It’s like the old adage of do you see the glass half full or half empty? (I say it depends on what liquid is in the glass.)

Here, let me show you a piece of artwork. This is called “On White II” by Wassily Kandinsky. What do you think about it?

Until Pam and I watched an old movie this past week I had never heard of Kandinsky, but apparently he was one of the pioneers of abstract art way back in the 1920s. This piece, “On White II” (which I guess means there was a “On White I”?), is one of his more famous pieces.

To be honest with you when I look at this I kinda go, “meh.” I like the bright colors and the cool geometric shapes, but that’s about it. I don’t see much beyond that. To me it kinda looks like a wristwatch exploded.

But according to those that know such things, there is much, much more to this piece of art. Here, I’ll quote to you from the official Kandinsky website about this painting: “As the title suggests, white is predominant in this painting, including the background. Kandinsky used white to represent life, peace and silence. The majority of the geometric shapes are presented in a variety of colours, reflecting the artist’s love for the free expression of inner emotions. Striking through the kaleidoscope of shapes and colours are bold, spiked barbs in black, representing non-existence and death.” []

Uh….. huh….okay… I guess?

After reading that I realize that my perception of this piece of art is a lot different from “those who see.” It makes me think that not only am I not in the deep end of the art appreciation swimming pool, but I kinda doubt that I am even in the kiddie pool.

As humans we see things differently. We perceive things differently.

Years ago there was a country song sung by John Conlee titled “Rose Colored Glasses.” In the song John sings of how his woman has cheated on him and doesn’t treat him well, and yet he still loves her. The words of the chorus are:

But these rose colored glasses
That I’m looking through
Show only the beauty
‘Cause they hide all the truth

In the first century the religious leaders of the day were metaphorically looking through rose colored glasses when it came to how they were spiritually leading the people. They were the smart ones, the ones who knew all the laws in the scriptures, and they were all too eager to enforce those laws on the Jewish people.

But those rose colored glasses, that they were looking through, kept them from seeing the real Jesus, from perceiving the truth.

Today as Christians we can also see things through rose colored glasses, being blind to the truth.

If we look down on others as being less important, less “holy” than we are, then we are like the Pharisees and are blind to the truth.

If we rationalize our theological views to make them match our political views, then we are blind to the truth.

If we say we are Christians and followers of Jesus Christ but put our own wants and needs in front of others, we are blind to the truth.

You get the idea.

So my challenge to you this week is to give yourself a spiritual eye exam. Ask yourself if you are seeing only the things you want to see, or are you seeing things through the eyes of Jesus.

In the words of singer songwriter Brandon Heath, in his song “Give Me Your Eyes,”

Give me your eyes for just one second
Give me your eyes so I can see,
Everything that I keep missing,
Give your love for humanity.
Give me your arms for the broken-hearted
The ones that are far beyond my reach.
Give me Your heart for the ones forgotten.
Give me Your eyes so I can see.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

“On White II” by Wassily Kandinsky
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