Updated: Apr 18
a message by Dr. Bruce Havens
Coral Isles Church, U.C.C.
March 19, 2023
John 9:1-12 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 he.” 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.”
As I get older, I find my “vision issues” increasingly frustrating. I started wearing glasses in the sixth grade, when I realized that not being able to read the blackboard from the front row was a problem. Later, in college, I went almost four years without an eye exam and when I first started wearing contact lenses I walked around in awe at what I could see for about a week. Now that I am past the age where myopia meets presbyopia, I can’t even begin to describe my daily frustrations with my vision. But far more troubling for me than these physical vision issues, I find the ways I am spiritually myopic much more troubling. What do I mean by my spiritual myopia?
I am often unable to see the way God works as clearly as I wish. I often am unappreciative of all the blessings I have known. I look around and often believe that if everyone could see things as clearly as I do, spiritually, the world would be a lot better place. That said, I fully understand the doubts and difficulties the Pharisees had with Jesus healing the blind man. I am a stickler for rules. Jesus broke the rules when he healed the man on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was for rest and Jesus’ faith community considered healing to be work. I believe in doing things the right way. Taking mud and spit and putting it on the man’s eyes is gross, let alone that it was ceremonially unclean according to Jesus’ religion. But probably more troubling for me is that, the Pharisees had no problem with believing that someone could perform a miracle healing like that, while for me it is just incredible! In Jesus’ time doing what we call “miracles” was actually almost commonplace. Anything that happened that couldn’t be explained was considered a “miracle.” Today, we are far too sophisticated and scientific to believe in these Biblical miracles, aren’t we? So, all that said, what are we to learn from this long – over forty verses long – story of Jesus healing a man born blind?
I want to suggest to you that John is telling a parable. And the real definition of a parable is a story that challenges us to move from one understanding of reality to a new and different one. I imagine John told this story expecting his hearers to laugh at the comedy of the interactions. If comedy is a story of a man who knows he is in trouble, and tragedy is a man who does not know he is in trouble, John has masterfully woven both into this parable. The man born blind knows he is in trouble while the most religious of men – the Pharisees - have no clue, and cannot see just how blind they are to who Jesus is. So here’s the summary of this comedy – slash – tragedy parable.
First you have the disciples trying to sound wise, asking: “Master, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” It was assumed that anyone who was born physically impaired had either somehow sinned in the womb, or their parents were such wretched sinners that their baby came out cursed. Of course, we, as sophisticated 21st Century Christians would never think such a thing, right? Yet we judge people on what we call “lifestyles” instead of believing that a person can be born with a different gender orientation than we were. And we use that word “lifestyle” and “choice,” in spite of the fact that a consistent percentage of the population around the world, throughout history, have identified differently from the majority? Well, never mind, that isn’t even the point of the story for John.
Then you have the religious leaders find out the man was healed. Instead of jumping for joy at God’s grace they demand to know who did it, on what day, and how? For John, the fact that they don’t “know” is already proof that they are spiritually blind. In another case bizarre part, bystanders who have seen the man every day of his life don’t “recognize” who he is. Apparently, they can’t “see” who he is! The religious leaders question the man about Jesus’ identity. Then the religious leaders question his parents. The parents are in a panic because they know if they say it was Jesus who did this, the religious leaders will call them sinners and blasphemers and throw them out of the synagogue. The parents throw it back on their own son: he’s an adult, he can speak for himself, ask him. If we were blocking this scene in the theatre, we would have those religious leaders running back and forth in a tizzy questioning everyone. We would call it more than a comedy, we would call it a farce. And that is what John is saying. It is ridiculous that these so-called religious leaders, educated, and expecting honor and reverence for their “spiritual leadership” can’t see what is right before their eyes. They don’t “know” what is obvious to everyone with eyes to see. When the man himself makes fun of them for their blindness and ignorance they curse him and throw him out of the synagogue.
This tragic comedy ends with Jesus and the man having a private moment, yet some of the Pharisees are listening in from a distance. They are still questioning who is blind and who can see. They don’t much like Jesus’ answer either. He tells them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” So, the slapstick comedy ends with the tragedy that the folks who are most “religious” can’t see their need for spiritual optometry. They cannot see that Dr. Jesus is capable, far beyond the finest ophthalmologists who ever lived, to heal their spiritual blindness, just as he healed the man’s physical blindness.
At this point I have to pause and take a deep breath. My temptation is to point out the spiritual blindness of those who today think they know everything God knows, and have decided they know who God loves and who God doesn’t. My temptation is to point out that they have blindly drawn lines to exclude people in the name of God. My argumentative self wants to remind those folks that Jesus once said, “Why do you attempt to take a speck out of your neighbor’s eye when you have a telephone pole in yours?” My wiser self speaks up and reminds me that, just like my physical sight is weak, my spiritual insight may also be in need of a Spiritual Optometrist.
So, if I were to ask Dr. Jesus what his prescription might be it might sound like some of these wiser, more pastoral views on what we can learn from the man born blind, but healed by Dr. Jesus’ mud and spit prescription poultice.
Dr. Wiley Stephens, a pastor in the United Methodist Church, back in 2011 wrote, [“Blindness of the Heart, day1.org, April 3, 2011], “The challenge is not to find who to blame, but how do we reach out to those who suffer, and bring hope and comfort to their lives. For when we start to blame and judge others, … we add to their burdens. Think for a moment how the parents must have felt when they were told by the religious authorities that they were the cause of their son’s blindness. We add so much to the burdens of others as we judge and accuse.
“In the church there are caucuses and groups that judge others and divide the Body of Christ. They see issues in terms of [absolute wrong or right, no gray areas]. “Like the authorities in our Gospel lesson, they are always right and the others always wrong. Within the Body of Christ we need to be one in the Spirit. In the church there needs to be room for diversity of understanding but unity in love. Later in the Gospel of John, Jesus says, ‘I have sheep not of this flock.’ There will be diversity, and we must be careful to let God to set the boundaries.
“Listen again to the great statement of faith by the man once blind, ‘One thing I know, I was blind but now I see.’ The authorities were afraid of what would happen when God got involved and they were no longer in control, and for that reason there was a price to pay. The [once-blind] man’s profession of faith came with a great cost. He was cast out of the synagogue, cut off from his family. In our own world there are those who would make single issues the litmus test of whether one” qualifies as a [true] follower of Jesus.
I think being able to “see with one’s heart” might be part of Dr. Jesus’ prescription. But a lot of people have hardened their hearts to others. They have a need to scrub the lenses of their hearts of the dirt and mud they have let build up. We too, have to be careful that we don’t hate those who speak hatred to us for being guided by grace rather than law. We cannot let their blindness change our vision of a Christ whose arms are stretched out in love to welcome everyone. I believe in a Christ whose arms stretch out to welcome the “least of these,” to the greatest among us, from those who have been left out, left behind, closed out, hated out, and just plain “outed” without asking for it, to those who have always felt at home in the church.
I like what Rev. Cameron Trimble said recently, [Convergence Weekly, “On Becoming a Christian,” March 16, 2023]. She said, “Author and poet Maya Angelou, in an interview on the occasion of her being awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, said, ‘I’m always amazed when people walk up to me and say, “I’m a Christian.” She paused reflectively. “I think, ‘Already? You already got it?’ I’m working at it, which means that I try to be as kind and fair and generous and respectful and courteous to every human being.’
Rev. Trimble adds, “I think about Dr. Angelou’s reflection a great deal as I, too, am trying to become a Christian. Some days are better than others. Aging helps, as it has rounded some of the rough edges of my arrogance and calmed the relentless anxiety of chasing success…. I’ve often wondered what role being a part of a congregation has played in my ‘becoming a Christian.’ Some congregations have been more nurturing spaces than others.” She adds this: “Brian McLaren, talks about congregations as ‘schools of love, places where we connect honestly with one another. In that vulnerability, we learn something of Sacred Love. We become more loving, more compassionate, more at ease in our own skin, more integrated because we are part of these ‘schools of love.’ After all, he says, where else can we go to learn of love?”
So let us be a school of love, maybe even a pharmacy of love with plenty of Dr. Jesus’ prescriptions to pour out. Let us not give in to the illnesses of hatred and blindness of those who have the loudest microphones right now. Let us remember, we too may once have been blind, even if now we see. Let us remember that the Spiritual Optometrist has broken the chains that bound our lives, our hearts, our minds, and even our eyes at one time. We may once have been blind, but now we can see. AMEN.