Summary: Is seeing believing? Are you looking to see God at work in the world? Are you pointing out those works of God to others so they too can see? Jesus said : “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.”
Blindness is a terrible thing. Our sight is central to so much that we enjoy in the world. Whether it’s the beauty of nature, or the smile on a other person’s face when they see you coming; whether it’s the control it gives you over the world around you, or the freedom that it allows you; or simply the awareness of what’s going on around you, your sight is vital to you. So when someone loses their sight, it requires a lot of adjustment. They have to rely on other senses. They have to depend on others for things like simply getting around that the rest of us take for granted. If you know someone with failing eyesight you’ll know what a loss it is, how many restrictions it puts on their life.
But you know, there are different forms of blindness. There’s physical blindness, but there’s also spiritual blindness. In the story we’re looking at today, we see Jesus healing a man’s physical blindness, and in the process we discover the spiritual blindness of some of those looking on.
Light vs darkness is one of those themes that runs through John’s gospel and linked with that theme is that of judgement.
If you have your Bibles open you might like to turn back to John 3:19. We’ll come back to this later, but it won’t hurt to have this in mind as we go through the passage before us. There in John 3:19-21 John explores the idea of light and darkness and how it’s linked with the true nature of judgement. “And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.” (John 3:19-21 NRSV) Can you see the connection between this theme of light and darkness and blindness and seeing? It’s a connection that comes out more strongly as the story unfolds.
The story begins with Jesus and his disciples encountering a man who’s been blind from birth. The disciples look at this man and what do they see? They don’t see a man in need of healing, do they? They’re blind to his pain. Rather they see an example from the Theologians Case Book! They ask “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” This promises to be a really interesting discussion. Never mind the poor chap sitting there by the side of the road, let’s see what Jesus thinks about the connection between sin and blindness. Well, Jesus immediately points out their own blindness. “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God's works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Their presuppositions have blinded them first to the possibilities of the situation, and second to their purpose for being there. Their understanding of the man’s blindness is in fact no different from that of the Pharisees. Their understanding of the world is one of cause and effect. Illnesses must be the result of God’s judgement on sin. Whether it’s the person’s sin or his parents’ is a matter of debate, but clearly sin must be involved.
This is actually an attitude that you still find in some Christian circles today. Some people still attribute suffering and illness to sinfulness on the part of those suffering or those who are close to them. But Jesus blows that idea out of the water. He says the only thing God intends with this man’s blindness is that God's works might be revealed in him. There’s nothing sinister about this illness. There’s no sense of retribution associated with it. It’s just the way things happen sometimes. But in this case God is going to use it to reveal his glory.
And let’s not miss the rebuke in what Jesus says to his disciples. He says, “We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.” In other words, don’t let your presuppositions deflect you from the opportunities that God provides for ministry.
How often do we analyse and dissect rather than acting to bring God’s light into the world? How often do we apply our theological minds to finding someone to blame, rather than doing what we can to right the wrongs we see?