Summary: Jesus encounter with the man born blind. Seeing as a metaphor of judgement
Blindness is a terrible thing isn’t it? We rely on our eyes so much for experiencing the world, for enjoying life, for perceiving reality. After all, seeing is believing. Di and I went to the Opera in New York when we were there. We decided we could just afford seats in the Family Circle. What we discovered of course is that the Family Circle was so high above the stage you got a nose bleed climbing the stairs. I was telling my mother about this last week and she asked whether we could see anything on the stage. I assured her that we could see all the performers, even if we couldn’t see any details of their faces or their costumes. She told me that when they went to something recently at the Sydney Opera House she had a similar experience. But that was nothing compared to my father’s experience. You see, he’s going blind and so he couldn’t see anything that was happening on stage. All he could do was listen to the music so half the experience was lost to him. I guess you don’t really appreciate how much you rely on your sight until you find it failing.
But you know, there are different forms of blindness. There’s physical blindness, and there’s 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.
Now you may be aware that the theme of light and darkness runs throughout John’s gospel, and linked with that theme is that of judgement. Open your bibles if you will, to John 3, v19. 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. (John 3:19-21 NRSV) "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." 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.
But back to John 9. 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 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 the parent’s is a matter of debate, but clearly sin must be involved. This is actually an attitude that continues to have currency in Christian circles today. Still people attribute suffering and illness, or lack of healing, perhaps, 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 desires from 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 task that God has put you here to do. 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 working out why something is the way it is, rather than doing what we can to right the wrongs we see?