the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
Sermon Notes on John 9:1-38 [the Sunday of the Blind,2016]
As the Lord passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth.
There are all manners of blindness in this Gospel lesson. The man born blind has one form of blindness – a physical blindness, but there are many forms of blindness which inflict humans as the Gospel lesson reveals.
And his disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
The disciples have a blindness as well. They cannot see the truth about this man and try to see him from a particular point of view – a view which assumes all disease and deformity is caused by sin. Thus they think it might be possible even to determine who the sinner is that caused the physical blindness.
Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; night comes, when no one can work.
Now we are going to see what the lesson is about. The man’s blindness is going to reveal God’s works! The illness is not about sin.
Note: Jesus says that this illness is NOT the result of sin, either of the man’s or his parents, and we can assume not his ancestors’ either. Here we have a confrontation with any who hold that “original sin” explains everything about sickness and illness. Many Christians think original sin explains every ailment of humanity Here Jesus is showing us a different way to understand this illness! Original sin will not explain this one man’s blindness.
Jesus says it is imperative to do the work of Him who sent Jesus during the daylight. This is interesting, because it is the Sabbath Day, and for the Jews they’re not supposed to work until after the Sabbath Day ends – after dark. Jesus is speaking figuratively, the day is the time when God’s work is to be done. We are supposed to do God’s work on the Sabbath. We are not freed from the obligation to serve God on the Sabbath day! Doing God’s work on the Sabbath means more than simply resting, though Jesus will give this man rest from his illness. Christ points out everyday is the day for doing God’s work. God is always working in His creation.
As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
Jesus said we must do God’s work while it is day, and then says He is the light of the world. We must do God’s work wherever Christ is present – wherever the church is, wherever we who are the Church, Christ’s Body, are! Wherever Christ is there is light, day, time to do God’s work. We are supposed to be where Christ is.
As he said this, he spat on the ground and made clay of the spittle and anointed the man’s eyes with the clay, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent).
Many Patristic writers since the time of St. Irenaeus (2nd Century) saw in the act of Jesus spitting on the ground (on the earth) a reference to the Genesis 2 creation story in which God forms the human being from the dirt of the ground. It is as if Jesus is completing the act of creation for this man. The assumption is that it is really the pre-Incarnate Christ who creates Adam. Now, in this Gospel lesson, the man was born incomplete, with no sight, but the Fathers seem to assume he has no eyes. Christ finishes the act of creation for him – forming eyes from the dirt just as He formed the first human. Christ literally becomes light for this man – granting him sight. Or one might see in Christ’s activity Him literally bringing about the new creation.
So he went and washed and came back seeing. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar, said, “Is not this the man who used to sit and beg?” Some said, “It is he”; others said, “No, but he is like him.”
Back to blindness – now the neighbors aren’t sure what or who they are seeing. Is this their neighbor or not? They’ve known him all their lives, and yet now are are looking at him but can’t see him.
He said, “I am the man.” They said to him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made clay and anointed my eyes and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash’; so I went and washed and received my sight.”They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
No one sees Jesus! He really is like God, invisible
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the clay and opened his eyes. The Pharisees again asked him how he had received his sight. And he said to them, “He put clay on my eyes, and I washed, and I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the sabbath.”
It’s the Pharisees turn to be blind. The man describes an act of God – taking clay and healing his eyes which never worked before. This is not restoring sight to the blind, but giving him sight for the first time. The Pharisees can’t see God in this at all. The only thing they can see is a violation of their understanding of Torah. They are blind to what the healing might represent. They declare first, before any further investigation, this is not from God. They are not willing to see what might be true. Here they engage in willful blindness. They choose not to see what is in front of their eyes. It is not that it would be impossible for them to see it, they decide not to see it – others try to warn against total blindness:
But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner do such signs?” There was a division among them. So they again said to the blind man, “What do you say about him, since he has opened your eyes?” He said, “He is a prophet.”
Interesting that they even ask the healed man what he thinks. They aren’t going to accept his answer. Are they asking him to be blind, and deny the truth of what happened? They ask the blindman to tell them what he sees about his healing and the invisible man who healed him. They want him to see things as they do, but he is no longer blind.
The man does not come to the Pharisees saying he was healed. Rather, others who knew him previously to be blind brought him to the Pharisees to see how they might explain a man who was born blind, but now is able to see, and the healing happened by an action on the Sabbath. How will the Pharisees explain the phenomenon?
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight, until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight, and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but how he now sees we do not know, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age, he will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had already agreed that if any one should confess him to be Christ, he was to be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age, ask him.”
The blindness is increasing. Now the people who knew him as a blind beggar, seem to think it is all some kind of fraud. Now they demand that the parents tell the truth – was the man born blind or not? Has he fooled them all by only claiming to be blind all his life?
The parents can see that this is their son, and they know he was born blind. They also can see that telling the truth is likely to get them into trouble with the religious leaders. The leaders are not only blind, but deaf as well. They have heard the answer to their question, but refuse to accept it thus making themselves deaf to the truth.
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and said to him, “Give God the praise; we know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “Whether he is a sinner, I do not know; one thing I know, that though I was blind, now I see.”
The formerly blind man, sees clearly now – not only physically, but the truth of what his interrogators want. He sees these people for what they are. The healed man speaks truthfully, he doesn’t know if Jesus is a sinner or not – Jesus might be, but that does not change the reality that Jesus healed him. The healed man is not denying God healed him.
They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you too want to become his disciples?”
The religious leaders are clearly both blind and deaf. They won’t hear the answer/truth. Their minds are closed, blind to truth and so they can neither hear it or see it or bear it. Now other words of Jesus come to mind:
With them indeed is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah which says: ‘You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn for me to heal them.’ (Mark 13:14-15)
It is not God who wishes this on His people, but it becomes obvious that willful blindness and deafness are a real aspect of life, even for religious people.
And they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Why, this is a marvel! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but if any one is a worshiper of God and does his will, God listens to him. Never since the world began has it been heard that any one opened the eyes of a man born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”
God is not deaf to the pleas/prayers of the righteous. God is not blind to what is going on. Jesus is not just righteous, He is not just from God. He is God. The formerly blind man sees more clearly what is before his eyes. The man is not denying God, but cannot deny that Jesus healed him. He sees God acting in Jesus.
They answered him, “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out.
Now we are back to the opening question of the Gospel lesson, who sinned? Jesus already dismissed that thought. This is not a question about this man sinning. Any claims to “original sin” or total depravity are held only by those who oppose Christ.
Jesus heard that they had cast him out, and having found him he said, “Do you believe in the Son of man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir, that I may believe in him?” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and it is he who speaks to you.” He said, “Lord, I believe”; and he worshiped him.
The man is able to see Jesus clearly. The opponents of Jesus have revealed their willful blindness. We see all these levels of blindness in this one Gospel lesson – physical, mistaken, intellectual, religious, social and willful. We also encounter the Light of the world, and one who can see.