Text: John 9:1-6
“As he went on his way Jesus saw a blind man from his birth. His disciples put the question, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents? Why was he born blind? Is it not that this man or his parents sinned.’”
“Jesus answered, ‘he was born blind that God’s power might be displayed in curing him. While daylight lasts we must carry on the work of him who sent me; night comes, when no one can work. While I am in the world I am the light of the world.’”
When the disciples see the blind man they assume that there is a connection between present disability and previous sin. The only question then is, whose sin was it? So, faced with a man blind from birth, they deduce that someone must have done something wrong for which there is a punishment.
Thinking this way is a way of trying to hold on to a belief in God’s justice. If something in the world seems “unfair,” but you believe in a God who is both all-powerful and all-loving and all-fair, one way of getting around the problem is to say that it only seems unfair, but actually isn’t. There was after all some secret sin being punished. This is a comfortable sort of thing to believe if you happen to be well-off, well-fed and healthy in body and mind (in other words, if nobody can accuse you of some secret previous sin).
Jesus firmly resists any such analysis of how the world is ordered. The world is stranger than that, and darker than that, and the light of God’s powerful, loving justice shines more brightly than that. But to understand we have to dismantle some of our cherished assumptions and let God remake them in a different way.
We have to stop thinking of the world as a kind of moral slot-machine, where people put in a coin (a good act, say, or an evil one) and get out a particular result (a reward or punishment). Of course, actions always have consequences. Good things often happen as a result of good actions (kindness produces gratitude), and bad things often happen through bad actions (drunkenness cases car accidents). But this isn’t inevitable. Kindness is sometimes scorned. Some drunkards always get away with it.
Being born blind doesn’t mean you must have sinned. No: something much stranger, at once more mysterious and more hopeful, is going on. The chaos and misery of this present world is, it seems the raw material out of which the loving, wise and just God is making his new creation.
When Jesus heals the man, John clearly intends us to see the action as one of the moments in the gospel when God’s truth and the world’s life come rushing together into one. “I am the light of the world,” says Jesus. As the passage goes on, we see part of what it means that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness didn’t overcome it.” John’s gospel is pushing us forward in heart and mind towards God’s new creation, the time when God will make all things new.
John wants us to understand Jesus is doing “the works of the one who sent him.” A new chaos is on the way – the “night,” the darkness, when Jesus will be killed and the world will seem to plunge back into primal confusion. But at the moment he is establishing the new world of light and healing. After the chaos of Good Friday and Saturday, he will bring the new creation itself into being with the light of the first Easter Day (John 20:1).
Whoever invented the fable of the blind men and the elephant seemed to have three things he wanted to say.
First, the elephant was a much more wonderful beast with many more aspects than any of the men would allow.
Second, that the reason for each man’s narrowness was not his blindness but his pretensions to have a comprehensive view of the animal.
And finally, this attitude destroyed any fellowship the men could have had, since each felt superior to his fellows.
As Christians we believe that “God was in Christ reconciling the world unto himself,” and that in seeing Jesus we see the Father. The problem is that we forget that our seeing is always fragmentary and limited. As we look at the Son, one sees an evangelist, another sees a healer, and third sees a philosopher. Our pretention to a comprehensive understanding prevents us from seeing that He is all of these things and more. When we are reluctant to admit our blindness, our fellowship becomes a loose association of believers who compete to win acceptance for their various understandings of the faith.
It becomes for us to share with one another our various discoveries of the love of God in this competitive atmosphere.
The story of Jesus’ healing of the blind man in John 9 is filled with double meanings. After Jesus healed him, the man was cross-examined by the Pharisees. His answer showed a beautiful balance of humility and conviction: “I don’t know all the answers, but I do know that I was blind and now I see.” As the Pharisees heard Jesus explaining the miracle, they huffed, “So we are blind too, are we?” Jesus explained that their blindness was not fatal, but their pretensions to comprehensive view of God were.
New creation always seems puzzling. Nobody in the story could quite figure out whether the man was the same or not. Sometimes when people receive the good news of Jesus it so transforms their lives that people ask the same question: Is this really the same person? Can anyone who used to lie and steal, to cheat and swear, have become a truthful, wholesome, wise human being? The answer is yes, this can and does happen. In the same way, after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples are faced with the astonishing question: is this really Jesus? Again the answer is yes. New creation does happen. Healing does happen. Lives can be transformed. And the question then is the one they asked the man: how did it happen? How does it happen?
The answer given throughout the gospel is, of course, “through Jesus.” If we accept the invitation John offers to believe in Jesus, we too, can come to that balance of humility and conviction found in the confession of the man who was healed. And only as we come to this attitude, can a true, nurturing Christian fellowship exist among us.