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John

Blind Man From Missouri

John 9

(Note: a more conventional treatment of this passage can be found in our Life of Christ study. As I promised the class I would not rerun lessons – the Word of God is ever new – this lesson takes a somewhat different approach.)

We see this morning the virtues of a man with an overwhelming handicap. He’s blind.

1As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

3“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

6Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man’s eyes. 7“Go,” he told him, “wash in the Pool of Siloam” (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.

8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, “Isn’t this the same man who used to sit and beg?” 9Some claimed that he was.

Others said, “No, he only looks like him.”

But he himself insisted, “I am the man.”

10“How then were your eyes opened?” they demanded.

11He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”

12“Where is this man?” they asked him.

“I don’t know,” he said.

13They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. 14Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. 15Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”

16Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”

But others asked, “How can a sinner do such miraculous signs?” So they were divided.

17Finally they turned again to the blind man, “What have you to say about him? It was your eyes he opened.”

The man replied, “He is a prophet.”

18The Jews still did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they sent for the man’s parents. 19“Is this your son?” they asked. “Is this the one you say was born blind? How is it that now he can see?”

20“We know he is our son,” the parents answered, “and we know he was born blind. 21But how he can see now, or who opened his eyes, we don’t know. Ask him. He is of age; he will speak for himself.” 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the Christ£ would be put out of the synagogue. 23That was why his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

24A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God,£” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”

25He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”

26Then they asked him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

27He answered, “I have told you already and you did not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples, too?”

28Then they hurled insults at him and said, “You are this fellow’s disciple! We are disciples of Moses! 29We know that God spoke to Moses, but as for this fellow, we don’t even know where he comes from.”

30The man answered, “Now that is remarkable! You don’t know where he comes from, yet he opened my eyes. 31We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly man who does his will. 32Nobody has ever heard of opening the eyes of a man born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

34To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out.

35Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

36“Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.”

37Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.”

38Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him.

39Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind.”

40Some Pharisees who were with him heard him say this and asked, “What? Are we blind too?”

41Jesus said, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.

We will approach this passage from an unconventional direction: we will follow the story from the point of view of the blind beggar.

Born Blind

What’s it like to be born blind? We have in our midst those who were born with grave afflictions, like cerebral palsy. In our time the wealth of our society makes life more tolerable for such people, but I submit that we have not really taken away the pain of such things.

  • A man born blind in this society must become a beggar. Imagine that; all your life is spent knowing that you continue to eat by the charity of others. The disabled in our day all seem to want a job; something by which they can hold up their heads. This man had no such opportunity. He lived by the art of making others feel generous.
  • Especially in youth, this man would have been a laughingstock – the kid who couldn’t play soccer. Children can be extremely cruel. Being “different” is often the worst of crimes. Worse, there was no hope of ever fitting in with the others.
  • In his day – and, perhaps to your surprise, in ours – the question of “who sinned?” is raised by the good and the pious. Either somehow the blind man is the sinner, or the parents he loves were such sinners that God punished them with a blind child. The “tsk-tsk” of the saintly can be cruel indeed.
Suffering for sin

Why do we put this burden on others? Because we know, ourselves, what sinners we are. We can look at them and see ourselves – only “they” were singled out by God for such punishment. In the time of this man there was a theory extant which held that the soul was eternal (it isn’t; you have a beginning) and that therefore prenatal sin was possible. (Similar theories drive the reincarnation religions.)

In our modern time we call the selection random, and explain it scientifically. This, I think, misses the point. It may be interesting to known why I am afflicted with this or that, but the real question is not , “Why?” The real question is, “Why me?” Job knew why his children were not coming home. He didn’t know why he was singled out.

And – to be fair to God about it – it would have made no difference if he had known. The dinner table would be just as empty with an explanation.

Outside the box

The world has put this man, and his parents, into a little box marked “Sinner – and paying for it.” Jesus takes them out of this box. He explains to his disciples that this man was born blind – so that the glory of God might be revealed.

Does that seem unfair? A man is blind for over thirty years, all so that someone else might see the glory of God?

How little we esteem the glory of God in our day! In past times it was thought a noble thing to build a cathedral to the glory of God. The architect of Notre Dame de Paris is anonymous – for his work was for the glory of God. We would ask why he didn’t put up a brass plate with the name of the architect and his firm. But our ancestors knew better than that. Here we see the prime purpose: that God’s glory would be “made manifest” – made clear and plain – to one and all.

The blind man becomes the monument to the greatness of God; in his economy, God uses the weak and powerless to proclaim his power.

The blind man revealed

Character is revealed in action. In action we shall see what this man was made of.

His faith

It might seem to you that this man would not be noted for great faith. I submit that his behavior shows us the opposite.

  • Did you notice what he didn’t do? He didn’t ask any questions; he didn’t question his motive or methods – but he obeyed.
  • How – you might ask – did he come by such simple obedience? One question answered with another: how did he know Jesus’ voice? After all, he never saw Jesus until he hunted him up. Jesus told him to go to Siloam. He knew Jesus’ voice because he had been listening to him teach in the Temple. He was a student at the Master’s feet.
  • His virtue is simple obedience to divine command. By the use of clay Jesus reminds him of the creation of Adam; by washing, he puts in mind baptism for repentance. These are pictures which penetrate the blindness and bring this blind man his sight.
Attack on the blind beggar

As the phrase in our time goes, “No good deed goes unpunished.” We can see that the touch of the Master has changed this man; we see it in his response to those who insist that Jesus cannot do such things.

  • Their first attack is upon the miracle itself – it can’t be the blind beggar, but someone who looks like him. There must be a trick here. In this, however, the transparent honesty of the man shines out. When he identifies himself, those around know the voice.
  • There is always the possibility that the blind beggar is a fake. Perhaps his parents taught him how to act blind and beg. But they are called in also, and their reputation for honesty is such that all believe them when they tell the Pharisees the truth.
  • The charge of trickery having fallen, the Pharisees now challenge the righteousness of Jesus. Our blind man is a simple soul; whether or not the man is a sinner, how should he know? But one thing he knows, and one thing he testifies to: he was blind, now he sees. This objection was rather tough.
  • Indeed, it was too tough for the Pharisees. Rather than let this miracle influence them any more, they throw the man out.
Defense: the character of a man of faith

Perhaps the most dramatic aspect of this miracle is not the sight in the man’s eyes, but the transformation of the man into a bold speaker. He has spent his life being subservient, begging with sightless eyes. Now his eyes are opened, and he quickly grows bold.

We also see here the growth in faith. His perception of Jesus changes as he knows more:

  • First he is “a man.” It’s an important point, and a good start.
  • Then he is “a prophet.” This he is also, and shows us that the beggar puts him in the highest category of God’s servants. But there is more.
  • Finally, he is “Lord.” As he draws closer to Jesus, the truth becomes plain.

It is characteristic of one who truly knows Jesus Christ that they divide those around them. Christ did not come to bring peace, but a sword.

Lessons from the blind man

We can learn from this man.

Walk in the light you have

You don’t know all about Jesus Christ? Join the group. Here’s what you can do with what you know:

  • Be obedient. This man did not challenge Jesus, but did as was commanded.
  • Be the witness of what you have seen and experienced. The man did not understand the theology of this – but he knew one thing. He was blind, but now he wasn’t. Testify to what Christ has done in your life.
  • Do not fear to admit your ignorance. Correct it if you can, but in the meanwhile understand that God will reveal himself to you progressively, lest you be overwhelmed.
Don’t be afraid

The facts, after all, are the facts.

  • This man did not back down or compromise, despite all threats. Even when his family passed the buck to him (what must they have thought of him?) he was bold. Quite a change for a beggar!
  • Realize that you, like this man, are sent for a task. Siloam means “sent” in Hebrew; when God touches you it gives you a responsibility.
  • The paradox is still there; he who would save his life will lose it; he who would lose it will save it.
Remember the Judgment

This man did not take his new-found sight and use it to judge others. Perhaps years of begging had taught him about the log in his sightless eye. The cure for spiritual blindness is to bring it to God and have it removed.

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