“I have come into the world to exercise judgment so that those
who don’t see can see and
those who see will become blind.”
- John 9:39
This text is deep and rich. There is much we could focus on. Jesus presents a theological shift on how sin in understood. We could explore liberation theology of disability. We can continue our lenten focus on the spiritual nature of dust and dirt. Jesus performs this act on the sabbath, the day of rest, so we could reflect on our own sabbath practices or the ways that Jesus regularly disregarded the cultural expectations of his day. There is so much here. Light and dark, spiritual sight and spiritual blindness, this is also a pivotal story in the lead-up to Jesus’s arrest and execution. And of course, we have to wrestle with miracles.
Because of the deepness and richness, I find it important to be reminded that the Gospel writers were less interested in what happened historically and factually and much more focused on what it meant and what were the important truths expressed in the text. I realize I mention this every time I preach but I find it so fundamental to the way we engage these biblical stories, Raz Alan says “The notion of history as a critical analysis of observable and verifiable events in the past is a product of the modern age; it would have been an altogether foreign concept to the gospel writers for whom history was not a matter of uncovering facts but of revealing truths.” I read this text in John to find truths important for our lives today carried through the long arch of human history.With this and many other stories it is easy to get lost in the logistics, lost in the weeds so to speak and we run the risk of loosing sight of what is at the heart. We can become blind to the truth. This is a story about blindness, but not the obvious blindness.
Jesus is walking with his disciples, and one of them makes a offhand comment, the way you do with you are on walk with friends. How do you suppose.... or what do you think… in this case… “who do you supposed sinned, the guy or his parents?” The question for the context is completely reasonable. At that time, according to the Holiness Code in Leviticus, a person with any kind of illness or disability is the result of some sin, which can be passed down by parents as God’s punishment. This man they are talking about is known to have been blind from birth and because he is deemed either a sinner himself or he is the punishment for the sin of his parent’s he is cast out of society. He cannot work, he cannot enter the temple, he cannot engage in culture, is shunned from a life lived in community. As much as he his visual sight is impaired, the culture and community around him are blind to his very existence. Jesus responds that neither he or his parents sinned. His blindness is not the punishment for sin at all, but rather his is called to manifest the works of God. With these words Jesus is challenging the long-standing understanding of sin. He is also challenging the long-standing assumptions about people with disabilities. Even now, how often do we assume that someone with a disability is missing out on life, lacking in some way, incomplete, un-whole. How often do we see some one as “other” from us and make a judgement about their life and their relationship to God.
Jesus bends down along the side of the road face-to-face with this man who is an ignored outcast of society, he takes dirt in his hand, that cosmic stuff of the earth and spits in it. He takes this rich cosmic soil and mixes it with his saliva. He mixes it with a part of himself, his divinely human self, and rubs it on the man’s eyes. I can’t help but feel there is some important truth in the connection between the Genesis 2 creation story in which God creates humans from the dust of the ground and Jesus using the dust of the ground to illustrate blindness, sightedness and create a whole new life for this man. Jesus then tells the man to go and wash in spring-fed pool. The man returns, with his vision restored. Jesus has allowed him, invited him, to engage with culture, society, and life. Jesus’ healing restores the economic injustice the man has experienced.
However, healing is not the same as curing. To assume that those who have a disability are in need of a “cure” is to perpetuate the false assumption that they are un-whole and promotes the link between sin and disability that Jesus here refutes. And I don’t know that curing is the point of this message. If I were a Greek or Hebrew scholar I could tell you the etymology of the original word and the ways in which it has been translated, however I am not a Greek or Hebrew scholar and so all I can offer is that in our culture cure and healing are used interchangeably in many cases. To be healed implies a cure, and yet I believe that healing is more about restoration. Jesus has restored this man, restored for him a place in culture and society, restored for him an identity, he has given this man new life.
The neighbors, townsfolk and those who have ignored by this guy for years begin to argue if it is the same guy and what happened. The guy tells his story over and over again. They drag him before the Pharisees, the town and religious leaders, and they too ask him to tell his story over and over. “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me to go and wash, and now I see.” The people and the Pharisees continue to argue about wether his words can be trusted, he is a sinner after all. They debated Jesus’s authority and ability to perform such signs, because since it took place on the sabbath he too is a sinner. Jesus has messed with social order, he has disobeyed commandments and he has done something much greater than curing the man’s eyesight. This becomes something of a pre-trial of Jesus, with the man being interrogated for information. When he offers no condemnation, the Pharisees drive the man who used to be blind out of the temple.
Jesus goes and finds the man and says, “I have come into the world so that those who don’t see can see and those who see will become blind.” Jesus is saying, not only do I come to give eyes to see and ears to hear, but also, I come to give blindness — or put another way — to reveal the blindness of those who think their sight and judgment is perfect.
The is a story about blindness, but it is not about the blindness of the man, it is about the blindness of the Pharisees, the neighbors, the disciples, and the rest of us. This story is about seeing spiritually which is not about having ocular vision. Seeing spiritually is viewing through God’s vision a beloved community in which all people are included and celebrated as whole and beloved children of God.
What would it mean for us to see spiritually today. How might our spiritual blindness be healed and spiritual vision restored? I invite you to close your eyes and sit for a moment, what do you see. What spiritual vision can you enjoy when your eyes are closed. With our cultural and social divisions on the forefront of our lives these days, what ways do we need to have our spiritual vision cleared, our spiritual eyes opened that we might see through God’s vision.