John 9:1–41 (NRSV)
A Man Born Blind Receives Sight
9 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. 2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” 9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” 12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
The Pharisees Investigate the Healing
13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. 14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. 15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” 16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. 17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”
18 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 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” 20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” 22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”
24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” 25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” 26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” 27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” 28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” 30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. 31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” 34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” 37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” 38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. 39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” 40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” 41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.
The story of the blind man from birth I find to be one of the greatest miracles of scripture. I think this because according to John, the blind man is just being himself. He is not crying out for healing, he is not making himself a nuisance to society, he is just being himself content with who he is. Of course, he has not known any other life, he is not crying out to be healed because he would not know what sight would be like in the first place.
To get an accurate picture of what is going on we need to know the scenery. In the seventh chapter of John, Jesus goes to Jerusalem to attend the festival of Booths. This is one of the three major feasts of the Hebrew calendar. The one that is celebrated at the closing of the harvest. Our thanksgiving is the equivalent of this festival, but our thanksgiving celebrations pale in comparison to the Jewish feast. We celebrate for one day, well not even a full day more like one meal. The first century Jewish community would celebrate for an entire week. They would all gather in Jerusalem and would build temporary dwellings and basically camp out for a week. While they were living out in the elements with one another they would share whatever they had with whoever came to their dwelling. This festival was to celebrate two things. The first is the annual thanksgiving for the harvest and blessings that God have provided to them along the course of the year. The second was to remember that God is the provider of all things, just as God provided for their ancestors while they wondered in the wilderness with Moses.
From the seventh chapter on through the passage we read today, Jesus is interacting with the people of Jerusalem during this seven-day feast. We may miss the significance of this because when we look at the feast of Booths many of us think of thanksgiving, but there is much more going on. During the festival, there are some important ceremonies occurring at the temple. One of the most important is the drawing of the water in a golden jug from the blessed spring and then pour the contents onto the altar. This ceremony was there to remind the people of the dedication of the temple to God, as well as reminding them that it is God who provides the rains for their harvest. The spring that the water was drawn from is the very spring from which an aqueduct was built to fill the pool of Siloam. This spring was the spring used to bless David, and it was the spring that provided the water that was mixed with the ashes of the Red Heifer to bless the temple. It is seen as the water of life.
So, in the seventh chapter of John, Jesus is attending the celebration, and on the last day of the celebration he begins to interact with the religious leaders, preaching about the water of life. That he is the one that will take away the sins of the world. And to close the discussion he said that “Before Abraham was, I Am.” At that point, Jesus announced before all of Jerusalem that he is equal to God. The religious leaders were quick to judge that statement and were about to throw him out of the temple, but he left freely. When he was done talking to the religious leaders Jesus and the disciples leave that area and they go to where the common people are at. The disciples were still excited by the debate and asked Jesus about the man born blind.
The common understanding of disability at that time was that any infirmity was a sign of the displeasure of God. So, for someone to have been born blind either the parents or the infant would have had to sinned greatly for such a devastating disability. I tell you all the back ground because this is the same day, the last day of the feast of Booths, the same day where Jesus claims to be God and the one who will take away the sins of the world. The day when the priest remove water from the pool of Siloam to bless the altar that was purified with the same water and the ashes of a red heifer to dedicate it to God for the sacrifices that would be made to remove the sins from the people of God. A man that is born blind is a man that has no hope of redemption. He cannot enter the temple proper to offer sacrifices because he is unclean, his sin has rendered him an outcast and he must be healed before he can offer sacrifices. But his sin will remain because there is no way for him to remove the stain of the sin because he cannot enter to offer sacrifices. So according to the teaching of the religious leaders of that day this man is a condemned man for life, one without hope.
Jesus tells his disciples that this man was born blind not because of sin but to reveal God’s work. The man is just standing there not engaging the people simply listening. Jesus then spits on the ground makes mud, spreads the mud on the guy’s face, and tells the man to go wash in the Pool of Siloam. The man goes and does this, partly because Jesus commanded him too, and I am sure there is a small part of him that wants to wash because some random guy just spread mud made from spit on his face and that is kind of gross even if it is from the Messiah. As the water drips from the man’s face something amazing happens, he can see.
At that moment, this man was no longer an outcast of society but he would be considered clean according to the law. Regarding the contemporary teachings, Jesus literally removed all signs of sin from this man’s life and made him acceptable in the eyes of God. Jesus gave this man life, both in society and spiritual life. The man immediately moves into the crowds of worshipers to celebrate and people start to talk. The talking attracts the attention of the religious leaders, who then bring the man in to interrogate him.
Why do they spend so much time talking to this one man? Why do they bring in his parents to question them? And why do they bring this man in a second time to question him? It all goes back to the claims that Jesus made that very day. The claim that he was the water of life, that he would take away the sins of the world, and that He was God. Right before their eyes they had proof that the words of Jesus were true. But truth can be an awkward thing to swallow. For them to accept this man’s testimony they would have to adjust their teaching in some way. The first being that disability is a direct result of sin. If this man was born blind, he was a grave sinner. For that infirmity to be removed then the penalty of that sin would have to be removed. How did that happen? From the testimony, the only one that encountered the man was someone named Jesus. Right there this man was causing them to evaluate everything they thought they knew.
Religious leaders do not like to be questioned. I am just as guilty as the next one. Just yesterday I was not a prime example of one carrying the name of Christ when someone questioned something I did. I did not do anything wrong, but my attitude was not filled with grace. I like these Pharisees looked at the one before me and responded according to the teachings I ascribed to instead of the revealed Spirit of God before my eyes. They were faced with a decision that they did not want to make. They would have to accept the teachings of Jesus or they would have to reject them. Yet there was this man standing before them as proof that Jesus had power, so what would they do with that? They cast him out. They refused to adjust their thinking based on the new evidence presented. They held fast to traditions and doctrine instead of listening to the living spirit of God. They chose death over life. They chose blindness over sight.
God works all around us yet often we cannot see it. Often, we are too caught up in our own problems to see God working. Sometimes we think everything is wrong in the world and we complain that mud just got smeared on our faces. But what are we doing? Do we just stay where we are covered in mud or do we wash our faces and stand tall before those around us? At times, we might see something occurring that we cannot really explain, but we know it is not how we would do it so we complain and protest. Could it be that maybe God is working things out around us and we just need to step back and look at things from a different perspective so we can see?
This former blind man became the very first person to worship Jesus. He worshiped Him because he had no other place to go. He was born an outcast and when he was healed he was cast out. But Jesus accepted him for who he was. The man was blind and Jesus loved him, Jesus gave him a gift of grace and healing even though the man did not know how to ask for it. And before his face was completely dry the religious leaders were trying to control his behavior and his thinking. They rejected him, yet Jesus accepted him. I cringe when I read this because I can see myself in nearly everyone in this story. But I want to believe and worship as freely as this once blind man. I want to celebrate the lives changed before my eyes and not worry about what others might think. I want to see though often I settle for blindness.
We cannot be true worshippers of God, worshippers in sprit and truth if we are spiritually blind. We cannot be true worshippers if we are unwilling to embrace the Spirit working in and around us breathing life in to us. We cannot be true worshiper if we do not let the waters of life saturate our souls and wash our mud covered faces clean. I pray that we will be people that are willing to see. And when we begin to see then we will fully embrace the life of Christ; loving God, embracing the Holy spirit and living the love of Christ with other.