Scripture: John 9
For years, John was my favourite of the four Gospels. It is only in John that you find the stories of Jesus turning water into wine; or Jesus talking with the woman at the well; or Nicodemus visiting Jesus. John has some of the most famous Bible verses, like John 3:16 that used to appear on signs at sports events. In the other 3 Gospels, Jesus can be secretive about who he is and what he is up to, but not in John. “I am the way, the truth and the life,” “I am the light of the world,” “I am the bread of life.” It was my favourite, although there’s lots to love about the other Gospels.
Matthew’s Gospel focuses on the teachings of Jesus. It has several of Jesus’ sermons, most famously the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew talks about the Magi following the star, and Jesus and his parents fleeing as refugees to Egypt. It has such famous sayings as “Come unto me all who are weary” and “Go and make disciples of all nations” and “I am with you always.” Mark is in a hurry in his Gospel. Everything happens “immediately” in Mark. It has no birth stories, just jumps right into the ministry of Jesus. Mark focuses more on what Jesus did than what he said, and tells it all in short, quick bursts. Luke, on the other hand, is the longest Gospel. In fact, Luke had so much to say that he wrote a sequel, the book of Acts. Luke tells of the shepherds and the manger, and focuses on Jesus’ ministry with marginalized people. Only Luke tells the parables of the Good Samaritan, the Lost Coin or the Prodigal Son.
Each of the four Gospels declares who Jesus Christ is in its own way. In this morning’s text from John, Jesus tells us about himself, in language both clear and cryptic. He is a healer of broken bodies. He is a helper of the poor. He has a special relationship with God. He brings a light that both reveals and blinds.
One day, Jesus and his followers are walking along, and meet a blind man. Somehow, they know he was born that way. Maybe he had a sign, like we see on street corners around our city.
Someone asks, “who sinned and caused this?” They believed that sin was the cause of suffering, and this man is suffering, so who sinned? Whose fault is it?
Now, Jesus never misses a teachable moment. He explains that the question comes from poor theology, from a misunderstanding of who God is and what God is doing.
This was not time for pointing fingers and placing blame, this was a time for God’s work to be done! Why? Because I am the light of the world, Jesus said.
He then shines his powerful, holy light into the darkness of the blind man.
He makes some mud and puts it on the man’s eyes. Imagine the gentle touch that takes. Not a kick for this beggar, but a kind, compassionate, physical contact with a loving fellow human being.
“Close your eyes,” he might have said, and gently spreads this paste on the man.
He sends him away to wash it off. The man obeys. And he comes home seeing!
I wonder how that felt? He knew things by feel; would it be disorienting to get around by sight? Would the colors and shapes and movement be overwhelming?
His neighbours are amazed. “You can see! What happened?”
He tells them about Jesus. He doesn’t know much yet, just calls him “the man they call Jesus.”
Next the Pharisees get involved. Remember them? They were a group of religious traditionalists, who emphasized God’s laws and rules.
The man – who is never named – retells his story. And the Pharisees throw a little fit. To them, one of the surest signs that someone follows the one true God is if they keep God’s laws, especially the Ten Commandments, and double-especially the rules for observing the Sabbath.
“This man can’t be from God,” they say, “because he does not keep the Sabbath.”
“What do you think?” they ask the man. And he answers that Jesus must be a prophet.
That’s interesting. At first, he called Jesus a man, but after thinking about it, he feels Jesus is a prophet, someone with a special message from God, who announces his message through signs and miracles like healing a blind man.
At this point, our story becomes quite funny. If you think that the Bible is all serious all the time, well the middle part of this story turns into a farce, with humour, satire and thick irony.
The Pharisees are still skeptical, so they drag the man’s parents in. Mom and Dad are mortified by the attention, and terrified of their questioners. They would love to run and hide. “We don’t know,” they say, “He’s an adult, ask him!” They throw this hot potato out of their hands as fast as they can, back at their son.
But our former blind man stands up to the questions and pushes back. He sticks to the fact that he was blind, that his world was nothing but darkness, but now light has entered and he sees.
They demand more details, looking for cracks in his story. He replies, “I already told you all this. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you want to become his disciples too?” Zing!
They flip their lids. I imagine them beet-red in the face, steam coming out the ears, like some angry Saturday-morning cartoon character . “We are disciples of Moses!” they scream.
Even as they argue the man is trying to work out in his own mind just who and what Jesus is. He reasons something like this: I was always blind. Jesus opened my eyes. That kind of thing doesn’t happen, it must be a miracle from God. God listens to Jesus in a special way. There must be something especially Godly in this Jesus. Good logic from our formerly blind beggar.
But it’s the final straw, and his questioners toss him out, ending with “How dare you lecture us!” They are so proud, so indignant. And sadly, as Jesus points out later, so blind. Unable to see the incredible ways God is at work in Jesus, and what that means.
Next, when the man sees Jesus for the first time, he does not recognize him. After all, he had been blind the first time. Jesus introduces himself as the Son of Man, and the man who sees declares “Lord, I believe,” and he worships Jesus.
What a journey he has had. From physical blindness to sight. From spiritual darkness to an ever-growing understanding of who Jesus is. And when he gets it, finally, when his spiritual sight is clear, he falls at Jesus’ feet in worship.
The story ends with Jesus pointing out that, as he brings God’s light into the world, the blind will see by it, and those who claim to see, by the weak light of their own understanding, will hopefully realize that Jesus has the true light, or risk being blinded by that light.
Jesus tells us that light can reveal, and light can blind. My daughter is fascinated by flashlights, and when she shines it in my eyes, the light is blinding. But when she shines it around, we can see our way through dark places.
“I am the light of the world,” Jesus said. Jesus shines that light on us and on our world.
With this light, Jesus reveals himself, who he is, and what God is up to in our lives and in our world. As he does so, some who thought they could see will discover they are blind, they are missing God’s point. Others who have been unable to see through their pain and suffering will begin to see God at work.
Blindness. Sight. Simple! One or the other. Right?
John’s Gospel is famously described as somewhere a child may wade and an elephant may swim. It’s simple and straight-forward, a great place to start if you are new, if you want to jump in and see who Jesus is and what God is doing.
But once you dive below the surface, John is deep, strange, mysterious, and we can spend a lifetime exploring it.
This contrast of blindness and sight, for example, has some depths we need to plumb.
When I ask myself, “am I spiritually blind or sighted?” as an either-or choice, I want to say I am not spiritually blind. After all, I grew up in the church; I attend weekly; I give generously; I spent years serving God in a mission parish in Saskatchewan. Would I do any of that if I were spiritually blind?
Yet the very fact that I would rattle off my resume to justify my spiritual sight proves exactly the opposite, doesn’t it? Don’t I sound like the Pharisees? “We are disciples of Moses!”
There’s a wide range between complete sight and complete blindness in our eyes, and I suggest that there are shades of Spiritual sight too.
Let me suggest another, similar metaphor: Spiritual Glaucoma.
The eye disease of Glaucoma runs in my family. My grandmother went completely blind from it; many of my aunts and uncles are being treated or monitored for various stages of Glaucoma.
I don’t have it yet, thanks be to God, but I get tested often.
With Glaucoma, your sight disappears gradually. It starts with your peripheral vision. It starts to turn grey and foggy, going from light to dark to black, gradually closing in on the centre like a bag being slowly drawn closed over an opening, until you are completely blind.
That’s physical Glaucoma.
Do we suffer from Spiritual Glaucoma? Certainly in my life there are many times when I am so focused on the centre of my attention – my work, my family, my interests – that I am blind to those around me, those outside my centre of focus. I become blind to their needs, both physical and spiritual, maybe for friendship or love or attention, or plain old hunger.
I know I am not alone. When we began attending this church, last fall, I often felt like I was in one of your blind spots. I shook lots of hands at the passing of the peace, but no one but the staff would talk to us at coffee time. I was an outsider, and it felt at times like no one else saw me.
For myself, one of my worst times of Spiritual Glaucoma is when I am downtown and pass someone begging for money. Their presence makes me uncomfortable, and I become extra-engaged with my phone, or my daughter, or anything that helps me avoid eye contact. I put them in my spiritual blind spots.
Our blind man was a beggar. Yes Jesus saw him. Jesus loved him enough to touch him and heal him.
I can’t heal the blind, so what’s the right thing to do? Give them money? Sit and talk with them? Buy them a sandwich? It’s complicated, of course. But my first reaction of deliberately not seeing them, is certainly not the right answer. May God forgive me.
The formerly blind man grew in faith and wisdom, and told others about Jesus – he became an evangelist! And he worshiped Jesus. It was a new beginning, a change in this man’s life.
How would the light of the world, Jesus, affect us. What difference would it make? What would that new beginning look like in us?
As Jesus, the light of the world, shines on and touches us, how would it change things in our city? Our parish? Our neighbourhood? Our homes? Ourselves?
Jesus can touch us and heal our spiritual blind spots, however grey or dark they are.
I have seen that starting to happen among you. Six months ago I was a newcomer in this church and often felt invisible. But I have seen you overcoming your shyness and fear, stepping outside your comfort zones, into this neighbourhood, meeting the people, getting to know them, sharing God’s light, and finding out how we as a church can serve them.
I pray that, as you and I live and work and pray and serve together, you will see God healing my own spiritual blind spots, and your own, too.
God is at work in us – in you and in me – healing our areas of Spiritual Glaucoma. Let’s use that sight to look around and see all that God wants to show us.