John 9: 1-41
Make no mistake, my friends: this story of a man healed of his blindness is not a cut-and-dry miracle story. It is not like the ones where empty wine jars get filled, or empty stomachs get fed, or broken bodies get healed. This miracle of the healing of the blind man does not travel from point A to point B in a straight line; it goes up and down and all over the place. And when it’s all over, it winds up in a totally different place than where it started.
I mean, it begins innocently enough, like any typical miracle – if there is such a thing. There’s this guy, and he has been blind from birth. Which elicits, in true John fashion, a theo-philosophical conversation between Jesus and disciples as to whether this man’s blindness is from his own sin or the sin of his parents. It may be helpful to take pause and remember that this kind of thinking was, in fact, common in that day and time; the belief that things like blindness and leprosy and other ailments were the result of some sin, or something gone awry in the family tree.
Jesus actually refutes that thinking and instead proclaims that this man’s blindness presents an opportunity – he was born blind, Jesus tells them, so that God’s works might be revealed in him. So we have something more than a miracle of practicality here; more than wine for the wedding or food for the hungry. We have here a miracle to prove a point.
Which, if I’m honest with you, makes me a tad uncomfortable – the idea that Jesus might be capitalizing on this man’s disability, insinuating he was born this way and spent all those years in blindness just so Jesus could heal him of it right now. Something about that just doesn’t set well with me. As the way Jesus heals him: spitting on the ground and making a little mud pie and rubbing in his eyes. I mean, what the heck, Jesus? This is the kind of thing that gets a kid sent to after-school suspension for a week – not that I would know anything about that, mind you, I’m just saying, what’s up with the grossness? Couldn’t he have just waved his hands over his eyes or something?
Like I said, this miracle does not go from A to B. Up and down and all over the place.
The man washes his mud-saliva soaked eyes in a nearby pool, after which, somehow, some way, his eyes are opened like they’d never been before; and are able to take in, for the first time in his life, all the brilliant light, the colors, the shapes and textures and dimensions of a world he had only known through hearing and touch and taste and smell. This formerly blind man is now able to see.
And it would be so much simpler for us if this miracle story ended right here – all nice and neat at verse 7. It would be so nice if the image we were left with was of some formerly blind guy jumping for joy in that pool, splashing water all over the place; and then running around, hugging everyone, eyes wide open, soaking in the brilliance of this brand new world he’d been deprived of? Wouldn’t that be the perfect way to tie up this little miracle story?
The fact that it doesn’t end there – that it’s not even close to ending – should be enough to clue us in to the fact that there is much more to this miracle story; that “Jesus as Healer” is about something far more than simply making a blind man see. This miracle story keeps going – in fact, it keeps going in such a way that, even though the formerly blind man is still very much in the narrative, more and more we begin to see that it isn’t about him anymore – if it ever was.
I mean, is it not it the greatest of ironies that, in a miracle story where a blind man gets sight, everyone else suddenly starts losing theirs? It begins with his family and friends. They’re arguing about whether this guy really is their friend or just someone who looks like him. They’re all concerned with “how” this miracle happened, because spit and mud and pool water are not usually the tools of eye restoration – and on that, they have a point. But the whole time they keep missing what the man himself tries to tell them – Listen, all I know is that I was once blind, and now I see!
So they take him to the Pharisees, which brings in a whole other dynamic. The Pharisees, you’ll recall, were not particular fans of Jesus, or anyone who disturbed the tenuous peace that existed with the Roman empire. So they surround this formerly blind man and ask him how Jesus gave him sight. The man repeats the formula: spit, mud, pool water. They ask him how Jesus could have done this, and the man hasn’t a clue – again, “how” is really not all that important to him. He’s practically singing Amazing Grace at this point: Was blind, but now I see!
It would appear that he has made his point. And yet, those Pharisees, they go running off to find – get this – the guy’s parents. His parents! As we say in the south, bless their hearts! They fire questions at Mom and Dad: Was he really born blind? How exactly did Jesus heal him, exactly? And the parents, certainly overwhelmed with the joy of hearing that their forever-blind son can now see, they respond to this inquisition, quite appropriately, by saying that their son is a grown man, fully capable of speaking for himself, so perhaps they should go talk to him.
Ah, but the Pharisees had already done that, so they don’t need to do it again, right? Wrong! It keeps going, this story! Although by now, our formerly blind friend is getting a little peeved. He just wants to enjoy his new sight, and these other guys keep dragging him into their blindness. They grill him with all these questions about Jesus; he wonders out loud if they might be secret admirers. They get accuse him of a misplaced faith. And that’s when the man has enough. The NRSV has him saying, “Here is an astonishing thing!” That sounds a little too sterilized to me. I bet you it was something more like, “You’ve got to be kidding me, seriously!”
And in that moment the role-reversal is complete: the student becomes the teacher, one simple guy schools the whole flock of academics. The man who now has sight, showing the others in painfully stark fashion just how blind they really are.
We have almost reached the end of our epic miracle story, but there’s one final scene. Jesus – remember Jesus? He’s sort of been offstage for a spell, a little hiatus – Jesus pops back in and offers up these words:
I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day,
making all distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see,
and those who have made a great pretense of seeing be exposed as blind.
A hint, perhaps, that all of this has been about much more than simply one guy gaining his sight.
Although it’s easy to think that’s all it’s about, if we want to think that, right? It’s easy to read this story in the 9th chapter of John and think the whole point is that one blind man is finally able to see. As we encounter other times in scripture, and certainly in our western worldview mindset, the narrative of individual healing is intoxicatingly tempting: we are blind, we find Jesus, Jesus heals us, we can see. It’s intoxicating because our brokenness is fixed and we really didn’t have to do much of anything to get it. We just were there, and then Jesus showed up I once was blind, but now I see!
And that would be a perfectly good way to understand this story, were it not for this undeniable fact: that John spends seven verses on one man’s new vision and 34 verses on everyone else’s blindness.
Which leads to a very important question as we consider today who Jesus is: which of the two stories should we be paying more attention to?
I said before that this miracle is not cut-and-dry, where empty wine jars get filled, empty stomachs fed, broken bodies healed. It does not travel from point A to point B in a straight line.
No, this miracle is a convicting miracle. It is an uncomfortable miracle. It’s a miracle that should make us squirm in our pews, my friend; because sometimes it takes an act of God to cut through our pretense and our pride to help us realize that we don’t always see as clearly as we think we do. That when we acknowledge Jesus as Healer, we are in fact ceding ground to a God who will heal not just those broken parts in us that we want healed, but heal other brokenness that we hadn’t noticed or didn’t want to see in the first place.
In fact, one of the more interesting things about this winding, all-over-the-place miracle story is that the blind man never actually asked Jesus to heal him – did you notice that? This man is just sitting there minding his own business, and next thing he knows he’s got some guy smearing mud and spit in his eyes.
Now granted, he’s not complaining about it after the fact. But perhaps there is a message for us in those first seven verses as well – that when we put our trust in Jesus, when we acknowledge him as Son of God and True Life and our Healer, we don’t get to pick and choose the ways in which he becomes those things to us. We don’t get to dictate the terms in our own lives or in the lives of others. And if we try, that is when we find ourselves much like those Pharisees, living in perpetual blindness with the whole world watching in plain sight – bless our hearts.
Truth be told, if miracle stories are at their heart about the gift of healing, the real gift in John chapter 9 is not the gift of sight – as wonderful a gift as that most certainly was. The real gift of this miracle story is the gift of Jesus himself: Tell me who the Son of Man is, that I may worship him. You have seen him, for the one speaking to you is he.
It was Helen Keller, of all people, who once said, “The saddest thing in the world is people who can see but have no vision.” But here’s the good news, my friends: the God who reveals our blindness to us is also the same God who gives Jesus to us, so that through him we can see with clarity. So we can see a God who fills wine jars, feeds the hungry, heals brokenness; loves the unlovable, reaches out to the needy, forgives wrongs, embraces all.
What we’ve got to do, my friends, what we absolutely must do, is make sure we look at the world through God’s eyes and not our own; make sure we let Jesus open our eyes to see – open them not with spit and mud and pool water, but with repentance and conviction and transformation and grace and love. Open our eyes to see God’s great work in action. Open them not so we can ask “how,” but so we can see all God is doing, all God is healing in us and in the world around us. Open our eyes so we can see how God is bringing sight to the whole world.
In the name of God the Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!
* Because sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation, the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.