"Lent 04: The Man Born Blind" - Tim Suttle

"Lent 04: The Man Born Blind"

by Tim Suttle


2014.03.24 – Lent 04
John 9:1-41 – The Man Born Blind

Blindfolds: Going to ask you to step outside your comfort zone a little bit today, to see if we can climb inside the text a little bit. 
(Blindfolds passed out during the greeting time).
Grab this & tie it around your own eyes so you can’t see.
(I’m just gonna take a quick picture & post it on Instagram)
Imagine getting up & going to the bathroom from where you are. 
How will you find your way … step around people on your row?
How will you measure the distance to the door?
…or navigate toilets & clothing & washing w/out your eyes?
How would you get home from here after church?
How would you do your job … feed yourself?
Think about the isolation that comes w/loss of sight? 
What if you never saw the face of your loved ones again? 
PT: Physical Blindness would impact nearly every aspect of a life from the smallest things to the biggest.

The writer of the gospel of John tells a story of JS healing a man born blind.
And John uses a real story about Jesus healing physical blindness to talk about spiritual blindness. 
He uses a physical disability that can cause isolation to write about Jesus to a community of Christ followers who were likely expelled from their synagogues for following Jesus. 
PT: And he seems to think that Spiritual Blindness would impact nearly every aspect of our lives as well.

Keep these blindfolds on as I read this text from John Ch. 9:
As he walked 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?” [how does that question make you feel in your self-induced blindness?] 3Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. 4We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. 5As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” 

6When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, 7saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. 8The 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?” 9Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” 

He kept saying, “I am the man.” 10But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” 11He 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.” 12They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.” [remove blindfolds]

There was a story in the news a few years back – a man in the UK had been fired from his job for religious reasons.
I figured it was an Islamic thing, or JW proselytizing at work.
Turns out = a British Prof. soccer coach…
Who had given an interview in which he said people born w/birth defects, disabilities = being punished 4 sins in a former life,
He has this wackadoo faith healer / euro-xian-karma thing.
Anyway… he got fired because:
Even if you believe that sort of thing, a public figure can’t say people w/disabilities = punished for sins of a past life.

But in JS’s day this was the dominant view: If you had a birth defect they thought somebody somewhere had done something wrong
We might be tempted to think we’re too smart for that today.
But it’s still common when something really bad happens to wonder, is God punishing me for something I did wrong?
It’s really a matter of needing to assign BLAME
Blame is one of the main ways we discharge pain & discomfort… 
When we see something wrong; if we can figure out who’s to blame, then we don't have to feel responsible for it...
If we can assign blame, then we don’t feel as much of an obligation to suffer with them & suffer for them.

That’s how it was in JS’s culture. So this blind man probably spent his whole life being judged, ignored, & blamed.
He was disabled: people found that depressing
He was a beggar: people found that demanding
But it was a little less depressing & demanding if they could find somebody to blame…
That way they could walk by him everyday w/out having to feel bad for him… or especially w/out having to feel responsible…
He was either seen as a pain, or just became an invisible man.
He was not only blind, people made themselves blind to him.

So the disciples aren’t being cruel, just asking the obvious question, v. 2 ‘who sinned, this man or his parents?’

To them, it was like a little case study… a theological question.
Jesus says, “3‘Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him
Which btw: is why we have ALL been born… so that God’s works might be revealed in us.

It’s an interesting question: who sinned? Who can we blame? 
Before we ask who sinned, should probably stop & think about what we mean when we use the word sin.

The Hebrew people had a word to describe what lived at the heart of God’s vision for the world. This word was SHALOM.
Shalom literally means “peace” but it’s bigger than that.
Shalom means everything rightly ordered.
Existing in harmony – doing what it was created to do…

In college I took a human anatomy & physiology course.
First concept the lecturer introduced was Homeostasis: the condition in which the body lives at a stable equilibrium.
The body’s natural state – everything functioning in harmony = H.
If something isn’t firing right, the body will notice it’s not at homeostasis & it’ll try and correct the problem.
Too Hot – you’ll sweat.
Not enough water – you’ll get thirsty.
SHALOM is a lot like homeostasis, only 4 the entire creation.

The way we relate to God, Self, Others, World… is meant to be shalom.
God | Ourselves | other people | created order
SIN, is what they called it when SHALOM is disrupted. 
Sin isn’t just when you do something morally wrong.
Sin is anything that disrupts Shalom.

And in the NT: whenever JS sees a disruption in SHALOM he moves against it to restore the peace... which actually means:
Even our brokenness serves a redemptive purpose.
The place of our deepest wounding – is meant to be the place where God does a work of healing & restoration.
When JS says, “3‘he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.”
He’s saying: this is just how it goes!
This why we’ve all been born: for God’s works to be revealed in us.

John is giving us a glimpse of what Jesus’s entire mission is about.
What he does for the blind man… he’s going to do for all of us.
First for the church, & thru them for the whole world.
I once heard N.T. Wright say: “The church is God’s purposes for all creation being seen in advance through this community.”
He’s restoring shalom in YOU & in the WORLD by bringing it all back into relationship w/God through this new community.
And to enact this mission he heals the blind man… we’re told:

6he spat on the ground & 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 & washed & came back able to see. 

The problem is, technically, this action makes JS a Sabbath breaker. Observing the Sabbath was a big boundary marker for the Jewish people.
There were all these things you couldn’t do.
Couldn’t cut your fingernails
Couldn’t pluck a hair from your head.
You could not wear sandals which had a sole nailed to them.
Woven sandals were fine, but if they had nails in them,
Each time you lift your foot was counted as work.
Another forbidden act was kneading bread/clay – which JS did
Another was healing – which JS did
It was a very technical thing.
You could receive medical attention only if your life was in danger; 
… and then only enough to keep you from dying.

(…which is ironic given that in Deuteronomy, part of the rationale for Sabbath keeping was so that those who typically get overlooked in society can be seen. Sabbath was meant to be the 1 day where the rest of us are not too busy to see the children, slaves, aliens, the sick.)

So JS heals a man on the Sabbath & makes clay, works on Sabbath.
This bothers the Pharisees.
So they start doing interviews w/people, & it’s interesting.
Because none of them seem to be sure what he looks like…
They’ve walked past him 100 times… why? … blindness!

So, they bring him in & he tells the whole story (course they ≠ believe him… think it’s a ruse) so they call his parents in, & they say, “look he’s our son; he’s blind since birth; if you want more info ask him (of age).” 

We’re told: 22His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; [particularly the Pharisees] … the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. 23Therefore his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him.’” 

So the Pharisees call the man born blind in again.  V.24:

24So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, ‘Give glory to God! [didn’t take oaths: like saying “do you swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.”] We know that this man [JS] is a sinner.’ 25He answered, ‘I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.’ 26They said to him, ‘What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?’ 27He 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?’ [he’s making fun of them now; saying, ‘you guys are obsessed w/this guy, maybe you want to be his disciples?”] 

28Then they reviled him, saying, ‘You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. 29We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.’ 30The man answered, ‘Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.  31We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. 32Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. 33If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’ 34They answered him, ‘You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?’ And they drove him out.

PT: The resolution there is very important. They drive him out of the synagogue… this action is actually very important.

Blindness makes you ritually unclean… it’s a lack of shalom.
So, this man had never gone into the synagogue.
He had sat outside & begged his whole life.
He was never was allowed to worship until JS puts mud on his eyes & says, “wash at the pool of Siloam” (important detail)
This washing is a ritual cleansing…
This gave the man access to the synagogue.
For the first time in his life he can go worship w/his people..
PT: And what do the religious ldrs do… drove him out again…

Let me tell you something. This stuff goes on all the time. It’s going on in our world right now. Somebody says or does something that the religious elite don’t like & they call them sinners or heretics & do their best to drive them out. Somebody struggling w/ sexuality, addictions, doubt… there are always religious people ready to judge them & drive them out on behalf of God.
So what will Jesus do about this? Pick it up in v.35 “when Jesus heard they had driven him out, he went to find him.”
I love this part… I’m telling you, this is why I follow JS:
The Pharisees drove him away, Jesus? He goes to find him.
That’s what God is really like.
God’s hunting down the blind & the broken ones… it says:

… when he found him, he said, ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man? 36He answered, ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.’ 37Jesus said to him, ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.’ 38He said, ‘Lord, I believe.’ And he worshipped him. 

If you remember back to last week & the story of the woman at the well. You can actually see some deep similarities:
A woman of ill-repute, shunned by her community, at the well in the middle of the day, talking about access to the temple & where they should worship, calling Jesus a prophet.
Here, we have man born blind, shunned by the community, sitting in front of the synagogue where he is not allowed to worship, calling Jesus a prophet.

JS speaks w/ Samaritan woman. “I know that the Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes he will proclaim all things to us.” Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

And here in our passage Jesus asks the man born blind if he believes in the “Son of Man” (which is a Messianic title in John). 

In both cases Jesus is revealing himself as the Messiah, the Christ… the one who has come to bring SHALOM.
In the first story the disciples who don’t get it.
The Samaritans do – the ones who are usually left out.
And in the second story, the Pharisees who don’t get it.
The man born blind does – the one who is usually left out.
This is huge: The revelation of JS as Israel’s Messiah has this consistent impact. It produces belief on the part of some; and blindness on the part of others.
PT: So, Jesus & the Pharisees are on a collision course here… 

39Jesus 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.’ 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 41Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.
Ok, so what’s he doing here?
Well over & over, John’s Gospel calls Jesus the light of the world.
John 1:5 “the light shines in the darkness…”
John 8:12; “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”
Here in 9:5 “As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”
So Jesus has come as the light
And Jesus has come as the judge.
And when he’s done the blind see, … and the seers are blind.

The man born blind experienced JS very differently than the Pharisees did.
Jesus is the light that helps the blind man see.
But he’s also the light that exposes those who are not living truly.
It’s like a flashlight that shines in a dark room.
It exposes the things they are hiding…
So, when his light shines on a woman at the well, who had 5 husbands… it makes her whole, and she sees JS is the Messiah.
When it shines on a man blind from birth – it restores his sight, and he’s able to see that JS is the Messiah.

PT: But when it shines on the Pharisees – it exposes them as the source of the fractured SHALOM… they’re the cause for the lack of shalom. Because they refuse to be humbled when God shows up. 

The problem isn’t that the Pharisees are wrong, it’s that they’re unwilling to admit their wrongness. 
JS was never scandalized by broken people.
…what he could never stomach was the fakers… actors… hypocrites who had convinced themselves they were perfect. 
They don’t find healing because they can’t admit they are sick!
They don’t find wholeness because they think they’ve been made whole by their own righteousness…

When Jesus shows up in John, he’s is called “the light of the world.”
Those who are in darkness – i.e. man born blind in this story.
JS is the light for them. They can now see.
But those who think they are in the light – i.e. Pharisees
He’s the light for them too but 4 them it’s the light of judgment.
But it’s the same light! Jesus … the light of the world

Does that make sense? Jesus is the light of the world
To some this means healing
To some this means judgment that exposes their true condition.
But it’s the same light.
You know what makes the difference?
The difference is their answer to the question of his identity.
The woman confesses Jesus as Messiah to all of her friends in her community and she’s restored.
The blind man falls on his face and worships Jesus as Messiah, and he is restored.

Jesus says (v.39) ‘I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.’ 40Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’ 41Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, “We see”, your sin remains.

That’s  a pretty stunning thing to say: “If you were blind – if you had the obvious problem & everyone could see it – then you wouldn’t be a sinner.”
He’s saying the man born blind is not a sinner.
He’s just suffering under the effects of sin in the world.
But he is guilty of nothing except being broken.
His blindness is a lack of SHALOM to be sure…
But it’s not the source of that lack, so JS draws near.

And this is a radical thing he says. This explodes the Judaism of his day. Jesus says, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”
You struggling w/some sort of brokenness.
You have a blindness?  (physically, emotionally, spiritually)
Jesus doesn’t hold it against you.
But if you discard others because of their blindness/brokenness?
You hold yourself up as righteous & keep them from community?
…Jesus says “you are the ones who are really blind.”

PT: Man you think of all the time Christians spend condemning all of the people they call sinners… JS just blows that up here in John 09. He’s like, 

“Nuh-uh… no way… if you were really blind (like, dealing w/ a problem that you just can’t handle), I got grace for that. But because you are so convinced that you see perfectly, that you have no sin, so you can set yourself up as the judge & jury & shun others from the family?... the lack of shalom is on you.”

If sin is the disruption of Shalom, then JS is saying that the reason for that disruption is not on the man is blind, but on the Pharisees.
Because they refuse to welcome a blind man into their community.
It turns out – they are the ones who are really blind! Stunning.

EX: Jean Vanier – is one of my heroes, he was a Canadian – grew up in France because his father was part of the diplomatic corps for Canada. 
Vanier was brilliant – Naval College & officer in WWII.
Got his PhD. in philosophy – wrote on Aristotle.
He was a committed xian… never sold on Navy or Academy.
He had this mentor named Fr. Thomas – was the chaplain at a home for people w/severe mental disabilities.
As Vanier spent time w/his mentor at the facility, he became bothered by these institutions –  
He thought they were casting aside human beings too easily. 
Quarantining them as misfits of nature & not as human beings.

So one day Vanier decided to rescue 2 men from a terrible institution, and he brought them home to live with him.
They were both severely disabled / had no family.
So he took them in & Christened his house L’Arche (the ark),
And began just to share his life w/them.
All they did was live together in a home; worked @ the house; built a friendship & makeshift family: the results were stunning.
For 1 thing: Philippe & Raphael, the 2 men, became happy.
They still had their severe disability, but they began to flourish.
Then, people started showing up from out of nowhere to help.
Within 6 months Vanier was asked to take over the institution where his mentor was the chaplain & convert it to L’Arche.
Five years later they started a L’Arche in India, then Canada.
Last time I checked: 147 communities in 35 countries @ world.

PT: Most of them are small homes and communities where the boundaries between patients and professionals have been erased. Residents live together & work together in group homes.

Over the years, people of all walks of life have become involved (Henri Nouwen) – it’s become an innovative model (not treating/giving a life).
Started in 1964 – 50 yrs now: Vanier has become convinced of the power of broken people – in the life of a community.
He’s convinced they are a conduit of God’s healing & grace.
He says that the reality that Jesus seemed to know is that the weak & the broken have hidden power most fail to recognize.
Power is: don’t have the ability to mask their own weakness.
So they just share it – embrace it.
And when they do it unleashes the power of Christ…
It invites the presence of the God who inhabits weakness…
When they expose the ways in which they are all broken, it’s as though God draws very near to them all…
Vanier notes that when you work w/the mentally disabled, most people think the success story is for them to learn to live on their own.
What they found is that in the cases in which they were “successful” at this, it nearly always led to alcoholism.
The people would get lonely & start drinking.
What Vanier has come to believe & what he teaches is that:
Independence does not lead to health it leads to loneliness, Interdependence (community) leads to health.

PT: Human beings are wired for connection not autonomy. We’re wired for mutuality and love. What endangers our SHALOM is not our brokenness & our issues. What endangers our SHALOM is when we allow our brokenness to cut us off from the body of Christ – church.

Sometimes we do this to ourselves... can’t be real w/each other, or put on an act for the church… man, don’t do that here of all places…
It’ll cut you off from God’s peace
Sometimes we do this to one another.
The reason the Pharisees miss out isn’t cause JS is mad at them.
They miss out because they don’t want everybody included.
The Pharisees thought SHALOM would come when you drive out all the UNCLEAN & have a pure Israel.
They don’t WANT to be in communion w/the blind man.
Even after he’s been healed… they still drove him out!!

So JS, in this story, completely redefines sin for his people. In the gospel of John: “Sin is defined in one way only – what is your relationship to JS!” And specifically by whether or not you really believe that God is present in Jesus restoring SHALOM…
He is the light of the world.
If he shines on you and you say, “heal me I’m broken!”
His light will restore you.
If he shines on you and you say, “I don’t need healing.”
Then his light exposes that as a lie – a disruption of Shalom.

In our own lives, when God sees us, especially the parts of our lives that are not as they should be, our own sins, our brokenness, the wounds we carry around, our failures, our fears and all that stuff. 
He does not count that against us… He does not turn his face. 
So we have no right to count those things against each other.
This is the great change JS brought in the way we view God. 
God does not run from our brokenness. 
God enters into our brokenness fully. 
Your place of deepest wounding is where he does his best work.
PT: And the only way to blow it is to 1) insist that you don’t need it, & 2) to ostracize others because of their struggles & problems. In the end the man born blind could see & the Pharisees were blind.

What does the light expose in you that you try to hide, cover over, or keep hidden from other people?
What does the light of Christ expose about your life that is just not peaceful… it’s a lack of shalom?
What is that broken thing in you that needs to finally see the light?
That needs healing in the presence of Christ?
What do you need to do to begin to admit that thing? Confess it?
What does the light shine on in you that looks like judgment?
What does the light tell you about where you are the reason there’s no shalom? No peace?
What part, or thing in our life are we still "blind since birth"?  Why are we still holding on to it and our blindness instead of turning to the Lord and gain "our sight"?
Who are you judging?
Who do you despise because of their weakness or brokenness?

Discussion Question:

1. What part, or thing in our lives are we still "blind since birth"?  Why are we still holding on to it and our blindness instead of turning to the Lord and gain "our sight"?

2. Consider the blind/damaged/broken people you encounter on a daily basis... How often do you really notice them?  Do you dismiss their broken condition because of perceived blame?  Prayerfully consider how you could reach out with a healing gesture - even something that seems odd like smearing mud and spit in their eye. (Figuratively, of course, nobody wants your literal spit in their eye. ;)