Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, December 15, 2018
Search this site.View the site map.

Seeing The Light

John 9:1-41

 In John 9, we find Jesus in the City of Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles.  Tabernacles was a remembrance of the 40 years of desert wandering through which God preserved his people in the Old Testament.  In chapter 8, Jesus says, “I am the light of the world.  Those who follow me will not stumble in darkness.”  And here in chapter 9, we see that statement lived out.

 It begins with a man who had been blind from birth.  There weren’t really any options for a person born blind:  No guide dogs, no Braille, no Association for the Blind.  The only thing a blind person could look forward to was a lifetime of begging on the streets.  He probably did this near the Temple, at the top of the city, because of course, people going into the Temple would be more likely to be charitable to him.  And there was little hope of any change.  Being blind from birth was considered impossible to heal.  Only divine intervention could heal eyes that had never seen.

 For the disciples, this man becomes something of a theological curiosity.  At this time, the conventional wisdom was that suffering was always the result of sin.  The question then becomes, “Whose sin?  His or his parents?”  Some might point to Exodus 34:7 and say, “it must have been his parents’ sin, visited on him.”  Still others would say it was his own sin.  Some rabbis taught that children could be born into suffering because of sins committed in the womb.  Still other rabbis taught that a person’s soul existed before they were conceived, and their soul could sin in this pre-existent state.

 By the way, this is something of an aside, but the idea of the pre-existence of the soul does not come from Scripture.  It actually comes from the philosophy of Plato.  It’s not biblical.  And sometimes I hear Christians talk about how we’re in heaven, then we come to earth when we’re born, and we go back to heaven after we die.  That idea does not come from Scripture.  Scripture says nothing about a pre-existent soul.

 Well, at any rate, the debate is there.  Whose sin is it?  

 Jesus says, “It’s not because of anyone’s sin.  This is an opportunity for the glory and power of God to be revealed.”  The proper response to suffering is compassion and helpfulness, not curiosity or assigning blame for the cause of suffering.  

 Another aside:  If God is able to free us from suffering, then why doesn’t he do it all the time?  Why doesn’t he just set his people free from all of their suffering?  I don’t

know that there’s an easy answer to that question.  But it does occur to me that if God set us free from all suffering when we cried out to him, then we would believe in God and follow God for the sake of our own ease, rather than for the sake of his glory.  And I think that very often God does not remove the cause of our suffering because there is more to be learned from depending on him in the midst of our suffering than we would learn if he always delivered us out of it.

 But in this case, Jesus decides to heal the man.  It is still day, and it is his task to do the work assigned to him until the darkness comes, which I think is a reference to the crucifixion.  “While I am here, I am the light of the world.”

 In this case, Jesus has a rather odd procedure for how he heals the man.  He doesn’t do it immediately. He doesn’t simply do it by the power of his word.  Instead he makes mud and smears it on the man’s eyes.  Mud, of course, is made of water and dust.  Water reminds us of Jesus’ words in chapter 7, “All you who thirst, come to me, and rivers of living water will flow out of you.”  Dust reminds us of the creation, in which God created human beings from the dust of the earth.  In this case, Jesus is creating sight where it has never existed.  

 Then Jesus sends the man to wash his eyes in the Pool of Siloam.  The Pool of Siloam was the water source for the city of Jerusalem.  It brought water from the Gihon Spring outside the wall into the city through Hezekiah’s tunnel that was built to protect the city’s water in a siege.  

 The Pool of Siloam was on the far side of the city from the Temple, where this man was begging.  So Jesus is sending him on a journey of faith, stumbling blindly through the city in the hope that something will happen when he gets there.  Perhaps the mud on his eyes is a motivation for him to continue this journey!

 And when he washes, he receives sight.  It is so remarkable that those who knew him are astonished, even skeptical.  Could he really be the man who was blind from birth?  They take him to the Pharisees to see if they can figure out what’s going on here.  After all, they are supposed to be the experts.

 But we learn that this happened on a Sabbath.  And there were all these different kinds of work that were forbidden on the Sabbath.  One of them was healing.  Another was kneading, which would normally refer to kneading dough to make bread, but kneading mud would also be forbidden.  

 The Pharisees can’t agree about what’s happening here.  We typically think of the Pharisees as being universally opposed to Jesus, but there were some who were open to him.  Not all of them were hostile toward Jesus.  Nonetheless, the majority opinion is that Jesus can’t be of God because he’s violated the Sabbath.  

 “What do you think?”  They ask the man.  “I think he must be a prophet.”

 Well, they can’t believe he was really born blind, so they call in his parents to make sure of that fact.  His parents, however, are afraid to speak up.  They’re afraid of excommunication, being expelled from the Temple, which in their way of thinking, also meant expelled from God.  

 So they go back to the man, “Give glory to God,” which was a way of saying “Tell the truth.  We know this man is a sinner!”  

 “I can’t say if he’s a sinner or not.  All I know is I was blind, and now I see!”  He doesn’t know much about Jesus.  He doesn’t know who Jesus is.  But we don’t need to know everything about Jesus to be able to testify about what he has done in our lives.  

 So they ask him again, “How did he do it?”  Maybe they’re looking for some of magic or something to discredit Jesus.

 By this point the man is becoming a little frustrated.  “I already told you!  Why do you keep asking?  Do you want to become his disciples, too?”  I’m pretty sure that last line is sarcastic!  

 The Pharisees fail to see the humor.  “We’re disciples of Moses.  As for this guy Jesus, we don’t know anything about him!”  Or maybe they choose to know nothing.

 And then, the man born blind schools them in their own logic.  If he were a sinner, God wouldn’t hear his prayers (Isaiah 1:15).  And only God could heal a man born blind, therefore Jesus must be a man of God.

 They can’t deny his logic.  And of course, when most people can’t win an argument, they usually resort to insulting their opponent:  “You were born in sin.  Who are you to teach us?” And they toss him out.

 Jesus seeks the man out.  “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  Son of Man was a title for the Messiah from the prophet Daniel (Daniel 7:13-14), and Jesus’ favorite self-description.  

 The man says, “I want to, but I don’t know who he is.”  And Jesus says, “I am he.”  And the man says, “Yes, Lord, I believe.”  And he worships Jesus.  

 His journey of growing faith has brought him to Jesus and from physical blindness to spiritual sight.  Look at how his descriptions of Jesus change through the story.  First, he is “the man called Jesus.”  Then he is a prophet.  Then he is a man of God.  And finally, he is Lord to be worshipped.

 Jesus says, “I have come into the world to judge the world, to give sight to the blind and to show those who think they can see that they are in fact blind.”  

 The Pharisees overhear this and are offended:  “What are you seeing?  We’re blind?”  

 Yes, they are.  They are blind because their prejudice against Jesus has closed their eyes to the Light of the World.  And judgment is based on how we respond to the Light.  Jesus says in John 3, “Judgment is based on this:  Light has come into the world, but they love darkness more than light.”  

 It is only when we acknowledge our shortcomings before God that he can heal them.  Only if we acknowledge our blindness, our ignorance to the truth, can he show us the light.  Only if we acknowledge our weakness, can he give us strength.  Only if we acknowledge our sinfulness can he make us righteous.  

 If we are like those Pharisees, if we walk around figuring that we have it all figured out, then we are in trouble.  But God gives his grace to the humble.  Give us humble hearts, O Lord.

Verse of the Day...