Seeing Jesus in the Darkness - John 9
Jesus Heals a Man Born Blind
1As he went 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?"
3"Neither this man nor his parents sinned," said Jesus, "but this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. 4As long as it is day, we must do the work of him who sent me. Night is coming, when no one can work. 5While I am in the world, I am the light of the world."
6Having said this, he spit on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. 7"Go," he told him, "wash in the Pool of Siloam" (this word means Sent). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.
8His neighbors and those who had formerly seen him begging asked, "Isn't this the same man who used to sit and beg?" 9Some claimed that he was.
Others said, "No, he only looks like him."
But he himself insisted, "I am the man."
10"How then were your eyes opened?" they demanded.
11He replied, "The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to go to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see."
12"Where is this man?" they asked him.
"I don't know," he said.
The last couple of weeks our church has had a bit of a “Job (Hiob) experience”. We’re all familiar with the story of Job: One day when his sons and daugthers are together at a family celebration, and a messenger comes running and tells him the bad news that his servants on the field had been under attack and everyone was killed; he is the only one who is left. Then, three times following in the next few verses we read: “While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said…” and again “While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said…” and again “While he was still speaking, another messenger came and said…” Job experienced one devastating blow after another.
Tragedy can strike so quickly and unpredictably. While going about our every day lives, in a moment, in the blink of an eye, our world can be changed. For many in our congregational family this is the story of the past number of weeks. On a wider scale, September 11th is still very much burnt in our cultural psyche as we come to the 6 month anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the US. Thousands were killed for reasons that we fail to understand.
In the wake of tragedy we have a tendency to put God on trial. We ask, “where is God when we hurt?” Haven't we all asked this question at one time or another? I mean, we trust that God did not cause that tragedy. We believe that God does not punish us for some sin that we have willingly or unknowingly committed. The Bible states clearly that God does not willingly bring affliction or grief to the children of men (Lamentations 3:33).
The greater problem for most believers is this: Why does God allow such awful things to happen? Jesus' disciples asked this thorny question almost 2000 years ago.They met a man one day who had been born blind.
In the first century, most people believed that all suffering was the result of sin. So the disciples asked Jesus, "Who sinned in this case, this blind man or his parents?"
There was even one school of thought that believed that a person could sin before being born, while still in the mother's womb. Imagine that! The disciples begged, "Tell us, Jesus, Why was this man born blind?" Jesus did not respond with a neat, simple answer to the problem of human suffering.
We too are wise not to give easy and simplistic answers like Job’s friends attempted to do. There is a humbling episode in a British movie entitled, "Whistle in the Wind." A group of kids had experienced the death of their pet kitten. They had prayed fervently that the cat would get well, but instead it died. They couldn't understand this. So, they went in search of the local pastor. They found him in a teashop, taking a morning break, enjoying his tea and newspaper. They asked him, "Why did God let our cat die?" The good pastor was not delighted to be interrupted about the matter of a deceased cat. But out of duty he laid aside his paper and launched into a long, complex, theological response to this question. The children stood and listened intently. When he finished he wished them well and went back to his newspaper. The children walked away somewhat bewildered. One little boy, holding his older sister's hand, looked up at her and said, "He doesn't know, does he?" How perceptive children can be. Never in this world will we understand all the mystery surrounding suffering.
Let us turn to the story of the blind man. Notice that Jesus got the blind man and his parents off the hook. According to Jesus, the blindness was not the result of the sin of either party. Rather, as a sign that he is the light of the world, Jesus gives sight to a man born blind (9:1-41)
Our text is first "introduced" in John 8:12: "Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, 'I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.' Just as a miraculous feeding of thousands with bread and fish illustrates that Jesus is the bread of life (6:1-14, 35-65); so now he illustrates that he is the light of the world by giving sight to a man in darkness.
The miracle itself is reported in only two verses. The majority of this text centers on the interrogations which follow to the end of chapter 9 (we don’t have time this morning to go into details about this fascinating turn of events).
As with most texts of John, there can be a literal level -- the healing of a blind man; and a figurative level -- blindness = not understanding what God is doing in the lives of people.
If we look at the context of the Gospel of John, we wonder if John was addressing a particular issue in the life of the early Christian community. When John wrote the Gospel, Jesus had already returned to the Father, and the early church felt the real pain of separation and the darkness of a world that was not too kind to Christians. Jesus’ followers were discouraged, and they were wondering how they could live in such a dark world without their Lord and Master. They were wondering how to cope with the physical and more specifically spiritual darkness and disorientation in Christ’s absence.
Jesus challenges the common perception of sin. He challenges the thinking that suffering is the direct result of sin. The Common View, based on Ex 20:5 & Dt 5:9 was that God promises to punish "children for the iniquity of their parents, to the third and fourth generation"; and so a birth defect – as in the case of the man born blind - was seen as the result of the parent's (or grandparent's) sin. (b) Another view is expressed in Ezekiel 18:20: "A child shall not suffer for the iniquity of a parent, nor a parent suffer for the iniquity of a child; the righteousness of the righteous shall be his own, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be his own"; and so a birth defect must have been the result of sins committed in the womb by the child. Jesus says that this man’s blindness is not the result of the parents’ sin nor of the blind man’s sin.
One thing that jumps off the pages in this story is that the man who has received sight is immediately put on the witness stand. He has to answer so many questions from his neighbours, his family, and the Pharisees. By telling his story over and over again, the blind man doesn't seem to convert anyone -- in fact he seems to have made the Pharisees somewhat angry. But, he learns much about his faith through his witness to the doubting questioners. When he first talks to the Pharisees, he says that "a man named Jesus" healed him (v. 11). Later he calls him "a prophet" (v. 17). Finally he realizes that Jesus cannot be a sinner (v. 31) and that he has come from God (v. 33).
The man who had received sight didn't even have to initiate the conversations. There was such an obvious transformation from the "old" to the "new," that others asked, "What happened to you?" "How did it happen?" “Who did this to you?”
Jesus says in vv. 3-4a, "Neither this one sinned nor his parents have sinned, but this has come to pass so that the works of God might be manifest in him. We must work the works of the one who sent me...." What motivated the miracle was not the man's blindness, not his needs, not his prayers (he didn't even ask for the healing,) but the need to make God's work manifest.
As we experience dark and difficult times in our lives that sometimes cause the eyes of our faith to be blinded, may we also encounter the living Christ, who gives sight to the blind. May we also recognize that God is present with us in our trials and temptations, and may we glorify God in all circumstances of our lives.
Let us come to Jesus in Faith and ask him to open our eyes – that we may understand God’s will. May we praise God for what he has done in our lives.