The poor and their oppressors have a common bond- the Lord gives light to the eyes of both. – Proverbs 29.13 CEB
Jesus was walking along and discovered a blind man. If we scan through the pages of Jesus’ history, he walked by a lot of people who had physical needs. Why was this man any different? What did Jesus see in him? Jesus must have seen something very valuable in this man. I wonder what he saw. Was it his authenticity and integrity? Was it his honesty? When we imagine the blind man, what picture comes to mind? Do you see someone old or someone young? The text would invite us to understand that this was a young man just beyond his youth.
I’ve not had the privilege of being with many blind people. When we lived in Danville, KY, we were exposed to children and families who had hearing loss. And, when we lived in Louisville in the St. Matthew’s area, we were near the Kentucky School for the Blind, but we never had much exposure with children and families who were blind. So to say I have any understanding of physical blindness or any other life-limiting disability, I do not. But what I can relate to are other human frailties that blind us from embracing truth.
The lectionary passage today invites us to experience new sight. It implies the theme that a people without vision perish (Prov. 29). As we listen to the story it is clear that fear hinders vision for the future. Our own fear of an experience we do not understand and cannot comprehend. The Kingdom of God comes upon us as an invitation to see new possibilities and to courageously set aside the things of the past that keep us bound in old seasons of discovery. What locks us in fear of letting go of the way things were to experience God in a new thing or a fresh way?
Fear often is the catalyst that we shadow box when embracing the truth about ourselves. Becoming self-aware of our own shortcomings can be both the most daunting and the most rewarding experience.
In our pericope the blind man had to face-off with a number of people in his community – neighbors, Pharisees, and even his parents – who all experienced fear. But, our attention needs to go to the young blind man, the main character who finds the Kingdom. That’s who we want to be like – not the neighbors or the Pharisees or even his parents. There was nothing noteworthy about his character as best we can tell from the story. He was powerless when Jesus met him. And, Jesus stooped down.
Have you ever been in a place where you needed to humble yourself under God’s mighty hand and let him just some spit on you? Are you willing to let Jesus make some mud-pies so you might see more clearly?
What a powerful and beautiful picture! Can we just hang onto it for a minute? The God of the Universe became a man to stoop down, to spit in the dirt, make some mud-pies, and cake them on a blind man’s eyes. If you ever wondered if Jesus was a man’s man, here it is. He was not afraid of getting in the dirt with the people he loved. This man’s life was spent sitting and begging, and his neighbors knew exactly who he was, but his restored sight confused them all. His neighbors are quick to bring him to account, to justice, for his newly restored sight. They take him quickly to the Pharisees, the religious experts in the community.
Basically, they tattled on Jesus. Whoa! If this isn’t childish drama! If you’ve read much of the New Testament Scriptures, you have witnessed a lot of tattling club adventures for Jesus. In fact the final act that would betray Jesus’ life was just tattling. Every time I think about the politics of the tattling that took Jesus life, I hang my head in my hands and I weep. That grown men would be more concerned about protecting the power and prestige in a community than seeking to know the Truth of who Jesus is.
Have you ever been around folks with that kind of power? They plot and scheme when they get all bound up in fear – fear of losing their place in the community. But Jesus never intended to discredit the Pharisees. Yet, they were seeking him out to discredit him and found themselves always on the losing side. Even when they “rubbed” Jesus out of the picture – plotting and scheming to take his life, God’s plan still prevailed. Notice in the storyline when they asked the man who healed him, he specifically tells them Jesus. And instead of seeking Jesus out, they go get a posse of trouble makers to stir up more trouble. I guess I’m a little naïve, I expected more out of the Israelite leaders than their self-protection. I expected them to seek God.
The Pharisees declare that Jesus can’t be from God. They are really calling him out as a false prophet, but that’s too risky for them to do for their own reputations. Just in case he is a man of God, they can’t go too far with their discrediting of him. So they just call him a sinner… a good old-fashioned sinner. But when the posse starts to divide, the truth comes forward. The man born blind declares that Jesus is a prophet. Again, instead of pursuing a conversation with Jesus they continue to berate the young man, and bring in his parents. Surely his parents will verify the truth of the matter since obviously the miracle man could not clearly see the situation for what it was.
His parents are interrogated, and finally defer to their son as old enough to answer for himself. Even his parents could not speak freely in fear of being shunned by the Pharisees. My! We have a real problem here. The Pharisees have become a posse of behind the scenes critics of Jesus himself. The religious elite in the community have positioned themselves as bullies among the people. They have triangulated themselves, never addressing Jesus directly. The man is further interrogated, and the Pharisees demand that he recant his view about whom Jesus really is – a sinner.
During the interrogation, the man has made a personal commitment to Jesus in his heart and with his words. When he met Jesus, he was a stranger. But as he continued to walk in his healing, he believed Jesus was a prophet. During the final interrogation, the man declares his allegiance to Jesus and becomes his disciple.
The Pharisees declare that they are Moses’ disciples, but not Jesus’ disciples. The Pharisees believed in what they understood to be the righteous past, but they could not lay hold of the new move of God that was upon them. Mercy! They were staunch, loyal and unwavering about hanging on to the past so much so that they would plot to kill the very movement that would bring them the greatest blessing in Israel’s history. And, they throw the young man out of the sanctuary.
Jesus finds him after the climax of the situation, and the man is expelled, rejected, and excommunicated. Then Jesus comes to the man, and the man still doesn’t have a name in our story. He is only known by his disability. This man could be any one of us. A common man who found Jesus, and suffered for his discipleship. And, he finds himself outside the community once again. First, because he was blind and, now, because he can see. And, neither condition was his fault. Blameless. Utterly blameless.
Jesus took the initiative to comfort the man. Jesus showed love and compassion by healing and restoring him to his place in the real Kingdom of God. The Jewish leaders believed their local synagogue was the representation of God’s community on earth, but Jesus was ushering in a new community – the Kingdom of God.
Jesus finds the man asking him, “Do you believe in the Human One” (John 9.35)? The open-hearted response to Jesus provided an opportunity for Jesus to engage this young man in possibilities beyond his imagination. The young man receives Jesus as Lord and worshipped him right there.
There is a nuance at the end of the passage that I don’t want us to miss: some of the Pharisees were with Jesus and the young man at the end of the story! Apparently, some of the leaders believed in Jesus and followed the man out of the synagogue because they are with Jesus as he invites the man to believe in him. Jesus explains that his role is to exercise judgement so that those who don’t see can see and those who say they see become blind. That seems really harsh to me because I want all the Pharisees to come to the realization that Jesus is God’s Son. It makes my heart hurt every time I read the bible stories with Pharisees because I really want with all my heart for them to come to realize who Jesus is. But at the end of every story it turns out the same way, some never believe.
The problematic place in the story for me is the last sentence in this pericope, “…but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains” (John 9.41). Perhaps it is best when we all humble ourselves and admit to Jesus that we cannot see!
This man was stigmatized by his community as an outcast from birth. Labeled a sinner and unworthy of their community support so much so that begging was his only means of support. Rejected by the powerful who will decide his fate, and he is removed from the synagogue forever because of his belief in Jesus – healer, prophet, and the Son of Man. We could most confidently call this pericope “The Man Called Jesus” for the whole story is truly about him. It’s not about the blind man, although it is totally about the blind man being offered the gift of salvation. It’s not about the neighbors or the parents for in some ways they are just collateral damage in the story – people who were just caught behind enemy lines. It’s not about the Pharisees, although it is totally about the Pharisees missing the very truth that was right in front of their noses but they were unable to comprehend it.
It seems that the majority of the pericope is centered around the intentions of the Pharisees to change the mind of the underprivileged man who received a great blessing from God. But the thread of truth we are looking for is who is this Jesus, and what does that mean for me. Behind the great conflict was a broken-hearted man who had been rejected by his people all his life because of a condition that was never his problem nor his parents’ problem. God chose this good-hearted man who was down on his luck to have the opportunity for a new life.
Isn’t this the heart of the Gospel message? God does not seek out the powerful, but the weak, the small ones in this world – the pure hearted. During Lent we are given the opportunity to reflect on the sins of our hearts, and often times our sins are connected to fear. We fear losing ourselves, losing our power. We fear losing our place in the community we know to enter into the Kingdom reality that we don’t know. We fear being weak, and impoverished in the eyes of others. We fear relinquishing our preferences for God’s best.
This passage reminded me of a story of “Akeela and the Bee,” a movie about facing fear. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i7EN2IrVbPo
It is impossible for us to remain where we are and at the same time go on with God. God calls us out of comfortable places to move into uncharted territory within ourselves. If we remain in the same behaviors and opinions that have gotten us to this point in our lives, we may never see the fullness of the Kingdom of God for our neighbors, our families, our community. Across the pages of Scripture, whenever you witness the behavior of the Pharisees I want to invite you look beyond the storyline into the heart of fear that each one had. We don’t want to be like that… living in fear of new beginnings.
One of my favorite characters in Scripture is Joshua, a man who had the task of leading a people into a new beginning. I love how Joshua was commanded to be brave and courageous. Hear the words from Joshua 1.1-9.
After Moses the Lord’s servant died, the Lord spoke to Joshua, Nun’s son. He had been Moses’ helper. 2 “My servant Moses is dead. Now get ready to cross over the Jordan with this entire people to the land that I am going to give to the Israelites. 3 I am giving you every place where you set foot, exactly as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will stretch from the desert and the Lebanon as far as the great Euphrates River, including all Hittite land, up to the Mediterranean Sea on the west. 5 No one will be able to stand up against you during your lifetime. I will be with you in the same way I was with Moses. I won’t desert you or leave you.6 Be brave and strong, because you are the one who will help this people take possession of the land, which I pledged to give to their ancestors. 7 “Be very brave and strong as you carefully obey all of the Instruction that Moses my servant commanded you. Don’t deviate even a bit from it, either to the right or left. Then you will have success wherever you go. 8 Never stop speaking about this Instruction scroll. Recite it day and night so you can carefully obey everything written in it. Then you will accomplish your objectives and you will succeed. 9 I’ve commanded you to be brave and strong, haven’t I? Don’t be alarmed or terrified, because the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
The Scripture commanded the Hebrews to follow God relentless into a strange and unfamiliar place. They were commanded to never depart from the teachings handed down by Moses, but they did. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day had added so much of their personal preferences into the mix that the Law was hardly recognizable. The Law was given as a safe guard to protect them from themselves and the brokenness in their culture. It was pastoral care. Imagine with me a world ordered by our own achievements with no guidelines except the ones we make up for ourselves. It sounds great! I love to make my own choices. But folks a life without a moral compass would lead us all to moral and ethical failure. We must seek to live in the balance of healthy boundaries and healthy opportunities for choice.
When new birth comes, it comes with a great deal of pain. When we think about the birth of a plant, we know that the seed must fall to the ground and die. Death is painful. Empty. But after the process is completed, new life springs forth. No longer is there mourning and sorrow in the darkness of death. New birth came, and something new emerged. Unexpected. God does the most wonderful things with death; he brings new life. It is only after death that birth and resurrection come. Death must have its way among us. A good death when all the life forces of the past created this tiny little seed, and now it must die. Lent is the time of reflection on what it means to come and die. Death is not something to be feared but we rejoice in the coming newness, fresh expressions of life are emerging among us. Easter is near.